Official 2013 San Diego Padres Season Preview

This Chat Sports official guest post is brought to you by Greg Thurston of Climbing Tal's Hill.

The San Diego Padres enter the 2013 season looking to improve upon their 76-86 record and fourth place finish of 2012. This is a young team with plenty of promise. The question is: are they ready to live up to their potential?

Last season Chase Headley emerged as the leader of the Padres offense. The third-baseman smashed 31 homers, stole 17 bases, and led the National League with 115 RBIs. A second round pick by the Padres back in 2005, the switch-hitting Headley finally had the kind of season Padres fans had been waiting for.

If the Padres are going to take the next step and move up in the standings, they will need Headley to continue to produce. They will also need the other guys in the middle of the order to help Headley by providing some punch. Last season San Diego ranked 28th in homeruns and 26th in slugging percentage. The fences at Petco Park have been moved in and that could be a bonus for guys like first-baseman Yonder Alonso and centerfielder Cameron Maybin. Alonso had an encouraging rookie campaign and should continue to get better. After a nice season in 2011, Maybin’s numbers were down in 2012.

The health of leftfielder Carlos Quentin could once again prove to be a key factor in the Padres’ season. Quentin started last season on the disabled list and the Friars got off to a slow start. Quentin is again doubtful for Opening Day as he is experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired right knee. If Quentin is unable to answer the bell Chris Denorfia should see an increase in playing time. As it stands, Denorfia looks to be the right-handed hitting half of a rightfield platoon with Max Venable.

Everth Cabrera, last season’s N.L. leader in steals with 44, returns at the top of the lineup and at shortstop. Cabrera’s double-play partner has yet to be determined. The Padres like Logan Forsythe at second base but top prospect Jedd Gyorko is making a smooth transition from the hot corner and could win the job. Gyorko hit 30 homers between AA and AAA last season. The 24-year old has an impressive .319/.385/.529 slash line in three minor league seasons.

Nick Hundley and John Baker will share the catching duties while Yasmani Grandal serves his 50-game suspension at the start of the season. Grandal hit .297/.394/.469 in 60 games in his rookie season. Whether or not those numbers were inflated due to the use of performance enhancing drugs remains to be seen.

Super-sub Jesus Guzman returns as the Padres first option off the bench. Guzman is a right-handed hitter who can play first base and both corner outfield spots. He even filled in at second base a few times last season.

The performance of the Padres pitching staff will be the key to the team’s chances of success. How will they adapt to the smaller ballpark? Only time will tell.

Jason Marquis, who spent most of last season with the Padres, was re-signed and could provide some veteran leadership on a young staff. Marquis is having a nice spring and should break camp as the #3 starter behind Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez. Lefty Eric Stults has a leg up on the #4 spot, thanks in part to the solid 1.18 WHIP and 2.92 ERA he posted in 2012.

Like most clubs this time of year, the #5 spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Anthony Bass, Tyson Ross, Sean O’Sullivan, and veteran Freddy Garcia are among those competing for the job. A couple of promising prospects, Robbie Erlin and Donn Roach, are also in camp. But the sheer number of candidates suggests both are likely headed back to the minors, at least for now.

The guy who will eventually fill the #5 spot is flame-throwing 25-year old Andrew Cashner. Sidelined due to a hunting accident that resulted in a lacerated tendon on his pitching thumb, Cashner is actually ahead of schedule on his rehab. Cashner recently pitched 2 &1/3 innings in an outing and is attempting to get ready by Opening Day. Cashner battled injuries most of last season and the Padres are sure to take a cautious approach with him.

Another promising young arm could be lost for the season. Casey Kelly has been experiencing elbow problems and may be headed for Tommy John surgery. Lefty Cory Luebke had the procedure performed last May and could be back by the All-Star break.

Closer Huston Street anchors a bullpen and will be set up by Team USA member Luke Gregerson. Brad Brach burst onto the scene in 2012, striking out 10.1 batters per nine innings and holding hitters to a .204 batting average. But the lanky right-hander needs to improve upon his 11.8% walk rate.

Brad Boxberger is another live young arm that could find a spot in the Padres ‘pen this season. Relievers Dale Thayer and Joe Thatcher are also likely to break camp with the club.

The 2013 Padres should be a fun team to watch. But it will be difficult for them to contend in the tough N.L. West. The World Series Champion San Francisco Giants club remains mostly intact and the Dodgers seem to be willing to spend whatever it takes to bring a title to Los Angeles. Still, the Padres appear to be a team on the rise. If they can play like they did during their 17-5 run that started last August, contending for a wildcard spot might not be out of the question. But that’s probably a best case scenario.

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