2016 MadFriars' El Paso Chihuahuas Preseason Preview

Synopsis: There is a pretty good chance we'll see both catcher Austin Hedges and centerfielder Manuel Margot in San Diego before September as the Padres will look to get younger, cheaper and better. Outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Alex Dickerson, along with some versatile middle infielders, should make the offense go.

The pitching includes a collection of veteran arms as well as starter Robbie Erlin, who should accrue some serious Southwest Airlines flight miles this season.

Three Strikes with Sam Geaney, the Padres Director of Player Development:

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(1) Last year, the team promoted Austin Hedges after only a month in Triple-A with the belief that his development could continue in the major leagues as a backup. This year, you are sending him back to Triple-A so he can play more. Why the change?

Sam Geaney: I think he did develop and we did see a better hitter this year in spring along with other aspects of his game. Derek Norris had a great spring too, and he is the type of catcher that needs and wants to play every day.

Throw in the fact that this time, we have Christian Bethancourt and we thought it would be a good idea for Austin to play every day and keep going forward with his offensive progress. Obviously we and the rest of the league like Austin quite a bit and he is very much in our future plans.

(2) Manuel Margot was thought to be slated for Double-A after the trade with the Red Sox. What convinced you to move him up to Triple-A? Did Travis Jankowski making the big club have anything to do with it?

Sam Geaney: He had a really good spring and made quite an impression on the big league staff. The quick answer is we don't think he is that far away from contributing on the big league level.

It is hard to say how much or how little he would have been affected if we didn't keep Travis on the big team. Players that are plus defenders like both of them usually end up in center but we also think it's a good idea for them to get some exposure on playing the corners, and both of them will do that this year.

(3) The pitching is going to be a bit overlooked. What stands out to you about the staff?

Sam Geaney: Justin Hancock is a pitcher we have talked about for a while and he is getting close to putting himself in big league consideration. Robbie Erlin had a nice spring and we have a few guys in the bullpen in Tayron Guerrero, Cory Mazzoni and Leonel Campos who are also important parts of our organization.

You have to realize a big league bullpen is more than just the seven guys on the roster. We will see many of those guys in San Diego before the end of the season.

2016 Projected Lineup:

1B Mike Olt/Ryan Schmpf SP LHP Robbie Erlin

2B Jemile Weeks/Carlos Asuaje SP RHP Justin Hancock

SS Alexi Amarista SP RHP Daniel McCutchen

3B Nick Noonan/Mike Olt SP RHP Jeremy Guthrie

RF Hunter Renfroe SP RHP Carlos Pimentel

CF Manuel Margot RP RHP Leonel Campos

LF Alex Dickerson RP RHP Cory Mazzoni

C Austin Hedges RP RHP Tayron Guerrero

MadFriars' Top 20 Prospects in El Paso: (3) #2 Manuel Margot, #3 Hunter Renfroe, #11 Alex Dickerson

Catch a Rising Star: Although he has too much time in the majors too officially be classified as a rookie, Austin Hedges will be the Padres' future catcher for many years to come. The defense has always been great the question is can he replicate and sustain the hot start that he had last April in Triple-A?

Starting Pitching: Hancock and Erlin should garner the most attention. Hancock struggled some in the second half in Double-A San Antonio but had a good year with his sinker/slider combination. The key for him will be to have more consistency with his third pitch. Erlin was one of the last to be sent down and pitched very well in the spring. Guthrie is a veteran of 12 major league seasons and could also play a role in San Diego if he can rebound from a subpar 2015 campaign in Kansas City. McCutchen may be the sleeper of the bunch. Last year he threw 132.1 innings in the PCL and finished with a 3.60 ERA. Pimentel had good numbers in Iowa, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cubs, with a 12-6 record and 2.95 ERA last year to earn a minor league contract from the Padres this winter.

Pen: As Sam Geaney noted, the pen should be the strength of El Paso's pitching. If Guerrero can cut down on his walks, he is a big league pitcher. Mazzoni and Campos both had more strikeouts than innings pitched in 2015 and should get more chances in San Diego this summer.

Catching: Hedges will be the one everyone watches as long as he is in El Paso. He hit .324/.392/.521 in 21 games last year for the Chihuahuas and should be in the PCL until the trade deadline. Defensively, much has already been written and right now he is one of the better receivers in baseball. Jason Hagerty will be the backup and could also see some time at first base and DH.

Infield: The squad will resemble a game of musical chairs with most of the players able to field multiple positions. Keep an eye on Jemile Weeks, who had a big spring with the Padres. If he can prove that he can play a credible shortstop, he will be in line for a promotion to the big club. Carlos Asuaje, who came over in the Craig Kimbrel trade with the Red Sox, also showed some pop for a guy with a small frame in the spring. He will also get an opportunity to play shortstop.

Outfield: The strength of the team will be the outfield. Renfroe was called up late in the season and destroyed the PCL with a .991 OPS. How he does against pitchers the second time around the league should be interesting. While Renfroe is one of the Padres' top prospects, Manuel Margot was the player that got everyone's attention this spring. Margot is a classic centerfielder/leadoff hitter who can make all the plays, and also steal a few bases at the top of the order. Alex Dickerson rounds out the group and finished among the leaders in the PCL last year in extra-base hits and triples. Jose Pirela, who comes over from the Yankee's organization, had a big year in Triple-A for Scranton hitting .325/.390/.433 will also rotate into the lineup.

On the Spot: Hunter Renfroe is somewhat on the spot, mainly to prove that the adjustments that he made in the second half can carry over into a full season.

Under the Radar: Alex Dickerson and Robbie Erlin both have a chance to spend time in San Diego because they are left-handed. Dickerson needs to show that he can pull the ball to right and Erlin needs to prove that his four-pitch mix can keep balls out of the air more often.