Pitchers and catchers report for the start of Spring Training on Thursday in Peoria, Ariz., with high hopes after a busy offseason that saw general manager Josh Byrnes essentially reshape the roster.
The team spent in free agency (signing pitchers Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit) and was also active on the trade front, acquiring outfielder Seth Smith and lefty reliever Alex Torres, among others.
The rotation has some big arms who can miss bats -- like Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and now Johnson -- which is something all managers like having on their roster. The bullpen, particularly the back end with Torres, Benoit and closer Huston Street, is stronger than it was a year ago.
To be sure, there's a lot to like, Black said.
"I think on the pitching side, the upside and potential of some big powerful arms is very exciting," Black said. "And there's a balance throughout the roster of youth, experience, speed and some power."
To move upward in the National League West, the Padres will need to stay healthy, as Carlos Quentin, Chase Headley and Cameron Maybin all had surgeries toward the end of or at the end of the season.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
At Mariners, Feb. 27, Peoria Sports Complex, 12:05 p.m. PT
Vs. Dodgers, March 30, Petco Park, 5:05 p.m. PT
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Is the starting rotation as clear-cut as it appears?
For now, yes. This has the making to be the best starting-pitching depth Black has presided over since becoming manager in 2007. The five candidates who are likely to win spots are Johnson, Ross, Cashner, Eric Stults and Ian Kennedy. Joe Wieland, who missed all of last season while working his way back from 2012 Tommy John surgery, could push for a spot. That also applies to two young pitchers, Burch Smith and Robbie Erlin, who impressed at times in 2013. Prospect Matt Wisler isn't far off. Unlike years past, there's quality depth here.
2. What will be seen from Chase Headley this season?
Is Headley the player who led the league in RBIs (115) in 2012? Or is he the one who scuffled the first five months of the season in '13? The Padres want to know that as well. Headley struggled with a left thumb injury and then a left knee injury that eventually required surgery after the season. For his struggles, he still produced a 3.4 WAR season and could be a candidate for a rebound year. Headley can take a walk, has pop from both sides of the plate and offers plus-defense. The Padres hope his 2014 looks much more like his '12 than his '13, when he chased many pitches outside the strike zone.
3. The pitching is better, but can the Padres score some runs?
The addition of Seth Smith gives the lineup a little more balance and gives the Padres a left-handed bat to help combat their woes against right-handed pitching a year ago. Headley, Quentin, Yonder Alonso, Maybin and Yasmani Grandal all missed time a year ago with injuries, and Everth Cabrera was out for the last 50 games due to a suspension. Cabrera was a catalyst in the first half, Quentin's new stance produced nice results before he was shut down and Alonso got off to a fast start before a right hand injury. Keep all of them (or most of them) healthy and the offense should be better.
76-86, tied for third in the NL West
Projected batting order
1. SS Everth Cabrera:
.283 BA, .355 OBP, .381 SLG, 4 HR, 31 RBIs in 2013
2. CF Will Venable:
.268 BA, .312 OBP, .484 SLG, 22 HR, 53 RBIs in 2013
3. 3B Chase Headley:
.250 BA, .347 OBP, .400 SLG, 13 HR, 50 RBIs in 2013
4. LF Carlos Quentin:
.275 BA, .363 OBP, .493 SLG, 13 HR, 44 RBIs in 2013
5. 2B Jedd Gyorko:
.249 BA, .301 OBP, .444 SLG, 23 HR, 63 RBIs in 2013
6. 1B Yonder Alonso:
.281 BA, .341 OBP, .368 SLG, 6 HR, 45 RBIs in 2013
7. RF Chris Denorfia:
.279 BA, .337 OBP, .395 SLG, 10 HR, 47 RBIs in 2013
8. C Nick Hundley:
.233 BA, .290 OBP, .389 SLG, 13 HR, 44 RBIs in 2013
1. Andrew Cashner, 10-9, 3.09 ERA in 2013
2. Ian Kennedy, 7-10, 4.91 ERA in 2013
3. Tyson Ross, 3-8, 3.17 ERA in 2013
4. Josh Johnson, 2-8, 6.20 ERA in 2013
5. Eric Stults, 11-13, 3.93 ERA in 2013
Closer: Huston Street, 33/35 saves, 2.70 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Joaquin Benoit, 2.01 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Alex Torres, 1.71 ERA in 2013
The new guys
OF Seth Smith: Smith was obtained from the A's for reliever Luke Gregerson in order to give the offense a boost against right-handed pitching. Smith is a career .279 hitter against righties and can play left or right field. He's coming from a big ballpark in Oakland, so there's no chance he'll be scared off by spacious Petco Park.
LHP Torres: The Padres looked for a left-handed reliever all winter and finally landed one in Torres, who is much more than a specialist. Righties actually fared worse (.149 average) against him last season than lefties (.175). The Padres like his arm and feel he can be a nice fit for the back end of the bullpen, helping set up Benoit and closer Street.
RHP Johnson: Johnson returns to the NL after an injury-filled, miserable 2013 with the Blue Jays. The Padres hope he can return to his 2010 form, when he led the NL in ERA (2.30) while he was with the Marlins. He averaged 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings last year, which shows he can still miss bats, and he was probably a little unlucky (.361 batting average on balls in play).
SS Ryan Jackson: Obtained from the Astros for Jesus Guzman, Jackson provides the Padres with a plus-defender at a critical position. The team was left scrambling last season when Cabrera was suspended for the final 50 games, and the organization didn't want to have to go through that again. And with no Major League-ready shortstop in the Minors, the Padres traded for Jackson.
LHP Patrick Schuster: The Padres acquired Schuster from the Astros after the Rule 5 Draft after Schuster was plucked by the Astros from the D-backs. The Padres liked his arm and upside, but the team has since acquired Torres and signed Minor League free agent Tony Sipp, which means Schuster could be a long shot to make the team, especially since Rule 5 rules apply to him.
RHP Benoit: In a somewhat surprise move, the Padres inked Benoit to a two-year deal not long after parting with reliever Gregerson. The Padres liked how Benoit has shown no signs of slowing down despite being 36 years old and that he has closer experience, in case Street lands on the disabled list, as he has three times in the last two seasons. He's a plus-arm for the back end of the bullpen and is someone who has had success against righties and lefties.
Prospects to watch
C Austin Hedges: Regarded as the top defensive catcher in the Minor Leagues, Hedges will start the season in Double-A San Antonio, but he won't be far off from making his big league debut. He impressed during the Arizona Fall League, and his bat continues to play well each step he takes through the Padres' system. "He's getting really close just to, mechanically, catching in the big leagues," said Black. "He's checking off some boxes."
RHP Wisler: Wisler landed squarely on the Padres' radar last season, when he went a combined 10-6 with a 2.78 ERA for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and San Antonio. Wisler offers plus-command, a mid-90s fastball and the ability to throw four pitches for strikes. He also has a high aptitude, and his makeup is off the charts, which excites the organization. He could start in San Antonio, where he finished 2013, or even in Triple-A. But he's not far off from contending for a spot in the big league rotation.
OF Rymer Liriano: Liriano, one of the top position players in the organization, missed all of last season while recovering from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow in March. Before the injury, he was coming fast, having posted a .280/.350/.417 line in 2012 between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio. He had 44 extra-base hits, 61 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 127 games that year.
On the rebound
OF Maybin: Nagging knee and wrist injuries limited Maybin to 14 games last season. But after having surgery on his right wrist in September, his recovery has gone smoothly, and he'll be ready for the start of Spring Training. This is a critical season for Maybin, who struggled in 2012 before missing nearly all of last season. He'll need to win the center-field job back.
C Grandal: Grandal suffered a gruesome injury to his right knee last season blocking the plate on a play at home, which required ACL surgery on Aug. 6. Normally it would be safe to assume he would miss at least the first half the season, but his recovery has gone well, and there's a small chance he could be ready for Opening Day.
1B Alonso: Alonso got off to a good start last season before suffering an injury to his right hand, one that troubled him for the rest of the season. He had trouble regaining strength in the hand, and the injury clearly affected his ability to drive the ball. Alonso hit 39 doubles during his first season with the Padres and would certainly like to return to that form in 2014 now that his hand is healed.
INF Logan Forsythe: The Padres parted with Forsythe as a means to land left-handed reliever Torres from the Rays in a January deal. Forsythe never got to play his natural position (third base) much with the Padres because of Headley, but he offered infield versatility. Forsythe was slowed during his time in San Diego by foot surgery in 2012 and plantar fasciitis last season.
INF/OF Guzman: Guzman posted a 2.8 oWAR in parts of three seasons with the Padres -- not a bad return for a player who originally signed with the team as a Minor League free agent. He became a little redundant when the team acquired Seth Smith from the A's since he and Kyle Blanks both can play first base and the outfield.
OF Mark Kotsay: Kotsay hit .194 last year in his final season in the big leagues. He announced his retirement in the final month of the season and then accepted a job in the Padres' front office as a special assistant. Trevor Hoffman, Brad Ausmus and Mark Loretta followed a similar route after they stepped away from the game.
RP Gregerson: The Padres parted with Gregerson to land Seth Smith from the A's, which at the time seemed like a big blow to the bullpen (the team later signed Benoit to a two-year deal, which alleviated some fan concerns). Gregerson was a 3.9 WAR performer over five seasons with the team and a critical cog in the team's late-inning bullpen mix.