Padres' Tatis homers in his second spring at-bat

Padres' Tatis homers in his second spring at-bat

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San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis, right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run during the eighth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Fernando Tatis Jr. wasted no time in showing the San Diego Padres how much talent he has.

One of baseball’s top prospects and the son of a former major leaguer, Tatis hit a monster opposite-field home run in his second at-bat in the Padres’ spring opener against the Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Tatis swung and missed at two sliders from right-hander Shawn Armstrong in the eighth inning of the 3-2 loss. After taking a ball and fouling off a pitch, Tatis drove a 1-2 outside fastball off the top of the wall in the back of the Padres’ bullpen beyond the right-field fence at Peoria Stadium.

”It feels awesome, man,” said Tatis, who turned 19 last month. ”I’ve been working hard for this, being here now and trying to show off what I’ve got, and just working.”

After falling behind, ”I made the approach and kind of got him back,” Tatis said.

Tatis was acquired on June 4, 2016, when the Padres sent James Shields to the Chicago White Sox. The Padres’ win-now effort with highly paid veterans had failed, and they decided to go for a rebuild based around young players.

After an impressive 2017 season in Class A and AA, he earned his first spring training invitation with the big league club.

”I’m trying to show off what I’ve got and trying to prove to these guys that I don’t care about my age. I’m just trying to make the team no matter what,” he said.

”He’s good,” manager Andy Green said. ”We know it. He had a nice two-strike approach the other way. The power’s real. All you have to do is watch batting practice. It’s also smart hitting. The wind was blowing out to right field and he lifted it up to right field. His mind works, too.”

Tatis said he emphasizes hitting the other way.

”I don’t want to be a pull hitter or something like that when I’m hitting the ball. That way I can get more hits and hit for average.”

Green said he likes what he sees from Tatis after just a few days in camp.

”I think his demeanor has been outstanding early in camp. I don’t think he’s been fazed by anything. He looks comfortable on a baseball field. He looks at home on a baseball field.”

The Padres’ projected starting shortstop is Freddy Galvis, who was obtained in a trade with Philadelphia in December and has one year left on his contract.

Meanwhile, newly acquired first baseman Eric Hosmer probably won’t make his spring debut until early next week.

”It’s one of those things where I just want to kind of ease into it,” said Hosmer, who signed a $144 million, eight-year deal on Monday. ”Just this last week alone has gotten me off track as far as working out and keeping my body in shape and all that. I’ve been traveling around, doing a bunch of physicals and stuff. That’s the thing that Andy respects about me and I respect about him is we’re working together, communicating about it.

”I played 162 games last year and I know what it takes to get ready for the season. I really appreciate Andy communicating with me so we can kind of figure out what’s best for me.”

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Hosmer sitting now but not later; Padres sport 'hot talent lava' T-shirts

Hosmer sitting now but not later; Padres sport 'hot talent lava' T-shirts

There are some familiar names in the Padres lineup for Friday’s spring training opener against the Seattle Mariners.

For the most part, though, with position players having participated in the first official workout just three days ago, this will be an opportunity for young players to show what they can do.

It was expected that new first baseman Eric Hosmer would not play, as manager Andy Green told him almost immediately he would give him until at least Sunday to get his legs before playing in a Cactus League game.

“I just want to kind of ease into it,” Hosmer said.

He arrived in Peoria on Monday, got on the field Tuesday and acknowledged he is “off track as far as working out and keeping my body in shape.”

There is time.

“I played 162 games last year,” Hosmer said. “I know what it takes to get ready for the season. I really appreciate Andy communicating with me, so we can figure out what’s best for me.”

Hosmer was one of just five MLB players to play every game last season. It was his first time doing it, though he averaged 152 games the previous five seasons. The last Padres player to go 162 in a season was Adrian Gonzalez in 2008. Chase Headley twice played in 161.

“It’s big,” Hosmer said. “I think it’s one of the things we have somewhat control of. Obviously, there’s freak injuries in this game you can’t do anything about. Other than that, it says a lot about coming in every day and being ready to go.”

Embracing the lava

Many Padres were wearing new grey T-shirts with blue lettering on the front and back that Hosmer commissioned in honor of a pronouncement made by his agent, Scott Boras, at Hosmer’s introductory press conference.

On the front was #HotTalentLava. On the back: #MajorLeagueRock.

“It’s a funny thing we can put on some shirts and joke around about,” Hosmer said. “But when you really think into it, it makes some sense. That’s what we’re trying to do, mold these guys into young champions.”

What Boras said was, “I think the organization is a volcano of hot talent lava. To turn that lava into major league rock, that’s a hard thing to do. It’s a very, very difficult thing to do. … What Eric Hosmer brings is he went through all that in Kansas City. He along with many people were all prospects. They were, too, that major league lava, and they turned into championship rocks. When you can have a young veteran champion, I think your chances of guiding lava into rocks are pretty good, and I think that’s the destiny and the plan.”

While Hosmer said Boras representing some of the Padres’ top minor-leaguers helped him gain familiarity with the Padres’ highly regarded farm system, he had never heard Boras use that phrase.“That’s why I couldn’t keep the stone face,” Hosmer said.

Hoffman explains number choice

When third base coach Glenn Hoffman is seen wearing No.26 during Friday’s game, it is because he “reached way back in the archives” after ceding No.30 to Hosmer.

“It was my high school number,” Hoffman said of 26.

He was happy to give Hosmer the number he’d worn since 2010, when Ryan Ludwick was acquired via trade and asked for Hoffman’s old number, 47.

Hoffman had been in Hosmer’s situation. Before arriving in San Diego, he had worn No. 35, which wasn’t available with the Padres due to it being retired in honor of Randy Jones.

Honoring Stoneman Douglas

The Padres’ hats will, as usual, have an “SD” on them in Friday’s game.

But they hats are black, and the interlocking letters are red. It is the hat of Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, site of last week’s mass shooting that left 17 dead.

“We’re honored to wear them,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “I don’t think we look like we’re doing very much, but our hearts break, and we want to honor people who are going through such tragedy … I know there are a lot of people hurting right now. Us wearing hats puts them in the boat with the, hurting alongside them.”

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Hosmer's place in order not as important as place on base

Hosmer's place in order not as important as place on base

General Manager A.J. Preller knew in the afterglow of Eric Hosmer signing with the Padres there was someone else giddy at the gift he was given.

“I think probably the only person more excited than me today is Andy,” Preller said in reference to manager Andy Green. “He gets to write his name in the lineup for the next eight years.”

As for what he will do to start off this first season with Hosmer, Green believes Hosmer’s purpose in the lineup is more important than his place.

“I haven’t spent time running through lineup construction,” Green said. “I think that’s one thing people get real excited about, and it has a minuscule difference. You see how guys perform in the middle of the order, how comfortable they are. We’ll expect to be a much better offensive ballclub with Eric Hosmer in there. That I’m confident about.”

Hosmer spent the vast majority of his time batting fourth over the past three seasons in Kansas City, though he also hit third a fair amount and second on occasion.

Regardless, Hosmer’s ability to get on base (.385 OBP in 2017) is a boon whether he is behind or in front of Wil Myers.

“The .385 on-base last year very clearly leads our team by a long shot,” Green said. “You create the culture where guys get on base, get on base consistently. He doesn’t strike out a lot, puts the ball in play. He hits in the middle of the order, stabilizes, takes pressure off of certain guys who may have had to carry a load otherwise. He does a lot.”

Hosmer and new third baseman Chase Headley (.352) would have ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in OBP had they been Padres starters last year. (Jose Pirela was the top Padre at .347.)

The average 2017 OBP of the other six projected starters this season was .305. The overall team OBP in ‘17 was an MLB-worst .299.

At a function Tuesday afternoon, Green spent time talking with Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer.

“He talked about the concept in Chicago,” Green said. “You exchange one guy with a .260 on-base for a guy with a .385 on-base, you exchange another guy with a .280 on-base for a .350 on base. There are only eight guys you really need to get on base. That starts to radically alter the lineup and the way it functions. You don’t do it eight at a time. You do it piece by piece and by raising awareness during camp and preaching that message to them. They see we value that by who we’ve gone after.”

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Rooting for laundry isn't a joke — it's why baseball works

Rooting for laundry isn't a joke — it's why baseball works

As so many players arrive in spring training wearing new uniforms, we’re reminded of the old Jerry Seinfeld barb. But with team turnover now so dramatic from year to year, the game depends on fans cheering for clothes. 

It’s New Clothes Week. Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria and Giancarlo Stanton, all traded this winter, showed up to spring training for their new clothes. J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer and Yu Darvish, just days after signing long-term contracts in brand-new cities, reported for their new clothes. Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. and Jake Odorizzi, scattered about the continent this week after the Rays’ sudden budget cuts, will be handed new clothes and told that the name on the front of those clothes is the most important name on any clothes.

There’s a famous comedy routine about this, of course. “It’s different guys every year,” Jerry Seinfeld observed. “You’re rooting for clothes when you get right down to it. We’re screaming about laundry.” It was the early 1990s when Seinfeld told that joke, about 15 years after baseball players got free agency, barely five after the NBA allowed unrestricted free agency, hardly a year after modern free agency took effect in the NFL. Free agency was novel and scary, players were changing teams as they never had before, mega-rich owners were whining about how they’d soon be destitute if they had to pay their free agents to stay. Given that context, I always took the joke to be a barb aimed at players — disloyal! — or owners — too cheap! — who were only pretending to believe in the sacredness of The Team.

I got it wrong. Players might not be as loyal as some wish they were. Owners might not be as committed to their civic duties as some wish they were. But Seinfeld’s joke, on its face, is about us. We’re the ones who don’t care if the players change. We’re the disloyal ones.

And that’s OK!

There’s no other way around it. Say you have your favorite team, 25 players on the active roster, all contributing something to an effort you are fully, emotionally committed to. Call them the 2017 Astros or the 2017 Dodgers or the 2017 Phillies. You love that group, just as you loved them one year earlier. But of those 25 players, only (on average) 15 were on the active roster at the start of 2016. A little more than 40 percent of the team turns over from the start of one year to the end of the next.

We, as fans, mostly don’t flinch at these radical turnovers. Some sting up, but we roll with almost half the team turning into brand-new people. We don’t think about the 2017 Dodgers as a fundamentally new team.

Go back one year earlier, to the start of the 2015 season, and now it’s fewer than 10 of the 25 players who were there. In just two offseasons, more than half of a team turns over. If you think a team is a collection of players, then in just over two years, a team is more dislike itself than it is like itself. Again, we don’t flinch. Almost nobody changes which team they root for in the face of such turnover.

Go one year more — to the start of 2014 — and it’s fewer than six holdovers. At the start of the 2013 season, just four of your 2017 25-man roster was on the same team.

Now, some of the 2017 players were in the team’s minor league system in the prior years, so maybe you don’t want to count that as “turnover.” But even among major leaguers who stayed in the major leagues, a third of all players will change teams between the start of one season and the conclusion of the next, about half will over the course of two winters, and nearly 70 percent of steady major leaguers changed teams between April 2013 and September 2017.

They leave for all sorts of reasons in and out of their control. Some were told by their team that they just weren’t good enough, and they were replaced by younger players. Some were traded because their team didn’t want to pay them what they’d agree to anymore. Some were told by their teams that they cost too little — that they were so underpaid that another team would give up a lot of good stuff to acquire them.

Yes, some left on their own agency, to take more money from an owner who valued them more. Maybe you would call that disloyal. But in most cases, a player is traded against his wishes, and in most of those cases, you keep on rooting for the clothes he wore instead of him. When he comes back to face his old clothes, you hope he’ll fail. You (and by “you,” I mean “I”) have no loyalty to him at all.

Do not be ashamed. This is why we, baseball fans, are great, and this is why baseball works.

Because by the second week of this season, Royals fans will be fully, emotionally committed to Hosmer’s replacement at first base. They will cheer as hard when he does something well as they did for Hosmer. Meanwhile, Padres fans will cheer as hard when Hosmer does something well as Royals fans ever did. By the second week of the season (at the latest), Giants fans will love McCutchen and Longoria, and Yankees fans will love Stanton, but also, Rays fans will love C.J. Cron, Rangers fans will love Mike Minor, Mets fans will love Adrian Gonzalez, and Royals fans will love Wily Peralta. The day-in, day-out relationship between fan and player will grow passionate almost immediately, such that there are virtually no strangers in baseball cities. The new sixth reliever in the bullpen will be some local kid’s favorite player for some undefined reason; the new No. 5 starter will delight everybody by pitching like almost a No. 4 starter; the new rookies will all be assumed to have far more “potential” than they really have; and the new journeyman corner outfielder will stay one forgettable year, yet that forgettable year will somehow nevertheless sear into fans’ memories for a particular hot streak or a walk-off homer or the bumper read he does for the radio broadcasts. Fifteen years later, he’ll be coaching first base for the club. We aren’t what you’d call loyal because we’re radically open.

Player movement is inevitable, and it is, mostly, for the players’ good. Free agency is for their good, of course, but even trades — even teams putting players on waivers or outright releasing them — help funnel players into opportunities and organizations where they will thrive, where there is plenty of playing time, where there are coaches who believe in them and where their best years might coincide with pennant races. Not every trade is good for the player, but on balance, a sport in which players didn’t move around a lot would be very bad for its athletes.

The only thing that makes a sport in which players move around a lot possible is our disloyalty. Once a player leaves, we’re finished with him. But only because we have to make room in our hearts to love, almost unconditionally, the one who replaces him — and because we know he’ll be well taken care of by his new city.

We are loyal to clothes. It’s not a joke. It’s why this works.

Matt Strahm has Padres intrigued, wondering where he fits

Matt Strahm has Padres intrigued, wondering where he fits

Matt Strahm is 6-foot-3 and about as thick as a flagpole.

His arm works like a slingshot and his left leg whips around at the end of his delivery. His fastball gets up in the zone quick, and his slider darts like it has been yanked by a magnet.

Padres manager Andy Green has been measured in his assessment of pitchers early in spring training, but he wasn’t so reserved when talking about Strahm.

“I’ve thought he looks great,” Green said. “He’s throwing the ball really well. It’s coming out hot. … I’m very excited about him. He could pitch in the rotation or could be very formidable out of the bullpen.”

And that was before the left-hander dazzled in a live batting practice session here Wednesday.

Strahm was acquired last July in a trade that sent Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer to Kansas City and also rid the Royals of Travis Wood. The Padres only had to consume a portion of the approximately $8 million left on Wood’s deal, with the Royals covering the bulk.

And found among the money was Strahm, who was actually on crutches following knee surgery when he arrived in San Diego. He has been throwing all camp and was cleared Tuesday for full activity.

The Padres will stretch him out the next few weeks and continue the internal debate over where he fits.

“That’s been the thing for me for three spring trainings, coming in not knowing my role,” Strahm said. “It’s OK. I make the most of it. … I can do either. I love the adrenaline rush of the bullpen phone ringing. But I like the routine of starting.”

Royals manager Ned Yost talked this week about the 26-year-old pitcher he believes has upside as a reliever, with a plus breaking ball and a fastball that routinely reaches mid- to upper-90s.

“He’s got tremendous stuff,” Yost said. “… I like him in the pen. They may like him as a starter. He’s got good enough stuff.”

Prospects throw

Two of the Padres’ top three pitching prospects threw their first bullpen of the spring.

Left-handers MacKenzie Gore, the team’s No.2 overall prospect, and Adrian Morejon (No. 5), threw with essentially the entire personnel department and pitching coach Darren Balsley watching. Gore was particularly sharp, hitting virtually every spot.

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Veterans all-in as mentors during Padres' youth movement

Veterans all-in as mentors during Padres' youth movement

A riding lawn mower had already descended upon the outfield grass on Field 3. The coaches had departed for the clubhouse more than a half-hour earlier. If Freddy Galvis noticed the dozen or so autograph-seekers drawn to the chain-link fencing along the third-base line, he didn’t let on.

He was entirely engaged.

Pivots. Footwork. Swing paths.

Whatever his audience — young Carlos Asuaje and Luis Urias — wanted was fair game for discussion even on Galvis’ second day in Padres camp.

“It started with one question,” Asuaje said, “and one thing led to another and another and another.”

It’s the sort of investment that the Padres were banking on when they swapped a minor league pitching prospect for the 28-year-old Galvis, the new anchor in the middle of the infield and one of several veterans in camp who are eager to pass on knowledge that could very well extend past their stays in San Diego.

In the last year of his contract, Galvis could become a free agent as soon as November. The same goes for returning third baseman Chase Headley, while catcher A.J. Ellis and pitchers Tyson Ross and Chris Young are in camp on minor league deals. While Job No. 1 for that group is to prepare for 2018, all have a locker in the Padres’ spring training complex because of a willingness to share what they’ve learned throughout their ascents to the majors.

“The No. 1 priority is to make the club,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “Play well. Perform. Do what you have to do to get yourself ready. On top of that, let me throw something else on your plate because I think you’re this type of individual. Go out there, and when you see stuff, be willing to help those guys.

“All of those guys are wired that way.”

Green has been inclined to invite those sorts of veterans since he was hired before the start of the 2016 season.

This year’s first base coach, Skip Schumaker, joined the Padres on a minor league deal during Green’s first spring, retired early that camp and remained in the organization as a front office assistant available to position players, from Fort Wayne all the way to San Diego. Green had an eye on that sort of impact when Clayton Richard re-joined the Padres later that summer and those type of players have become a point of emphasis when determining which veterans to add to a big league camp that’s increasingly youthful with each passing season.

It’s not all about the players, either.

Insights from someone as well-traveled as Young — who is 38 and attempting a 14th season in the majors — is as valuable to the coaching staff as it is to nearly a dozen pitching prospects in big league camp this spring for the first time.

“I was talking to Chris Young over the phone this offseason,” Green recalled. “ … I know every manager tells you the door is open. I’m going to grab you and pull you in to pull out of you what you think we should do different. He’s game for those things and appreciative of that level of respect and deference that he’s earned for what he’s done in his career.”

Green added: “We’re always of the mindset that what we do (as an organization) could get better. If we don’t model that as a coaching staff, how can you ask your players to get 1 percent better every day if you yourself say, ‘This is the way we do things. Sorry Chris Young, I’m not going to listen to your input?’

“Then you don’t get better.”

With that mindset underlining much of the organization’s blueprinting, the front office jumped at the opportunity to send pitching prospects Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi to Lafayette, Ind., this offeason when Richard extended an open-ended invitation upon signing his extension last September.

That trip was about two young left-handers seeing how an established veteran prepares for the season. Witnessing the 36-year-old Ellis’ first-guy-in, last-guy-out approach to his battle for a backup job is also as invaluable to the youngsters in camp as anything the veteran catcher might tell a young hurler about the way Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke attacked a hitter.

Like Richard, Ellis is all about leading by example, too. The conversations in between the work start by making himself an available persona in a crowded clubhouse.

“Be a sounding board; just partner with them,” Ellis said. “It’s not about anything I know. I don’t have any secret formulas or any secret messages to deliver. It’s kind of being someone they can communicate with them on a daily basis.”

Headley, now 33, was a similar beneficiary while sharing a clubhouse with Adrian Gonzalez, Brian Giles and David Eckstein — “Eckstein, more than anybody else,” he said — early in his first stint in San Diego. After playing in two postseasons over the last four years in New York, Headley’s willingness to pay forward the things he’s learned in 11 big league seasons was a prominent topic during a four-hour dinner with Green this offseason.

As far as a mentor figure, Headley is all in.

“Hopefully, some experiences, some things I’ve learned will be applicable to those guys,” Headley said. “Hopefully I can perform well, but there’s some things I can pass on because I was at their stage not too long ago.

“As you grow, you learn things and hopefully you’re able to pass those along.”

The Padres’ extensive homework tells them to expect the same things from Eric Hosmer, an investment that could cost as much as $144 million if the 28-year-old first baseman remains in San Diego for the duration of his eight-year contract.

Galvis’ situation is quite different.

He could bolt as soon as next winter. If he opts to re-sign, he could be moved off shortstop to accommodate any of the young players he’s taken under his wing early in camp.

None of it keeps Galvis from pulling 22-year-old Javier Guerra into the video room hours after arriving in camp last week. Or working overtime with Asuaje and Urias on his second day in Peoria. Or committing his expertise to top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr.’s development this spring the way Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard helped bring Galvis along in Philadelphia all those years ago.

It’s the only way he knows how to be.

“You put your team first,” Galvis said. “As soon as you put your team first, everything comes easier for everybody. You have to know your teammates. You have to work with those guys. You have to try to make it easier and that’s what I’m trying to do now, trying to know my teammates and talk to those guys.”

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