Opening Day is still two weeks away, but the battle for the remaining spots on the San Diego Padres bench is in full swing.
Each MLB team is required to roster 26 players on its Active List and no more than 40 players on its Reserve List beginning on Opening Day. Of course, there are handful of Padres who are locked in at their positions. There is also a need to carry extra pitching because of the increased workload of 162 games this season as opposed to 60 in 2020.
The starting rotation and the rest of the pitching staff is expected to fill roughly 14 roster spots come April 1. The rest of spring training is make it or break it for several hopefuls who are on the verge of seeing the big leagues.
Here are a few players who are neck and neck for the last Padres bench spots.
Among those presenting a strong case for his big league shot is Jorge Mateo. In 14 games and 30+ plate appearances, Mateo has posted a .355 average, .462 OBP, and a whopping .978 OPS. He’s played all over the outfield, including second-base.
Mateo’s most important asset is his 80-grade speed. In his first two seasons in the minors, he swiped 49 bags. Although he’s been caught stealing twice this spring, he’s one of the fastest Friars (second behind Fernando Tatis Jr.). Mateo could be a massive threat on the bases, especially as a pinch-runner in scoring position during late-game situations.
“We’ve noticed the ball getting in play more,” said San Diego’s manager Jayce Tingler. “The more times the ball is in play, he’s got a chance to showcase his speed when he’s doing that.”
The speedy switch-hitter is out of minor league options and will have to make the Opening Day roster or be placed on waivers.
Despite his slow start this spring, Brian O’Grady finally got the breakthrough performance he’d been hoping for. In Monday’s contest versus the Milwaukee Brewers, O’Grady went 2-for-3 with two home runs and four RBI. Prior to that game, he’d only had four hits in 22 at-bats.
O’Grady is another jack-of-all-trades player. He can play nearly anywhere on the diamond, primarily first base and center field. His versatility is the main reason A.J. Preller inked him late in the off-season.
Since he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2014, O’Grady has played in 584 minor league games but only 30 games in the big leagues. Those numbers could climb if he carries Monday’s success into the latter half of Spring Training.
“We love the versatility,” Tingler said. “He definitely has some juice in his bat and we think there are some things we can do to help him around the strike zone a little bit and become a completely dangerous hitter all around.”
A third player attempting to leverage his impressive Cactus League campaign into a Padres bench spot is Tucupita Marcano.
Marcano is among the leaders of offensive production for San Diego this spring. His .435 batting average, .500 OBP, and 1.239 OPS sit just behind Tatis and Wil Myers. He’s hit two doubles and a triple with four RBI. The 21-year-old is a contact-first, gap-to-gap slugger that can hit to all fields. He could serve as a powerful force in the middle of the Padres’ lineup.
Marcano also has the ability to play nearly every position aside from pitcher and catcher. This puts him in the conversation with Ha-Seong Kim and Jurickson Profar, both utility-men who are assured spots but have yet to make a splash this spring.
Both Marcano and CJ Abrams, the Padres’ No. 2 prospect, were not among the 25 players sent to minor league camp yesterday morning. It’s highly doubtful that these young stars break into the big leagues just yet, but they could be called upon at some point in the regular season.
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