3 questions Padres must answer during Spring Training

After a whirlwind offseason, San Diego has some issues it must address to meet expectations

3 questions Padres must answer during Spring Training

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's finally here, the beginning of Spring Training.

Early Thursday, San Diego pitchers and catchers will trickle into the team's training facility in Peoria, for report date, the official beginning for what could be a season unlike many others.

How so?

Without playing a game, heck, without even taking a round of batting practice in the Arizona sun, these Padres have made themselves relevant again following a whirlwind offseason that saw first-year general manager A.J. Preller essentially remake the team through trades and free-agent acquisitions.

While many of the new faces are on the position player side -- Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Will Middlebrooks, Derek Norris and Clint Barmes -- there will be a handful of newbies in camp this week as pitchers and catchers report, like starting pitchers James Shields and Brandon Morrow as well as relief pitchers Brandon Maurer and Shawn Kelley.

"We've had an offseason that made headlines," Preller said.

Now comes the process of putting all the pieces together, which is what manager Bud Black, beginning his ninth season, and his staff will begin to do this week.

Here's three questions the team needs to have answered by the time it breaks camp on April 2 ahead of Opening Day on April 6 at Dodger Stadium.

1. Is the defense really going to be "that bad"?
The Padres face a tall order in replacing catchers Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal, who did a very good job in the past of stealing strikes for pitchers (pitch framing) and controlling the running game. Norris is a better offensive player than both of them, but he'll need to quickly learn a new staff and work on both framing and neutralizing the running game. In the outfield, Myers hasn't played much center field in the Majors and will see some vast outfields in the NL West but the Padres are betting on his athleticism. They are also encouraged by Minor League scouting reports from when he played there in 2012. Upton (left field) was better a year ago (zero in DRS, defensive runs saved, up from minus-six in 2013) and the team thinks Kemp will fare better in right field than he did in center field a year ago with the Dodgers (minus-23 in DRS). The outfielders will get a lot of work with first-base coach Dave Roberts during Spring Training.

2. Who will win the final spot in the rotation?
The addition of Shields last week solidified the rotation and leaves only one spot remaining in the starting rotation to sort through during Spring Training. There's a handful of interesting candidates, like free agent Morrow. The hard-throwing righty, who has had a history of injuries, is healthy and might be the one to watch. Lefty Robbie Erlin and righty Odrisamer Despaigne, who nearly tossed the first no-hitter in franchise history a year ago, will get a chance to win the job as well. Finally, prospect Matt Wisler could make a push, though he might be one year away from winning a full-time job in the rotation. The Padres would love to see someone seize that job with a marvelous spring.

3. Can the team survive April for once?
It hasn't happened in a while. Not since 2010 have the Padres actually finished the first month of the year with a winning record. Since then, they're a combined 40-66 the last four seasons (includes some games played in March). Injuries, underperformance and, usually a bevy of games against NL West teams have been the primary culprits. There are 17 games against NL West teams, including six against the Dodgers (hello, Clayton Kershaw!) in the first 20 games. While it's probably not necessary for the Padres to go, say, 17-6 in April, they can't afford to fall flat on their face early -- not with these big expectations in 2015. The focus in camp will be on getting the team prepared to be ready to get off to a fast start, starting on Opening Day.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.