Padres future outfield options remain in question
The San Diego Padres have a plethora of injury problems this year — some of the outfield variety that could lead to questions heading into next year. Carlos Quentin is currently on the DL for ongoing knee problems. This year, Quentin has produced triple slash line of .275/.363/.493 with 13 homers and 44 RBI’s in 82 games — comparable to last year. General Manager Josh Byrnes implied Quentin could “likely” need another knee surgery, and the probability of him playing again this year is slim to none.
Cameron Maybin is currently on the DL with a strained left knee. He also has been limited by wrist problems the last couple years. Cameron Maybin hit just .157 with one home run in only 14 games this year. Last year, the Padres center fielder had an underwhelming showing to say the least, hitting .243/.306/.349 with eight homers and 44 RBI — regressing after his promising 2011 first full-year campaign, which prompted the Padres to extend the gifted young athlete. In 2011, he hit an encouraging .264/.323/.393 with nine big flies and 40 stolen bases in 137 games.
That begs the question: Will the Padres look internally to solve their outfield woes?
The Padres have Chris Denofria who tattoos left-handed pitching. He is a fan favorite who will undoubtedly see plenty of time next year, barring a trade. Norf, as the Padre faithful like to call him, is hitting right around his career peripherals at .274/.332/.393, matching a career high in home runs with nine, which he will most certainly surpass this season. As I pointed out, he is a lefty killer at a triple slash of .293/.361/.533 with all of his nine homers coming against lefties.
The Padres also have Will Venable, who may have earned himself another year with his stellar outfield gold-glove caliber play. In addition, he has made terrific strides offensively against left-handed pitching (something of an Achille’s heel for him historically) and with his power numbers. Venable, who has been platooned with Denorfia, is hitting an impressive .284/.304/.567, including a walk-off home run against left-handed pitching this year. I believe Venable has matured with more consistent playing time and possibly benefiting from the modifications to the right field fences in PETCO Park. Venable, who will be 31 in October, is hitting .263/.303/.486 this year with 17 doubles and six triples, and he has shattered his career high in homers with 17 already. Venable is a true 20-20 threat, and his 17 home runs in less than 400 at-bats should be encouraging, along with his superb defense, as the Padres head into 2014.
Not to be lost in the discussion, is Padres outfielder/first baseman Kyle Blanks. Blanks, still only 26, has been intriguing and has true offensive-impact potential. The young right-handed slugger has thrived with runners in scoring position this year, until he went down with an Achilles issue, which landed him on the DL. Ironically, he has been more unreliable than Carlos Quentin. He is set to start rehabbing today in Lake Elsinore or triple-A Tucson. Before landing on the DL, Blanks was among MLB leaders in hitting with runners in scoring position at a .383 clip. He’s batted .256 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in only 219 at-bats this year.
The Padres may have a renewed faith in former top outfielder prospect, Jaff Decker. Decker was promoted upon Quentin’s injury. His stock has risen this year thanks to the hitting-friendly PCL and merely being healthy, which is helping him return to his pure-hitting prospect form. Decker is only 23, and the once highly touted prospect has shown glimpses of hope for the Padres as a mainstay producer at the big-league level. bBut will the Padres rely solely on the youngsters to play in 2014? Decker hit .293/.389/.450 with nine homers in triple-A. Since being promoted, Decker has hit .174/.259/.304 but in only 23 at-bats, which included his first MLB hit — a home run.
The Padres also have Raymond Fuentes, who came over in the Adrian Gonzalez deal from Boston. After a few mediocre seasons with the Friars since the trade, Fuentes has thrived in double-A. And upon Decker’s promotion to triple-A, Fuentes hasn’t skipped a beat — putting him back on the Padres radar as a legit prospect — and maybe as successor to Cameron Maybin?
Which brings me to Alexi Amarista.
With myriad injures to the outfield, the Padres have played Amarista almost exclusively in center field now that rookie Jedd Gyorko has settled in at second base, which was Amarista’s natural position. Could the Padres be prepping Amarista in case Cameron Maybin’s wrist or knee problems, along with lack of production, continue? Alexi has looked dazzling at times, and lost at other times. He takes questionable routs to the baseball, but this should be expected with limited center field experience. Another option could be to platoon a combination of Denorfia, Maybin and Amarista. This year, Amarista is hitting a meager .143/.226/.143 off left-handed pitching, but he has a very impressive line against right-handed pitching: .277/.313/.415 with all of his five homers. The problem: Historically, Cameron Maybin has an almost identical line against left-handed and right-handed pitching. Although, in his most productive year in the big leagues, he thrived hitting southpaws at a triple-slash clip of .296/.342/.408 with nine homers (three off lefties).
A similar scenario could be applied to Fuentes, if he’s given the opportunity. Since being promoted to triple-A Tucson, Fuentes is batting a underwhelming .182 off left-handed pitchers, opposed to a robust .471 average off right-handers (albeit a small sample). Fuentes has hit a combined .326/.407/.446 with 25 doubles, two triples and six home runs, and he has 34 stolen bases between double- and triple-A. Look for Fuentes to be a September call-up.
It will be interesting to see if Quentin needs yet another surgery to repair his knee and how Maybin and Blanks will respond to rehab moving forward. Having said that, the Padres outfield will remain a question mark until they provide more stability internally and keep their core players healthy.