From now until Spring Training concludes, Fox Sports San Diego will preview each player at each position that is in big league camp.
Previous position previews:
Today we will take a look at second base, a position that is up for grabs this spring as the organization waits for a young talent to break through.
The Padres enter 2018 with a handful of candidates for the second base job, but there is no real clear-cut favorite.
Currently, Jose Pirela, Carlos Asuaje, and Cory Spangenberg are all getting looks at the position.
After being acquired by the Padres in November of 2015, Jose Pirela battled injury for a chunk of 2016. He was healthy during the first half of the season; playing in 35 games at AAA El Paso, where he hit a pedestrian .248 with a .681 OPS. The Venezuela native also had a brief cup of coffee in the majors, but hit only .154 with two extra base hits in 39 at-bats. Only a few weeks after being optioned back down to the minors in May, Pirela injured his Achilles and did not play again for the rest of the season.
After being non-tendered by the Padres on December 2, 2016, Pirela re-upped with the Padres on a minor league deal four days later. It turned out beneficial for both parties.
Finally healthy, the utility man began his 2017 season in El Paso, where he tore up the PCL. In 48 games, Pirela hit .331, belted 13 home runs, and registered a very impressive 1.022 OPS. He was called up to the Padres in June and did not look back, hitting .288/.437/.490 with a .837 OPS. Playing mostly left field on an everyday basis, the 28-year-old led the Padres in fWAR (2.1) and OPS+ (122).
Andy Green was not shy in calling Pirela a strong favorite for the everyday left field job this winter. However, with Wil Myers moving to the outfield, Pirela could very well spend more of his time at second base this season. Although he has only appeared in 50 games at second base at the big league level, he has played in 322 minor league games there.
In what was something of a surprise, Cory Spangenberg was not part of the Opening Day roster in 2017. That spot went to Ryan Schimpf, whose power display in 2016 and performance in spring earned him a starting role. Looking to prove a point, Spangenberg came out of the gates in AAA on fire. In 18 games, he hit .348 with a .403 OBP and was called up in late April. After Schimpf fizzled out and his strikeout rate was too extreme for the Padres’ liking, the 26-year-old Spangenberg assumed full time 3B duties. He then proceeded to set a career high in home runs, belting out 13. His previous professional high was 4. The Padres would certainly like to see his strikeout rate decrease (26.3%) and his OBP increase (.322), but Spangenberg displayed potential at the plate and will certainly not begin his 2018 season in AAA.
Although Spangenberg played mostly third base last year, he struggled defensively. The emergence of Christian Villanueva and the arrival of Chase Headley (if he remains on the roster) will likely push him to play more second base, where he only logged 42 innings in 2017.
Carlos Asuaje is another second base option, and he has the most recent 2B experience out of the bunch. The 26-year-old was acquired in the Craig Kimbrel deal in the winter of 2015. In his first season with the Padres organization, Asuaje hit .321 and scored 98 runs for AAA El Paso. At the conclusion of the season, he was awarded with the PCL Rookie of the Year award. His performance earned him a week in the big leagues to end 2016.
Although he started 2017 back in AAA, Asuaje was called up in June and finally got the opportunity to play everyday at the big league level. He took advantage of it, too. In 89 games, the lefty slashed .270/.334/.362 with four home runs.
The Padres might not necessarily have an “everyday” second baseman in 2018 per say- at least not right away. Rather, Andy Green & co. might be better off shuffling all three players around the diamond, platooning them according to each day’s matchup. With the versatility that all three possess, this is certainly an option.
On the farm:
This offseason, 2B Luis Urias was ranked as the #32 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and the #36 prospect by MLB.com Pipeline. The Padres are expecting that he and SS Fernando Tatis Jr. will anchor the middle of their infield for years to come. Urias played his entire 2017 season in AA San Antonio, where he hit .298 with a league-leading .398 OBP. He walked (68) more times than he struck out (65). The Mexico native is a career .310 hitter in the minor leagues. At age 20, it does appear that he needs a little bit more seasoning in the minor leagues.. but how much? He certainly looks the part in spring training action so far. In his nine at bats, he has hit three doubles and has walked three times.
If all goes well, an MLB appearance late in the 2018 season seems like a definite possibility.