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SD Padres Infield: Depth Chart Discussions

In the coming weeks, we’ll be covering each team’s potential depth charts in an effort to shine a spotlight on the interesting playing time battles that will be waged this spring. Obviously none of these depth charts are set in stone — rather they should function to focus your attention in the right places to find cheap fantasy value.

The Padres’ position players are routinely a fantasy afterthought due to the oppressive run environment in Petco Park. They’re full of young, interesting talent this year, though. Chase Headley enjoyed a breakout season in 2012 and will be the everyday starter at third base. Yonder Alonso saw 600+ plate appearances at first base last year and will likely do so again this season. Finally, Everth Cabrera should be the Opening Day starter at shortstop, with Alexi Amarista getting occasional spot starts.

However, second base could be up for grabs this spring, and the suspension of Yasmani Grandal threw a sizeable wrench into the Padres’ plans at catcher early in the year. These are the two main battles to watch this spring.

Playing Time Battles: Second Base

Logan Forsythe started 73 games at second base last year and appears to have the inside track on the starting role heading into spring training. He hit .273/.343/.390 last year with six home runs and a .325 wOBA — so the Padres could do worse at the keystone position — but a starting gig isn’t a sure thing.

The 26-year-old really struggles against right-handed pitching. Despite his acceptable slash line to end the year, he only managed to hit .222/.284/.319 against right-handers. Of course, Forsythe dominated left-handed pitching (.384/.465/.545), but he was relatively useless with a right-handed hurler on the mound. That severely limits his effectiveness as an everyday starter, so in that way, platooning him makes much more sense.

San Diego lacks a true left-handed complement to Forsythe, though. Alexi Amarista hits left-handed, but only compiled a .283 wOBA against righties. Even with some improvement expected due to a .244 BABIP against righties, he doesn’t project to offer too much value in a platoon role at second base. He’s a light-hitting speedster who will derive most of his value off BABIP-dependent batting average and stolen bases.

Without a true platoon-mate, the Padres may opt to go away from Logan Forsythe completely at second base in favor of prospect Jedd Gyorko. Our own Marc Hulet ranked Gyorko as the second-best prospect in the Padres’ system, and the young man could provide a more well-rounded bat. He mashed in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .325/.377/.585 slash line with 24 home runs (six more in Double-A). Scouts believe Gyorko has a chance to be average defensively at second base, and with his bat, that may be enough to push Forsythe into a utility role to begin the season.

At the very least, Gyorko will begin the year lurking in Triple-A Tucson, poised to pounce should Forsythe show any signs of struggle.

Replacing Grandal

Yasmani Grandal was a popular sleeper following the 2012 season. He hit .297/.394/.469 with eight home runs in only 226 plate appearances in a very difficult offensive environment. Though it’s not necessarily relevant in fantasy circles, his promising performance can be seen by the fact that he compiled +2.6 WAR in roughly half a season as a rookie. At only 24 years old, he offered potential double-digit home runs from the catcher position with a solid batting average and an elite walk rate, which made him even more attractive in OBP leagues.

Of course, all of this was before his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He will not be eligible to return to the Padres’ lineup until late May (which perhaps makes him an even deeper sleeper in fantasy leagues that feature ample bench spots, but that’s beside the point). That means increased playing time for Nick Hundley and John Baker behind the dish.

Hundley appears to offer sneaky value in deeper NL-only formats because he’s only one year removed from a .356 wOBA, and last year, he really struggled with a .205 wOBA and a paltry .088 ISO. Many have pointed to a staggeringly low .196 BABIP as a sign for significant improvement, but it’s important to note his swinging-strike rate jumped almost three percent to 12.3%. So there was more than merely “bad luck” going on last year for Hundley. He’s also coming off knee surgery to end the 2012 season, which limits his appeal even further.

John Baker saw 214 plate appearances with the Padres last year, but only hit .238/.310/.280 with zero home runs. He’s never been a power hitter, and playing in San Diego only amplifies that trait. Although Baker should see some extra time early in the season with Grandal’s suspension, fantasy owners should not waste time with him. His .238 batting average was his highest since 2009, and he hasn’t eclipsed the .270 wOBA mark since the same season.

Once Grandal returns, though, the Padres should be just fine at catcher.

Bench Options in San Diego

At this point, Jesus Guzman and Alexi Amarista appear to be the frontrunners for bench roles with the Padres.

Guzman annihilated left-handed pitching last year, hitting .303/.401/.541 against southpaws, and could see some occasional starts at first base against tough lefties. Yonder Alonso is the Padres’ first baseman of the future (and present), though. He will see the vast majority of the at-bats. The potential playing time for Guzman seems limited in the infield, though he did start 50 games in the outfield last year. Kyle Blanks, who was injured last season, could also move into this role.

Amarista, as discussed above, is a light-hitting utility fielder who played six different defensive positions for the Padres last year. Eno Sarris hinted he could be the next Emilio Bonifacio, but Amarista is going to have to get his wOBA north of .300 for him to be anything more than a cheap source of stolen bases — and even that’s just speculation. He only stole eight bases last year.

Early Infield Depth Chart

Catcher: Yasmani Grandal (suspended) / Nick Hundley / John Baker
First Base: Yonder Alonso / Jesus Guzman / Kyle Blanks
Second Base: Logan Forsythe / Alexi Amarista / Jedd Gyorko
Shortstop: Everth Cabrera / Alexi Amarista
Third Base: Chase Headley / Alexi Amarista / Jedd Gyorko