Padres' 2017 one of growth, development

Padres' 2017 one of growth, development

SAN DIEGO -- Six Padres rookies played on Opening Day in Los Angeles -- a tone-setter for the youth-oriented approach the organization would take toward the 2017 season.

It was a year for development from the start, and the Padres certainly made plenty of strides -- with more than enough growing pains along the way.

With the franchise's 49th season in the rearview mirror, here's a breakdown of the five most important Padres storylines from the 2017 season.

1. Margot emerges as center fielder of the future

No Padre impacted games more consistently this season than rookie center fielder Manuel Margot -- whether through his bat, his glove or his speed. Margot's numbers certainly weren't flashy, but he carved himself a niche as the franchise's center fielder of the future.

Statcast: Margot's great catch

Margot entered the season as the Padres' top prospect. He missed four weeks with a calf injury in May. Upon his return, he began to wreak havoc on the bases and showcase his elite defense. At the plate, Margot always projected as an effective line-drive hitter. But he showcased his surprising power right away, beginning with two home runs against the Giants in the home opener.

Margot has professed his desire to become a superstar in the near future. He also wants to win a Gold Glove Award.

"You love to have a guy that had a very solid rookie campaign that can look back on his year and go, 'I'm better than that,'" Padres manager Andy Green said. "He's wired to succeed in the long run."

2. Hand still a Padre

It was clear early on that Brad Hand would be one of the Majors' most sought-after targets at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. His 2016 success carried into '17 -- and then some. In July, Hand earned his first All-Star Game appearance. In September, he became the second Padres reliever in history to post consecutive 100-strikeout seasons, joining legendary closer Trevor Hoffman.

As a controllable reliever on a team that quickly fell out of contention, Hand garnered plenty of trade interest. More than half the league inquired about the left-hander's services in July, and with hours remaining before the Deadline, at least four teams were still in the mix.

Hand earns NL Reliever honors

Without an offer he deemed acceptable, general manager A.J. Preller chose not to sell. And, thus, Hand remains a Padre entering the offseason. He'll certainly be a hot commodity on the trade market. But Preller has already proven he's willing to hold onto Hand.

"I'm still happy to be here," Hand said. "Hopefully I'm here next year and for years to come."

3. Myers spins his tires

Never one to shy away from lofty goals, Wil Myers entered 2017 eyeing a 40-40 season. Fresh off a six-year contract extension, Myers had emerged as a franchise cornerstone and got off to a torrid start in April.

Not much else went right for the slugging first baseman, who found himself mired in multiple prolonged slumps while taking a step back defensively as well. He finished with offensive numbers slightly below those of a league-average first baseman.

Must C: Myers hits for cycle

"This has been the toughest year I've ever had playing baseball," said Myers. "I need to be a lot better than that."

Fortunately for Myers and the Padres, there were flashes of brilliance interspersed among his extended struggles -- a reminder of what Myers is capable. He hit for the cycle in April. He led the team in homers and steals. Given his five seasons of big league experience, it's easy to forget Myers is only 26, with room for growth, like so many young Padres hitters.

4. Zinter out as on-base woes persist

For the second year in a row, the Padres' offense couldn't get out of its own way. They finished last in the Majors in runs, average and on-base percentage in 2017. And while they set a franchise home run record, it wasn't enough to save the job of hitting coach Alan Zinter.

The Padres parted ways with Zinter in early September and have already begun their search for a new hitting coach. Entering 2018, there is no bigger area for improvement than in the team's ability to reach base.

"As we go through the process of searching for the next hitting coach, how we get on base better is going to be right at the top of the list of things we're going to talk about," said Green. "We have to do that in order to be successful.

"There's a lot to like about this club -- the resiliency, the fight, the overall vibe, energy. On-base [percentage] is not one of those things to like. We have to get better."

5. Youngsters offer hope for future

The Padres entered the season with a goal to give their talented young players a season's worth of experience at the big league level. Mission accomplished. Margot, Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges endured the grind of a big league season for the first time. Meanwhile, rookies Dinelson Lamet and Carlos Asuaje served as pleasant surprises after early callups.

Asuaje's four hits, three RBIs

Every one of those players mentioned above -- and Myers, too -- is under team control for at least the next five seasons.

"We're pretty close-knit, and for the future, that's great," Asuaje said. "We're going to be playing for each other for a long time."

If everything goes according to the Padres' plan, 2017 will mark the year that their young core established itself in San Diego.

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.