Padres look for growth in 2017

Friars hoping loaded farm system provides answers to questions at Major League level

Padres look for growth in 2017

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Padres squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.

SAN DIEGO -- The 2017 Padres aren't going to be judged on wins and losses.

Understandably, that's a tough sell to fans who have waited a decade since a playoff berth. But it's also the reality of the franchise's current youth movement.

Across the Majors, goals set for 2017

San Diego dealt seven veterans last year, in the process turning its farm system into one of the deepest in baseball. Ownership's unprecedented spending on the international market and six early selections in the Draft will pay dividends down the road, as well.

Spring Training: What's the vision? | How's your star? | Who might surprise? | What's the difference?

But for all the shrewd moves the Friars made in 2016, none will have much of an impact this year. So what, exactly, would the Padres' perfect season look like in '17 -- putting aside the bottom line of wins and losses? Here are four things to look for.

1. Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe adapt to big league pitching
Hedges' offensive numbers paint a bit of an unfair picture. In parts of two seasons, the 24-year-old backstop has seen only sporadic big league playing time, hitting .161 in 161 at-bats. Hedges raked at Triple-A El Paso last season, batting .326/.353/.597 with 20 homers despite missing a month due to hand surgery.

Renfroe, his teammate on the Pacific Coast League champs, posted similarly gaudy numbers. But both still have to prove their mettle in the big leagues. For Renfroe, that means better pitch recognition. No one doubts his power, but his four-percent walk rate -- for a hitter with that much thump -- isn't going to cut it.

Top Prospects: Renfroe, SD

For Hedges, he merely needs to pull his weight at the dish. If he can develop into a league-average hitter, his defensive prowess could make him an All-Star.

Both Renfroe and Hedges have been part of San Diego's long-term vision for years. In 2017, they need to start proving they were worth the hype.

2. Luis Perdomo emerges as an ace
The 23-year-old right-hander looked completely lost at the beginning of the 2016 season. Perhaps that was to be expected of a Rule 5 Draft pick, who had never pitched at Double-A, let alone the Majors.

But in mid-May, the Padres asked Perdomo to experiment with a sinker. And by the end of the season, he had become their most reliable starter.

That said, Perdomo isn't a complete pitcher. Far from it, in fact. His sinker is so new, he hasn't fully harnessed his command of the pitch. He's also looking to make better use of his breaking pitches -- especially to put away left-handers.

Padres' youth movement

For a 23-year-old with minimal experience, all the tools are in place for Perdomo to become something special. San Diego is looking for him to take the next step in 2017.

3. The Padres find a shortstop of the future
It appears Luis Sardinas will get the first chance to prove his worth at short. And -- for all his Major League experience -- he's still only 23 with room to grow.

That said, the Padres will remain active in their search for a shortstop. They've talked with several teams already this offseason, but aren't in a rush, with Sardinas and Erick Aybar already on board.

Of course, San Diego could also find an answer to its shortstop dilemma in the farm system. Maybe No. 7 prospect Javier Guerra will bounce back from his rough season at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. Maybe Luis Urias, currently projected as a Major League second baseman, will prove himself capable at short. Maybe Rule 5 Draft pick Allen Cordoba, who has never played above Rookie ball, will follow Perdomo's path and develops on the fly.

The Padres have no shortage of organizational depth at short. Over the next year or two, they need one to pan out.

4. Prospect development goes smoothly
Suffice it to say, the biggest mark of a successful 2017 season won't have much to do with the big league club.

Espinoza drawing big comparisons

The Padres stacked their farm system in 2016, but for the most part, they did so at the lower levels. In a few cases, they even passed up prospects who were closer to the big leagues in favor of youngsters with higher upside. At the lower levels -- specifically at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore, where top pitching prospects Anderson Espinoza and Cal Quantrill could start the year -- San Diego is going to be loaded.

The Padres played a numbers game, stocking the system with as much young talent as they could find. Now, it's merely a matter of development.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.