The biggest offseason move made by the San Diego Padres? Bringing in the fences at PETCO Park, a decision that should inject a little more pop to the power-starved Padres, who finished with the third-fewest home runs in baseball last season. A good deal of this 2013 power production rests on the shoulders of Chase Headley, the team's third baseman. Headley fulfilled years of potential in 2012, hitting a career high 31 home runs in 604 at-bats. But this power surge came somewhat unexpectedly -- after many Fantasy owners had given up on Headley ever developing a big bat. In an injury-shortened 2011, Headley had just four home runs in 381 at-bats. And his previous career high was 12, despite getting more than 540 at-bats twice in prior years. Was 2012 a fluke? Or was it a breakout season at age 28?
Headley had flexed power in the minors before joining the Padres, but he produced a curious set of stats in 2012 -- his ground ball rate was the highest of his career and his home run-to-fly-ball ratio took an unbelievable leap to 21.4 percent (per Fangraphs.com), meaning one of every five fly balls Headley hit was a home run. And he wasn't hitting fly balls very often. Headley's highest HR/FB rate before 2012 was 10.7 percent. This all seems to set Headley up for a heavy correction in 2013, but the fences being moved in may help mask the regression in power.
While Headley's power may take a dip, outfielder Carlos Quentin -- who had his 2012 decimated by knee issues -- should be a nice sleeper candidate for 2013 (see below). The team won't be short on speed, either, led by Everth Cabrera, who stole a National League-leading 44 bases last year despite getting just 398 at-bats. The Padres were second in baseball in steals last year, with Cameron Maybin (26 stolen bases), Will Venable (24) and Headley (17) complementing Cabrera's basepath prowess. Even pitcher Anthony Bass stole a base.
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On the pitching side of things, the Padres have a long list of could-go-either-way starters, let by Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard, who combined to win 25 games in 2012. Volquez led the league with 105 walks, but still struck out about a batter per inning, while Richard kept his walks low but came nowhere near Volquez's level of strikeouts. Both pitchers enjoyed favorable home/road splits, as Volquez sported a 2.95 ERA with three home runs allowed at home and 5.60 ERA with 11 home runs on the road, while Richard had a 3.02 ERA and 10 home runs at home and 4.74 ERA and 21 home runs on the road. With the cozy confines of PETCO becoming a little less cozy for pitchers this season, both Volquez and Richard could see their numbers rise (although probably nothing drastic).
The bullpen features one of baseball's most underrated closers in Huston Street. While always a candidate to lose some games to injury, Street still managed a 1.85 ERA and 0.72 WHIP last year, along with 23 saves, in 40 games. More importantly, the closer role in San Diego has been a virtual lock for 40 saves, dating back to the mid-1990s, when Trevor Hoffman would regularly record 40 or more. Heath Bell continued the trend for the next three years and Street led a bullpen that hit 40 saves total last year. A healthy Street is a really solid late-round addition to Fantasy bullpens.
In suspension news, keep in mind while drafting that catcher Yasmani Grandal will miss the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for PEDs. Nick Hundley should handle catching duties while Grandal sits.
Sleeper ... Carlos Quentin, outfielder
Quentin has become a sort of forgotten man for the Padres. In 86 games last year, he hit 16 home runs and managed an .877 OPS -- the second-highest OPS of his career. And this was while he was returning from knee surgery and then battling issues that arose throughout the season with the same knee. But with Quentin looking like he's healthy heading into 2013, we could see a power-hitting renaissance from the 30-year-old. Quentin has never seen 500 at-bats in a season, but has put up campaigns of 36, 21, 26 and 24 home runs. He's also a threat to hit 30 doubles. His average, which could float anywhere between .250 and .270, is nothing to get excited about, but he should pop up in games with a good amount of runners to drive in. For a late-round pick, Quentin could return a lot of value to a Fantasy owner willing to take an optimistic view on his health.
Deep sleeper ... Andrew Cashner, starting pitcher
Thanks to an unfortunate hunting accident in the offseason, Cashner may not be ready to go at the start of the year. But when he does, he has a few Fantasy elements working in his favor. First, in points leagues, Cashner will have relief pitcher eligibility, meaning owners who may have missed out on Kris Medlen or Aroldis Chapman could still snag Cashner late as a consolation prize. And second, although his 4.27 ERA and 1.32 WHIP from last year don't exactly look stellar, Cashner missed time and probably returned too early from a strained lat, eventually having to be shut down late in the season. He will enter 2013 -- at some point, possibly as early as mid-April -- as a starter. With some really stellar minor league numbers behind him (a 2.76 ERA, 1.19 WHIP over 205 1/3 minor league innings, mostly as a starter), Cashner could be an absolute steal in NL-only drafts. Beware of him later in the year, though, as Cashner has yet to eclipse 120 innings in a season and will likely have some kind of cap.
Points league gem ... Yonder Alonso, first baseman
Here's a fun fact about Yonder Alonso: he finished 16th in MLB with 39 doubles last year (good for eighth in the National League). Alonso also hit nine home runs, batted .273 and stole three bases. Granted, he struck out 101 times, which is never fun for points-leaguers, but he somewhat offset those with 62 walks. His strikeouts weren't even in the top 50 of NL batters -- his walks had him 19th. Alonso can go one of two ways in 2013. He can either continue to be an Alex Gordon-style doubles machine, improving on his rookie season and hitting 45 or so doubles while maintaining a nice average; or he can build on his 2012 and turn some of those doubles into home runs (as he did show some nice power flashes in the minors as a prospect coming up with Cincinnati). A hybrid of the two scenarios is definitely possible, but the point here is that Alonso had a very nice table-setting rookie year in 2012 and there's no real reason to think he will falter, outside of some subjective gut feeling that he will fall victim to a sophomore slump.
The most tantalizing prospect in the stacked San Diego system is Jedd Gyorko, a 24-year-old power hitter who can play second or third base. Gyorko has a .319 career minor league average with 55 home runs in the last two seasons, split across three levels. There's a chance Gyorko can make the team out of spring training as a second baseman, which would move either Everth Cabrera or Logan Forsythe to the bench. A more likely scenario, however, would be San Diego falling out of contention near the end of July and the team trading Chase Headley to make room for Gyorko at third base. In either case, Gyorko is worth a late stash in NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues. ... Baseball America considers pitcher Casey Kelly the top Padres prospect. Kelly had a 6.21 ERA in six starts for the team last year, but this was after missing three months with a strained elbow ligament. The 23-year-old has great control, doesn't issue a ton of walks and could turn out to be a fairly decent strikeout pitcher. He could be in the rotation by mid-season in 2013. ... Rymer Liriano has some impressive speed and could develop into a nice power hitter. Still just 21, the outfielder has at least another year of minor league seasoning before he shows up in San Diego…
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