The final days of spring training have arrived. Yes, that is right, the start of the 2023 Major League Baseball season begins this Thursday. Teams are trying to stay healthy and keep the starting lineup intact for Opening Day.
However, injuries are the great equalizer to who wins it all each year. The sudden loss of a star player sends front offices into a frenzy looking for a productive replacement. Thus, having roster depth is a worthy investment.
This spring, three San Diego Padres have produced in Cactus League games. Their outstanding play has opened some eyes and put them into consideration when Padres general manager A.J. Preller and team manager Bob Melvin construct their bench.
3 San Diego Padres who could impact bench depth in 2023
David Dahl, LH outfielder
David Dahl is a seasoned five-year major leaguer who played the majority of his career with divisional rival, Colorado Rockies. He is a solid line-drive hitter who has a career .272 batting average. But Dahl has struggled at the plate over his last two MLB seasons. In 2020, he batted .183 in his final season with the Rockies and hit .210 in a stint with the Texas Rangers the following year. Dahl offers no power (42 career home runs), but he must cut down his strikeout percentage (26.1%) at the plate to be an effective offensive option off the bench.
The Padres signed Dhal in the winter to become an outfielder depth option in El Paso (team minor league affiliate). But his spring training performance (.315 in 19 games) has put him in the conversation to begin the season in San Diego. Dahl could see playing time with Fernando Tatis Jr. finishing his 80-game suspension. He is not eligible to return until April 20. Also, Juan Soto is not guaranteed to start the season as he is recovering from an oblique strain.
Jay Groome, LH starting pitcher
Jay Groome had quite a unique professional baseball career before being invited to his first MLB spring training camp. Since being selected 12th overall by the Boston Red Sox in the 2016 amateur draft, Groome has been plagued with lat and forearm injuries before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. It has limited his playing time on the field. But a deadline trade to San Diego for Eric Hosmer has revived Groome’s career.
The time away from the diamond has allowed him to become a complete starting pitcher. Groome has develop a repertoire of pitches to combine with his four-seam fastball. He has a low-sinking slider that moves away from batters. Also, Groome will mix in a changeup and curveball in certain pitching situations. After arriving in El Paso, he went 3-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 10 starts.
Still, he gives up too many walks. In spring training appearances, Groome walked 10 batters in 14 innings pitched. From time-to-time, the left-hander will need a maintenance check on his delivery if the mechanics are off. Groome tends to open up his front side, which makes it hard for his pitching motion to remain in sync. He must keep everything in check to become a temporary replacement for Joe Musgrove (fractured left big toe) in the starting rotation. Groome’s chances improved with Adrian Morejon experiencing elbow discomfort this spring.
A more realistic scenario is Groome getting an opportunity to come out of the bullpen, especially with the possibility of Robert Suarez starting the season on the IL. The Padres play 24 games in the first 25 days of the season. To have a good start, the Friars will need quality pitching depth.
Rougned Odor, LH infielder
Rougned Odor is an exciting left-handed power hitter who can pull the ball down the line for a home run (174 career dingers). But he is also a player who strikes out too much (23.8%) and fails to draw a walk (5.9%).
In 2022, Odor struck out 109 times in 426 at-bats with the Baltimore Orioles. It marked the sixth time in seven seasons that he struck out 100 or more times. Odor’s value is being a hard-contact guy when he can put the ball in play. It is a valuable commodity to have late in close games.
His spring training (.324) performance has earned him a possible bench role with the Friars this season. And Odor has caught everyone’s attention with his ability to play with emotion. He never takes an inning off. It might rub opposing teams the wrong way, but Odor’s teammates have embraced his intensity on the field.
Preller has been a fan of Odor since his tryout with the Texas Rangers as a 15-year-old in Venezuela. This connection might be the difference in him making San Diego’s Opening Day roster.