Tuning into the Padres games lately might be a bit odd for someone who isn’t following closely. Some of the names are unfamiliar, especially when compared to 2016, or even just Opening Day 2017. As the Padres continue to rebuild, swapping major league contributors for future upside, the faces of the Padres continue to change as the season progresses. If I had told you on Opening Day, that I was extremely familiar with names like José Pirela, Carlos Asuaje, and Phil Maton, I would have been lying. However, in the last month or so, we have been treated to a great exhibition of some new Padres talent, and the results have been impressive. In a season where the silver lining is not being in dead-last place, let’s take a closer look at three new Padres and how they have performed in the 2017 campaign.
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At 27 years old, it might be a bit of a stretch to call José Pirela a youngster. He seems unlikely to be a player that the Padres consider a big part of the future, and has been playing professional ball for 10 years. With that being said, the 6-foot righty has gotten the job done for the Padres, wherever, and whenever they have needed him. Since his 2017 Padres call-up on June 6th, Pirela has played 1B, 2B, and 3B, as well as LF and RF. In 170 AB, Pirela is batting .288, with 22 extra base hits and a streak of reaching base 13 games in a row. José has also batted all around the lineup and has been able to produce wherever he has been plugged in. The Padres have definitely been mixing up the outfield, with short term injuries to Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe, and Travis Jankowski still on the mend from an early injury. In the infield, the Padres had to piece it together during a lengthy absence for Yangervis Solarte and the recent injury to Erick Aybar. Pirela’s versatility has been incredibly handy for the Padres, who have seen fellow OF/IF combo man Allen Córdoba beginning to show signs of fatigue and inexperience in his own rookie season. After averaging a .239 average in parts of 3 previous MLB seasons, it remains to be seen if Pirela can continue his success, but so far he has stayed hot. Overall, I am really impressed with his ability to adapt to the different scenarios he has seen this year and continue to be an asset wherever needed.
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After two brief MLB stints in late 2016 and early 2017, Carlos Asuaje was recalled from AAA on June 23rd. With Yangervise Solarte on the disabled list, the left handed hitting, right handed throwing Asuaje, has been seeing every day playing time at 2B. Previously listed as the Padres #19 prospect, Asuaje has held down 2B defensively, while raking at the plate. In 103 ABs Carlos holds a team-leading .320 batting average, with almost a third of his hits going for extra bases. Like most Padres fans, I was very concerned with how the infield was going to work out with Solarte on the DL. Moving Cory Spangenberg into the 2B position seemed conceivable, although Spangenberg has spent most of his time at the hot corner this year. Acquired in the deal that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox, Asuaje was largely considered a footnote in the trade, despite showing much promise in the minor leagues. With a .416 BABIP, Asuaje isn’t likely to hit .320 for the rest of the year but has shown great patience and contact skills so far. I’m certainly a little cautious in my optimism for Asuaje, as Allen Córdoba also started out batting at a .300+ clip too, before struggling more recently. With Solarte returning, it remains to be seen what kind of playing time will remain for Asuaje rest of season. Assuming Carlos is part of the Padres future, I would love to see him continue to get playing time against big league pitching and see how he develops for the remainder of the year.
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If I had to choose a face for the Padres youth movement, I would choose Phil Maton. Maton looks like he should still be in high school, but lately, he has been shutting hitters down out of the Padres bullpen. After showing great poise and potent stuff in AAA El Paso, the young right hander was promoted to the majors on June 11th. Since his promotion, Maton has held opposing hitters to a .205 average while striking out 9.9 batters per 9 innings. Phil relies primarily on his fastball, throwing it over 75% of the time, and mixing in a curveball while very rarely using a sinker and changeup. In 21 MLB appearances, Maton holds a 3.15 era with 22 K’s. With the Padres bullpen missing staples Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter, a young arm like Maton to anchor the later innings is something the Padres need badly. Before his promotion, Maton was leading the AAA Chihuahuas with 13 saves, and that kind of composure makes him a necessary part the of diminished pen. The best part is that I don’t think these early numbers are unrealistic. In his minor league career, Maton held a 1.84 era with 167 strikeouts in just 109.2 innings. One of the most impressive stats is his .93 career WHIP. Not only does he whiff an absurd number of hitters, but he doesn’t allow baserunners either. In just his 3rd professional season, watching Maton dominate is incredibly entertaining. To see a 24-year-old with this much talent really blows me away, and I can’t wait to see what he does for the rest of the year.
The Padres continue to play many unfamiliar faces around the diamond. A lot of players who began the year in AAA have made their way into the lineup, and I love it. Seeing Pirela, Asuaje, and Maton perform at a high-level is definitely something to root for going forward. The energy and maximum effort that we are treated to from these guys, is something that all Padres fans should definitely appreciate. Another aspect of the productivity from these young players, particularly Asuaje and Maton, is the future potential. Pirela might not be a part of the long term plan, but his versatility has been vital. But Asuaje has filled a glaring hole while Solarte has been injured, and Maton has absolutely dominated out of the pen. All three of these guys have stepped up in some huge spots, and that’s exactly what the 2017 Padres have needed. While the team is rebuilding, the Padres have been picking up the pace a bit lately, and although they aren’t going to make a run at the wild card slot, they are becoming a lot more fun to watch.