Zero To Hero: The Story of the Entire San Diego Padres Outfield

Six months ago, they didn't even have three of 'em!

To me, 2001’s Ocean’s 11 is a perfect movie. It runs long, but flies. Clooney & Pitt are dynamite. The whole cast oozes chemistry and charisma. The villain is appropriate to the scheme. You get just enough twists. More than anything, though, I love an assembling-a-crew montage. I like to imagine that’s how the 2024 San Diego Padres have gone about putting together their outfield.

As a (mostly) objective observer, the San Diego Padres have been a tantalizing ballclub to follow of late. They sport top-tier talent. They’ve been at the center of some massive moments in recent years. President and GM A.J. Preller is one of the most aggressive executives in the sport. Combine those elements with an elite aesthetic and stadium atmosphere and one imagines how easy it is to be drawn in by them.


“Because the house always wins.”

The actual results haven’t been there, of course. Despite such activity feeding into big aspirations, they haven’t reached the playoffs in consecutive years since 2005 and 2006. They’ve had multiple managers. Significant injuries. Fernando Tatis Jr was popped for performance-enhancing drugs. They traded a generational talent in Juan Soto. And yet, even as someone who doesn’t identify as a fan of the San Diego Padres, I can’t take my eyes off what they’re doing.

Not that that’s always a good thing. Especially when you’re talking roster construction in the wake of their monumental deal last December with the New York Yankees.

Scaling back payroll is something that every big league team does at one point or another. Outside of, say, Los Angeles at least. It was obvious going into last winter that it would cost them Soto. The return wasn’t quite what they gave up in 2022. But they were able to get a steady volume of pitching in the form of Michael KingRandy Vásquez, and Jhony Brito (in addition to Kyle Higashioka). All four have contributed to the team in 2024. I suppose that’s a positive.


“You think we need one more? You think we need one more.”

The bigger issue was the sudden dearth of outfield options for the Padres. It was Tatis Jr and… José Azocar? Tatis still needed to work his way back to the player he was pre-injury and pre-suspension. Azócar is a light-hitting fourth outfielder, at best. And so, the Padres would go on to spend most of the offseason sans, basically, an entire starting-caliber outfield.

Jurickson Profar re-signed with the team in late February. In the spring, it became clear they’d give top prospect Jackson Merrill a decent run in center field. Graham Pauley also made the Opening Day roster. But it was a shaky situation. They didn’t have a farm to fall back on, either. Samuel Zavala was part of the Dylan Cease trade. They sent Dillon HeadJakob Marsee, and Nathan Martorella to Miami as part of the Luis Arraez deal in May. That left the Padres with only three outfielders in their Top 30 Prospects if you include Pauley. He was optioned in early May.

Not that any of those names were projected to hit the top level this year. That speaks to the intense lack of depth they had on the outfield grass on an organizational level. You’re essentially rolling with Profar, Merrill, and Tatis. Azócar represented the only contingency. Otherwise, you’re banking on that trio not only staying healthy but performing.


“You gotta walk before you crawl.”

The early months of the year would likely be categorized as just okay for the Padres’ outfield starters. All three made it through the first two months healthy and were fixtures on base. Those are positives. They didn’t, though, offer a ton of overall impact.

Profar was the best of them during the first two months. He hit .330 and reached base at a .424 clip. He also held nearly identical strikeout (13.9%) and walk (13.0%) rates. There wasn’t a ton of power, though. His ISO sat at .167. Still, it was the best start of his career. And more than Merrill & Tatis Jr had to offer through that stretch.

Merrill looked solid enough in his first big-league action. He hit .280 and posted a .318 OBP that was held down by a refusal to walk (5.5 BB%). He offered half the impact contact of Profar, though, at an ISO of only .081. Tatis still didn’t appear to have an impact, either. He hit only .252 and had a .331 OBP. His ISO sat at .162, and he maintained the highest K% of the three (20.9%).

Each of Profar and Tatis was technically above average by the comprehensive metrics. But you generally want more from your corner outfielders. Especially on the impact contact side. There was certainly room for improvement. But, at least, the three emerged from the early stretch healthy, given the razor-thin depth. The Padres sat 31-29 on May 31 and in second in the National League West.


“And you’re gonna need a crew as nuts as you are.”

June is when we saw the group emerge as perhaps the team’s biggest strength.

Profar continued his steadiness. There wasn’t as much in the ISO game (.151 for June), but his slash stood steady with a .280 average and .370 OBP. He continued to do it the same way he had all year. More contact. Better contact. A really refined approach. The real growth between months was in the bats of Merrill and Tatis, however.

Merrill was a monster in June. He walked even less, at a 2.8% BB%. But he hit .320 and posted a .330 ISO. He absolutely mashed fastballs, with a HardHit% lingering around 48 percent against the hard stuff. In cutting his GB%, he was able to parlay that quality contact into significant gains on the power side. The month ended with him being named NL Rookie of the Month. If it weren’t for the absurdity of Paul Skenes, you’re probably talking about him as the NL Rookie of the Year favorite.

Similarly, Tatis Jr experienced a power bump in June. His ISO leaped to .270 for the month. That GB% decrease we saw with Merrill was present in Tatis, as he experienced about a five percent drop in groundballs. There was a similar spike in aggressiveness on fastballs. While he’d posted a really strong HardHit% during the first two months, he maintained a rate around 60 percent for nearly all of June. His standard categories looked excellent too, with a .327 average and .427 OBP. He wouldn’t finish the month due to a stress reaction in his right leg. Tatis does project to be back after the All-Star break, however.

What started as a year with a group merely treading water evolved into a trio that was an absolute force. The team at large jumped up from ranking 25th in ISO (.131) in the first two months to sixth in June (.179). A week into July, the team has the reigning NL Rookie of the Month (Merrill) and two MLB All-Star starters (Profar and Tatis). There are some intricacies therein. Manny Machado picked it up, too. Ha-Seong Kim looked better. Kyle Higashioka provided some shocking complimentary offense (eight homers). At the heart of it, though, was the trio on the outfield grass.

It appeared that the San Diego Padres, somewhat accidentally, had built an elite outfield.


“They say taupe is very soothing.”

Earlier this week, the calendar flipped over to July. Profar, Merrill, and Tatis each rank in the top 60 in Baseball Reference’s WAR metric. That’s among 628 players. They’re each within the top 31 in FanGraphs’ metric. Out of 144. Profar is 81st percentile in his percentage of ideal plate appearances (29.4%). Tatis is 93rd percentile (32.2%). Merrill is 97th (33.5%).

The Padres, as a team, are sixth in the league in runs scored (418), second in average (.262), and fifth in OBP (.325). They’re also tied for the league’s lowest strikeout rate (18.0%). You simply cannot overstate the role of their three outfielders in all of this. The June emergence of the three was the team’s highest-scoring month by a wide margin. They hung 146 runs for the month. The next closest was 112 in April.

The Padres have since gone on to add some additional depth. David Peralta has been decent enough in Tatis’ absence. Bryce Johnson less so, but will at least take a walk. So there’s some extra help now that didn’t exist at the beginning of the year. It’s a unit built almost entirely on the fly and to rousing success.

Overall, though, it is a remarkable thing to watch this evolution. This was a team that didn’t even have an outfield back in February. It was Tatis and then a void. And we were unsure if Tatis could recapture any of what he was prior to 2022. So the whole thing reads as a massive abstract. Less than six months later, the San Diego Padres have three of the National League’s four best outfielders among those with at least 300 plate appearances.

Not that I’m suggesting A.J. Preller is Danny Ocean. There’s a precision and a subtlety to Ocean that Preller lacks. If you wanted to stick in the heist genre, he’s more Neil McCauley from Heat. Big. Loud. In your face about it. The sentiment here was more about rounding up a band of guys to do a job in a quick-paced fashion. The San Diego Padres have done that in a way that was almost entirely abnormal when you consider the context of the Soto trade and the subsequent months. And they, somehow, emerged with the best starting outfield in all of Major League Baseball.

Sometimes, things just work out. Whether that changes the end-of-season fortunes for the San Diego Padres, though, we’ll have to wait a few more months to see.


Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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