The most glaring problematic area starting the 2015 season for the Padres is the unknown offensive capability of the infield. It’s filled with players who’ve shown promise but are coming off subpar years at the plate. At the end of AJ Preller’s stretch of moves in December, he closed it out before taking a Christmas break by getting Will Middlebrooks from the Boston Red Sox to play third base. I remember texting friends and my wife, WE GOT MIDDLEBROOKS! Their responses were mostly in hashtags: #PrellocalypseNow, #PrellerLife, #PrellerLyfe, #PrellzBellz, #PrellerBlessed etc. My all caps reaction was a clear reflection of AJ’s body of work leading up to the move, but I was excited about Will Middlebrooks coming to San Diego because the last few years I’ve watched Will on the Red Sox. My wife is from Boston, so that’s what we do. Middlebrooks never jumped out at me. He was serviceable at third base as a calming, low drama response to the outspoken Kevin Youkilis, who ended his time in Boston badly, mostly at the hand of Bobby Valentine. However, between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, a star emerged from the NESN Red Sox broadcast. Her name was Jenny Dell (See: Above). It was clear she was headed to a bigger stage than a local broadcast team and I used to playfully throw out suggestive comments about her to make my wife playfully jealous. But before Dell could leave on her inevitable meteoric talent based rise, things got juicy. She was quietly removed from covering Red Sox games because it was revealed that she had started a serious relationship with Will Middlebrooks. I would soon move on to NBC7’s seminal meteorologist, Dagmar Midcap, but in my simple troglodyte brain, when the Padres acquired Middlebrooks, I immediately figured if he could lock down Jenny Dell, he could lock down the hot corner for the baseball team I love. For the Pads, it was a minor move, but it did add to the heap of infielders they brought to Peoria who can play multiple positions if asked. The defense in the outfield could be a huge problem, but the infield has depth and versatility, more than enough for Bud Black to work with.
At first base, Yonder Alonso, who missed 78 games last year and 65 the year before that, hit just .240 with seven home runs in 2014. He will always have a job in the big leagues with his glove, but we need to see him be a professional hitter for an entire season. If Carlos Quentin can prove he isn’t a complete train wreck at first, they could evolve that into an interesting platoon situation. It might offer the same stability that Adrian Gonzalez provided, something we haven’t felt since we had Adrian Gonzalez to provide that kind of thing.
Clint Barmes, brought in to compete with Alexi Amarista at shortstop, spent parts of last season playing all four infield spots. Amarista has played at least five different positions in each of the past three years and provides speed on the bases. Jedd Gyorko, who is firmly rooted at second for the Friars, also came up as a touted third baseman. Regardless, after signing a five-year $35 million contract extension last April, he became the only infielder the Padres are really tied to long term. Despite having below average range for a second baseman, he’s projected to have plenty of power to grow into. So far he’s been a glimmer of hope for the future, but mostly a device for Mark Grant to make Beverly Hillbillies jokes.
The third-base battle between Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte is the one everybody is watching this spring. The lineup is extremely heavy with right handed bats. Solarte is a switch hitter who can also play all the infield positions. He hit .260 in 2014 as a rookie. Middlebrooks, with more service time and a year younger than Solarte, had a down year due to injuries, hitting .191 in Boston. But In Will’s favor, he can also play first base, which would bail out Yonder Alonso against tough lefties. There are plenty of options and Bud Black doesn’t have to marry any of them.
While not being overly engaged directly, the Padres revitalized front office used modern media perfectly. Matt Kemp was coming to the Padres, then he might not, then we were told in a non-patronizing way to not be concerned about anything, and then he was ours. When we all exhaled that the big name talent was secured, the rest of the dominos fell. If Billy Beane is credited with the introduction of analytics, and Theo Epstein is the king of the Thanksgiving dinner, AJ Preller is the first person in baseball to really master the online news feed in a way that has propelled fan interaction and interest. At the end of the December run of moves, the glowing sheen of change was washed all over Will Middlebrooks to the point that just having another new name added to the elation. Is he just another guy who probably has a ceiling of an average Chase Headley year? Probably. However, Jenny Dell would disagree. Those crazy kids are engaged to be married. Jenny will battle her way up the ranks doing big college football sideline reporting and Middlebrooks will fight his way to start on a team on the rise. I’ll be tracking the news feeds, waiting to text my wife, MIDDLEBROOKS IS SINGLE! if it doesn’t work out.
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