PEORIA, Ariz. — How do you replace a 42-homer superstar, the face of your franchise and one of the best players in the sport with three weeks until Opening Day rosters are set?
The Padres are about to find out.
Fernando Tatis Jr. will miss up to three months after fracturing his left wrist during the offseason, president of baseball operations AJ Preller said on Monday.
“It’s obviously a hit,” said new Padres manager Bob Melvin. “But it gives somebody else an opportunity. What I’m going to talk to these guys about, too, is that it’s not about 26, 28 [players], but a lot of times it’s 40 or 50 over the course of the season. We’re talking about one guy.
“Obviously, he’s extremely important. But it should motivate us to hold down the fort until he gets back.”
How exactly does Melvin’s group hold the fort down? Here’s what might lie in store as the Padres look to stay afloat without Tatis:
1. Kim gets his luck
A year ago, the Padres signed Ha-Seong Kim to a four-year contract out of Korea, knowing it might take the infielder some time to adjust to big league pitching. Sure enough, Kim started slowly. His bat picked up a bit when he got regular playing time midseason, though he still finished with a .622 OPS. Kim’s defense, meanwhile, proved to be outstanding all year.
Speaking with reporters after the team’s first full-squad workout on Monday, Kim noted that he spent most of the offseason working against velocity — a challenge for him in his first season in the big leagues. He feels he has made major strides in that department.
“If I get consistent playing time, I’m confident I’m going to start hitting, put up good numbers,” Kim said through an interpreter. “Defence, I can play consistently. I know that. I believe in my defence. But when it comes to hitting, if I get consistent playing time, if I work hard, I know I can do well.”
Despite the offensive concerns, Kim is viewed as the primary replacement option for Tatis, though it seems likely that Jake Cronenworth will see some reps there. Cronenworth, of course, is capable of handling just about any infield position, but if he were to move from second base, the Padres would need to fill his spot, having traded Adam Frazier to the Mariners in November.
“We signed Kim for a reason last year,” Melvin said. “He’s going to get a great opportunity here. Cronenworth can play there. We’ll see where we are with [CJ] Abrams down the road, too.”
2. Opportunity for Abrams?
The immediate plan is for Kim and Cronenworth to help cover Tatis’ reps at shortstop. But plans can change, and the Padres, notably, have one of the sport’s top shortstop prospects in camp as a non-roster invitee.
The 21-year-old Abrams has been a standout at Minor League camp, playing for the first time since he broke his left leg and sprained his left MCL last June at Double-A San Antonio. MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect, Abrams bulked up during the offseason, and Padres staff has noticed some extra pop at the plate and some extra zip on his throws as a result.
The Padres aren’t going to rush Abrams, especially if there’s not regular playing time available. But Preller has already shown that he’s capable of promoting his top prospects quickly. In fact, he has already demonstrated that he’s capable of promoting elite shortstop prospects for Opening Day if they earn the job during Spring Training.
3. Time to find a much-needed bat
So the Padres think they have replacements in-house at shortstop. The offensive production, however? That’s a bit tougher to find.
If the Friars needed a middle-of-the-order offensive weapon before Tatis’ injury, well, they need one even more right now. While San Diego boasts plenty of depth in the infield, its outfield mix is thin, and the presence of a universal designated hitter likely requires a further upgrade.
“In the outfield, that’s a spot that for sure we’re going to look at,” Preller said. “We’re looking at a corner-outfield bat and then some type of DH production.”
The Padres are among the teams in contention to sign star outfielder Seiya Suzuki from Japan. Suzuki met with team officials at Petco Park over the weekend, but his intentions remain unclear.
Suzuki would offer a much-needed boost, with Wil Myers, Trent Grisham and Jurickson Profar as the only primary outfielders on the 40-man roster. But the Padres, whose offense slumped mightily down the stretch last season, have room to add multiple hitters and appear poised to do so.
“We like our group, for sure,” Preller said. “But we know there’s good players that are out there. We’re going to look to bring in some guys that can help our group and fortify and solidify what we think is a really good team and a really good foundation.”