I'm going to start this a little early because I am more excited than I normally am about the Padres this year. I think they have a very good chance to surprise. If not, they have a bunch of young pitchers who will be fun to watch. The starting rotation will be much improved just by the virtue of the fact that Edison Volquez, Clayton Richard and Jason Marquis will not be part of it. Even if they had been replaced with mediocre pitchers I would expect this to make a huge difference in the Padres record. The upgraded rotation however could end up being outstanding. If their top 3 starters (Cashner, Johnson and Luebke) are healthy, they could be among the best in baseball. Particularly exciting is Andrew Cashner. He was lights out post All Star break last year. Remember the game in which he faced the minimum number of batters? His velocity actually increased as the season went on. Johnson and Luebke are also excellent when healthy, but both are coming off injuries. In the likely event of rotation injuries, there is a ton of starting pitching depth. I count 11 starters who are either in the rotation or ready to break into the majors. I’d expect 2-4 of the young guys to stick at the major league level. The Padres also have 3 proven late inning guys in Street, Benoit and Torres. With the PETCO factor, their bullpen should be among the best in the business. The Padres defense was ranked 10th in MLB last year. With Cameron Maybin coming back to play center field and a maturing middle infield, I expect defense will be an area of strength again in 2014. However this is a team that scored only 618 runs in 2013 which made them 12th in the National league. Injuries and PED suspensions hurt them. Yasmani Grandal, Evereth Cabrera and Yonder Alonzo should be back this year and that will make a big difference. Acquiring Seth Smith also gives them some much needed depth off the bench and in the outfield. If nothing else, Smith should allow Carlos Quentin to rest more. I also think it’s likely that some of the Padres young hitters will mature, in particular, Grandal, Gyorco and Alonzo. However, even being optimistic, the Padres offense is likely to be slightly below average. Come September if the Padres miss the wildcard by a few games, Josh Byrnes is going to wish he had gone out and gotten a lefty slugger. The elbow, shoulder and knee surgeons in San Diego have been busy the last few years and of course there is the possibility the Padres will continue their trend of having a ton of injuries. Several key players are coming off major injuries to start the season and at a minimum I would expect Huston Street and Carlos Quentin to spend a fair amount of time hobbling around on the DL. However, If they have reasonable health and the rotation performs like it should, I would expect the Padres to be playing meaningful games in mid to late September. Even if they get unlucky and have a lot of injuries, their improved starting pitching depth should still propel the Padres to be a competitive team.