Swiss Army Knife Named Cronenworth
By: Nick Recchia
INF/RP - JAKE CRONENWORTH
PHOTO CREDIT: SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE
Acquired along with Tommy Pham in the December 5th trade with the Tampa Rays for OF Hunter Renfroe and prospect Xavier Edwards, Jake Cronenworth comes with much less acclaim than his trade counterparts. That being said, he might end up as important an acquisition in the long term for the Padres as Tommy Pham is in the short term. While playing shortstop last year for the Durham Bulls AAA affiliate for the Rays last year, he was not only the team MVP but led the entire AAA International League in batting average and on base percentage, at .334 and .429 respectively. The addition of quality at bats and on base percentage it seems was a combo addition with Pham.
Cronenworth’s background starts as a prep player from St. Clair High School in St. Clair, Michigan where he went undrafted but found his way on the campus of the Michigan Wolverine. During his three years at Michigan, he played shortstop and was the de facto closer for the team, registrering 27 Saves over his career. After a strong Junior season that saw him post a .338/.419/.494 slash line, he was drafted by the Tampa Rays in the 7th round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft. After a successful run as a two way player in college, the Rays like most of the teams at the time, chose to have him focus on one position to focus on over another and he did not see himself take the pitchers mound again until the 2019 campaign. When he did return to the mound, he still possessed a mid 90’s fastball and a knee buckling curveball that would flash plus if not always consistent. This would translate in a small sample size to 7.1 innings pitched, not allowing an earned run and striking out 8.
Outside of his power fastball, power at the plate has never been a big part of Jake’s game with 2019 displaying his career high water mark with 10 homeruns. He is a tough out who works counts and grinds through at bats, rarely giving them away. He walks nearly as much as he strikes out as evidence of his BB% of 12.1% vs his K% of 15.3%. His BABIP of .382 is Fernando Tatis(ish) and not sustainable based on his track record so a slight return to the mean is in order more than likely. Even so, you have a multi tooled middle infielder with the ability to scrap through at bats and find ways to get on base. His ability to play a true shortstop defensively gives him a big leg up on other infielders competing for a roster spot this spring.
The big thing that differentiates Jake from every other one of his teammates in camp minus Javy Guerra, is his ability to contribute to both the position player and pitching groups simultaneously. He won’t be expected to offer big innings out of the pen, but if he can spell the occasional breather for the group, it would be incredibly valuable. In games like that, a pen can be worn down for the rest of that series and next sometimes, and even pose an injury risk of a position player out of his element. He is in camp with a path to succeed as a dual threat compliment and a renaissance man who does it all for the new 26th roster spot on your 2020 San Diego Padres.
Zach Davies: The Art Of Pitching
By Nick Recchia
RHP - ZACH DAVIES
PHOTO CREDIT: SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE
In November of 2019, the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers consummated a four player deal that landed SS Luis Urias and SP Eric Lauer in Milwaukee while OF Trent Grisham and SP Zach Davies heading to Petco. While most of the talk has centered around the heralded position players in the deal, the acquisition of Davies has largely been overlooked by critics of the team that wanted the rotation improved. For every herculean effort Lauer would provide against the Dodgers, he would get shell shocked against the Rockies showing an inconsistent pattern of performance.
Davies is not the pitcher who will wow you with the radar gun readings, but will entertain you in the art of pitching. He will throw to all quadrants of the strike zone, will change speeds and eye levels all while avoiding patterns for the hitter to read into. He will utilize a two seam fastball that sits in the 88-92 range with great lateral run. His change up will compete with Chris Paddacks as the best on the team at 78-81 mph while his 72-76 mph curve is a true eye level changer. His change up and cutter, which usually sits in the 87-89 range, are two useful tools he uses to keep left handed hitters off balance. His splits were about neutral in 2019 with southpaws hitting .254/.315/.436 and right handed hitters batting .258/.312/.395. His pitch usage backs up the pitchability aspect with Davies utilizing his Fastball, Cutter, Changeup mix a whopping 95.7% of the time with his curveball rounding it out. His entire strategy is throwing off hitters timing and comfort level up there since he knows he can’t wind back and throw stuff by guys at this level.
How many six foot 155lb right handers who sit 90 mph on their fastball do you see carve out a career at the Major League level? That is a testament to his pitching abilities. Having a pitcher who can carve up a lineup with guts and guile can only be beneficial to the laundry list of Padres on the pitching staff who do possess that plus stuff. To be able to match guys and guile with pure stuff is what makes pitchers like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Jacob DeGrom some of the best in the business. Having an example in the clubhouse to bounce ideas off of can only be beneficial for young starters like Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, and Co.
The Padres, heading into the 2020 season have some decisions to make with the starting rotation and staff as a whole but one thing is sure, Zach Davies will be in the heart of it. Having a pitcher with his moxie and guile in the middle of the rotation would be a difficult match up when sandwiched between power starters like Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards. Ask hitters and they will tell you a pitcher like Davies can ruin your timing (hitters clock) for a handful of games. The Padres hope his calming demeanor and “Bat Boy” nickname fit in nicely on a team with high expectations and pressured situations to come. The baby faced assassin is ready to answer the bell.
Buying & Selling?
By: Nick Recchia
RHP - KIRBY YATES
The Padres are entering an important season in 2020 where they are on the cusp of competing yet still have some spots in the lineup that have long term spots available. Some spots that have been question marks for years (3B/SS) now have long term cogs playing them for the foreseeable future. Spots like second base, the outfield as a whole minus new addition Tommy Pham, and catcher all have young talented players at them yet more potential than production yet. These young players all come with prospect pedigrees and rosey outlooks yet all have warts upon their games that creep up doubt in the back of your mind from Francisco Mejia’s defensive chops to the unknown that is Trent Grisham, and the injury histories of Franchy Cordero and Jurickson Profar. Talent doesn’t play when it's on the injured list.
When you start to near towards the end of February, the Free Agent market is all but dry, Yasiel Puig notwithstanding, and the trade market is seeing prices climb as teams have held tight throughout the Winter to where they are now. The Padres have depth in a number of places from the recently #2 ranked farm system in MLB to a number of young major leaguers in Josh Naylor, Ty France, and Franchy Cordero, to a bullpen that will have as much talent at the AAA level as half the teams in baseball have at the Major League level. This particular area has been reinforced for multiple reasons from shortening the game for a young staff with a history of injuries, to just never having enough pitching. When the team last week dealt outfielder Manuel Margot and prospect Logan Driscoll to Tampa for reliever Emilio Pagan, the depth of the pen reached almost comical levels though.
When talk of reallocating this bullpen depth to shore up other parts of the roster was broached by Padres Chairmen Ron Fowler last week, eyes certainly perked up. Outside of the underrated Pham pick up, the bullpen acquisitions of Pomeranz, Pagan, and resigning of Craig Stammen have been the heavy lifting of the Padres' off-season. It's not unreasonable that Padres ownership has expectations that might have not been met yet but with Preller trying to hold his poker face with opposing GM’s, it's sure more challenging. Preller knows what he has and doesn’t have and other GM’s in this data driven sport are holding firm to their player values and utilizing the owners chirps as leverage. Now to make a trade possible, it takes two GM’s that are capable and motivated to make changes happen. A trade that allows both teams to “win” the trade are usually the right ones to pursue.
One such trading partner for AJ Preller might be Cincinnati Reds GM Nick Krall who has led an unusual spending spree for a team usually bogged down towards the bottom of the NL Central. After trading for Trevor Bauer last July, who is in his final year of team control in 2020, he has signed both 2b Mike Moustakas and OF Nicholas Castellanos to four-year $64 million contracts. This is a team spending money with what they deem as their window of contention opening in 2020. With an offense that will slug in one of the National League’s supreme hitters parks in the Great American Ballpark, a starting staff led by Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer, there are few areas of concern.
One area that might be of interest is the back of the bullpen where current closer RaiseI Iglesias ended the year with a 4.16 ERA due to a HR/9 of 1.6 which led all of their fulltime relievers. The Padres having just acquired last year’s Tampa Rays defacto closer Emilio Pagan, now possess a multitude of options to close out games at Petco. Kirby Yates, one of the best closers in baseball and a developing local favorite, is on the last season of his team control. A closer is a volatile commodity to begin with, but a soon to be 33 year young closer on the final year of his deal, is usually a commodity too rich to hold onto unless you’re pushing your chips all in like Cincy is.
A possible deal could include Padres closer Kirby Yates and prospects for young Reds phenom Nick Senzel who seemingly has been blocked by a number of free agent signings over the last two seasons. This would provide a long term cog for the Padres who would have six years of team control over Senzel who could play CF or 2b and the Reds could slot Yates into the back of the pen, sliding everyone down one spot and giving them their best path of winning the NL Central for the first time since 2012. It takes two to tango and we shall see if a move like this benefits both GM’s moving forward.
By Nick Recchia
PHOTO CREDIT: BASEBALL SAVANT
There are some players who matriculate to the majors after a handful of years while others are meteors that you can see from miles away screaming on their path to the show. Tommy Pham, for the surprising career he has had so far, was neither. Drafted out of Durango HS in the 16th round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft, Pham like many young players struggled in his first rounds of pro ball. Having over 3,000 plate appearances at the minor league level while spending parts of his first twelve seasons in the minors before a breakout campaign for the Cardinals in 2017 kept him up for good and even garnered him some MVP votes. His .306/.411/.520 slash line has been the highwater mark so far in his career, but also shows the potential that is possible in that 6.2 WAR season.
The Padres new left fielder, acquired from the Rays this offseason along with infielder Jake Cronenworth for outfielder Hunter Renfroe, second baseman Xavier Edwards and a PTBNL, fits the Padres biggest offensive deficiency, which has been a lack of on base percentage up and down the lineup. His career OBP of .373 immediately slots in near the top of the lineup along with Fernando Tatis who himself had a OBP last year of .379. Having these two as table setters who can also do damage changes the complexion of the lineup in front of Manny Machado. Manny has two potential 20/20+ guys in front of him causing havoc and damage which should provide more offense and dangerous situations for opposing pitchers.
Outside of the statistical output Pham brings to the team, is the grit and competitive fire he jolts into the clubhouse. This is someone who has been a fan favorite wherever he has gone and is revered by the Tampa Rays clubhouse as the guy who kept the team accountable and on it at all times. That has been something lacking on previous teams which reflects on the organization and the stigma of the laid back culture of San Diego as a whole most of the country assumes about us. His drive and persona of someone with a chip on his shoulder bodes well for a team who is consistently dogged by National media. The team needs a fire that propels them from potential to production and what better person to do that than a player who helped the Rays continue to do the same thing the last couple of years. .
As an organization on the rise and with aspirations of playoff baseball soon, you want players that have had some experience to help bring along the young guys. That started with bringing in Eric Hosmer and continues currently with Pham. Some players scintillate during the regular season only to fizzle under the focus and spotlight of the postseason. Over his career with the Cardinals and Rays, he has been every bit the star in the playoffs as he has during the regular season with a .333/.355/..633 slash line and three home runs over 31 plate appearances. He not only exceeds in this role but seems to take his quality of play to a whole other level.
Diamonds are forged through intense pressure and stress over many years. It took Tommy Pham until the end of his age 29 season to finally settle in as a big leaguer. Never being given anything easy in this game has made him the star he is today. Diamonds are their most magical under the brightest of lights and this one is no different.
By Nick Recchia
LHP - MACKENZIE GORE
Photo Credit: Mark Collier
As the Kris Bryant contract grievance has finally concluded, it reminds Padres fans of an important decision the front office made at the end of camp last year. With what has been status quo for a number of years, to hide your MLB ready prospects down in the minors under a false pretense to delay their service clocks, the Padres bucked the trend and in a big way. As the team left Peoria, it informed two very heralded prospects that they would join the big league club for the opening day in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and starting pitcher Chris Paddack. The club could of claimed how the young shortstop needed to work on some additional “seasoning” at the AA/AAA level or how Paddack needed to refine his breaking ball but instead, opted to bring with them two individuals who could contribute to making the big league team better from day one, regardless of the financial ramifications it could pose down the road.
It was a bold move to punt an extra year of team control over what many times is a handful of additional weeks in the minors to begin the season. With that being said, ownership and the front office were transparent in their approach of putting the best talent on the field possible. This approach will be tested again this spring with top prospect MacKenzie Gore, fresh off the 2019 MLB Pipeline Pitcher of the Year award as the top pitcher in all the minor leagues. As the top pitching prospect in baseball and reaching the AA circuit last year, there is little left to prove in the minors with four plus or better pitches and the guile that belies his youth, not turning 21 until this February 24th. Paddack ended the 2018 season at AA just as Gore did in 2019 and with less of a repertoire then the younger Gore.
Yet there are questions that have arisen since the dawn of the 2019 campaign like the explosion of contract dollars high level starting pitching has received during this offseason. Pitchers that are elite, always are well rewarded during this process but the game changed this year with multiple pitchers breaking the all time free agent contract given to a starting pitcher, and both by a wide berth. San Diego native Stephen Strasburg received a seven-year , $245 million deal ($35M AAV) to resign with the Washington Nationals while the New York Yankees broke open the piggy bank to sign former Astros hurler Gerrit Cole to a record setting nine-year deal for $324 million ($36M AAV).
Due to these aforementioned contracts, it makes you really analyze the worth of keeping Gore down in the minors for what amounts to early May typically. That “extra” season of control you’d receive could be valued at $35 million or more if Gore is every bit the quality of pitcher most pundits believe he will be. For an organization that will have to find ways to already pay budding stars Tatis and Paddack sooner than later based on the actions of last spring, it might be prudent to benefit from such extra “seasoning” you could deploy at the AA/AAA level in the opening weeks of the 2020 season. We shall see if AJ Preller is compelled to seize the day again with catapulting Gore into the starting rotation from day one to help this team win or a more reserved approach. A GM is motivated more than ever when his job is on the line. Let’s see if we continue to zig when others zag.
Longtime baseball enthusiast who tries to incorporate new age analytics into old school baseball strategy and how the two can coexist in winning harmony. Also a minor league aficionado who delves deep into the farm to share the love of the game from the lower rungs of the minor leagues and up. Always up for sports talk.