The Padres will open spring training with 68 players in camp next week, embarking on a year that will feature plenty of turn-over in an organization that currently has just shy of 300 players under contract. Big league camp will include many minor league free agent signees and a few organizational returners, as well as both the top position and pitching prospect expected to open the 2017 campaign in the upper minors.
Luis Urias, who was the Cal League MVP as a 19-year-old last season, and Dinelson Lamet, the 24-year-old righty who finished his second full campaign in Triple-A, will report to Peoria with the members of the 40-man roster. While neither is in line for a big league roster spot, the experience should be valuable for their development.
While most non-roster invitees are often fighting for the last spots on the roster, the Padres are bringing shortstops Erick Aybar and Dusty Coleman into a wide open competition for the starting shortstop role with the big league club. Aybar, 33, is coming off of back-to-back poor years and had to settle for a minor league deal after not finding any takers as a free agent this winter.
Coleman, who turns 30 in April, has amassed 564 games in the upper minors over the last five seasons, but made only four appearances in the big leagues with Kansas City in 2015. He has long been seen as a glove-first player.
Other names familiar to regular MadFriars readers include relievers Phil Maton, Jason Jester, Kyle McGrath and Brad Wieck, right-handed starter Michael Kelly and system veteran Rocky Gale.
Maton, a 2015 draftee out of Louisiana Tech, has moved quickly through the system thanks to a nearly unhittable fastball. Through 84.1 professional innings, Maton has recorded 136 strikeouts while allowing only 71 runners to reach safely. Jester, a 23rd-round-pick the year before Maton, was dominant through 34 appearances for San Antonio last season. He was promoted to El Paso in August and gave up 10 runs - six earned - over his first 2.2 innings before settling in and allowing only three more over his final 10 outings.
Lefties McGrath and Wieck joined Maton and Jester in the Arizona Fall League, each demonstrating the ability to rack up strikeout totals. While it would be a surprise if any of the four made the opening day roster, each could see time in the majors throughout the 2017 season.
Camp will also include several players who saw action with the Padres in 2016, but are returning without a spot on the 40-man roster. Erik Johnson, who came over in the James Shields trade and Jon Edwards will both be trying to work back from injuries, while outfielders Jabari Blash, Jose Pirela, slugger Brett Wallace and catcher Hector Sanchez will all try to reassert themselves in camp. Each could have trouble finding playing time in the big leagues or even in El Paso.
Last year, Ryan Buchter, Cesar Vargas and Ryan Schimpf all provided value to the Padres after signing as minor league free agents. The club is again hoping they might find a hidden gem among a group of players who come into the year with no guarantees, including right-handed pitchers Logan Bawcom, Carlos Fisher, Aroni Nina, Andre Rienzo and long-time Washington National Craig Stammen. After missing most of 2015, Stammen worked his way back in the Indians system last year,
Bawcom was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 2010 when Logan White was running their amateur scouting program. That same year was Fisher's second in the Reds' bullpen. After logging 17 more big league games in 2011, the soon-to-be-34-year-old has spent the last five years working in the upper minors, Mexico, and even one detour into the independent leagues.
Among position players without a clear path to the opening day roster, third baseman Christian Villanueva may be the most interesting to watch. The 25-year-old third baseman was once seen as the more interesting prospect in the trade that sent Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs in exchange for Ryan Dempster. Villanueva missed the entire 2016 season after breaking his right leg early in spring training with Chicago, but caught the Padres' eye with a strong showing early in the Mexican Winter League this offseason. He will likely open the year in El Paso.
Catchers Tony Cruz and Stephen McGee, corner infielder Jamie Romak and outfielders Nick Buss, Collin Cowgill and Rafael Ortega will all get a look as well.