Let’s jump right in. Here is my projected rotation for the San Diego Padres come opening day:
Waiting in the wings, and possible number five-spot candidates:
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Volquez pitched well last year, despite leading the Nation League in walks with 105. He went an even 11-11 with a 4.14 ERA, with 174 strikeouts in 182.2 innings pitched, along with a opponents batting average of .236 — which was his lowest in a full season since his impressive 2008 campaign with the Reds, where he earned an All-Star appearance. Suffice to say, spacious PETCO Park played a factor in his favorable performance. Volquez, who is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, recently said he’d like to remain with the San Diego Padres and would welcome an extension, according to Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribune. He could also be a trade candidate if the Padres are well out of contention.
Richard notched the fourth-highest innings pitched last year in the National League at 218.2, taking the pressure off a young, injury-plagued organization. He went an even 14-14 with a 3.99 ERA while striking out 107 with an opponents batting average of .267, just under his career average at .271. One could make the case that he ran out of gas at the end of the year, seeing as the last two months were his highest ERA totals of the year. Richard still has a pretty big discrepancy between his home and road ERA, and that’s something he must work on to be more than a serviceable innings-eater.
Marquis pitched well last year going 6-7 with the San Diego Padres until he fractured his left wrist in August. He finished with a 4.04 ERA in 98.2 innings pitched with a .258 opponents batting average against, and he provides veteran leadership for a staff plagued by injuries. He signed a $3 million one-year deal in December.
Stults, who was claimed off waivers from the White Sox last year, was a pleasant surprise for the San Diego Padres. He went an impressive 8-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 92.1 innings pitched, with a .249 batting average against. One encouraging stat: He pitched better away from spacious PETCO Park. His home ERA was 3.40, while his road ERA was 2.69. Stults is out of options, so I would be surprised if the Padres didn’t have him as a lock in the starting rotation come April 1.
Bass, 25, is one of my personal favorites. I’ve always admired the way he goes about the game and attacks hitters. He dominated in 2011 coming out of the bullpen and earned the opportunity to join the rotation late in the season. He didn’t disappoint, winning two games, both of which were in the hitter’s haven of Coors Field. He started was up and down last year before moving to the DL in June due to right shoulder inflammation. Bass went 2-8 with a 4.73 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 97.0 innings pitched, while allowing a .243 batting average against. Now, seemingly healthy, Bass is trying to find his way back into the rotation.
The battle of the young, upside pitchers — Kelly, Erlin and Ross — will be interesting to watch. Both Kelly and Erlin had arm issues last year, but both are pitching again and look to be healthy. Ross has a power arm with a plus fastball, and he projects to the starting rotation or bullpen.
Kelly, who was a first-round draft pick (30th overall) in 2008 by Boston, was the centerpiece in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. He is regarded as a top prospect and is rated number 69 overall according to MLB.com, despite having a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last year. The San Diego Padres had to sideline their top prospect and monitor his throwing. He came back in August last year and finished the season 2-3 with a 6.21 ERA in 29.0 innings pitched, while striking out 26 batters. The Padres coaching staff love his athleticism, along with his repeatable mechanics and progressing secondary pitches. He got hit hard last year, but showed glimpses of his front-of-the-rotation raw ability and capability to throw comfortably in the mid-90s. I believe he could crack the rotation this spring, but starting him in the minors won’t hurt the Padres control of the promising youngster, which will give them time to refine his skills while monitoring his arm.
Ross is an intriguing pitcher with a live arm. He sits between 93-94 mph but can touch 96 as we have already witnessed this spring. Ross, who will be just 26 in April, came over in exchange for utility infielder Andy Parrino and pitcher Andrew Werner. Ross was a second-round pick in 2008 by the Oakland Athletics. Ross has had an impressive minor-league track record, but hasn’t put it together on the major-league level yet. The raw ability is there, but he’s had trouble in the past locating his fastball, making it hard to incorporate his secondary pitches to progress at the highest level. Ross has an impressing stature at 6′-6″ and 230 pounds, but if he can’t establish his fastball early, he won’t flourish at the MLB level. Having said that, I do think the San Diego Padres will put Ross to use at some point this year, and probably sooner than later. Last year with the A’s, he went 2-11 in the rotation and out of the bullpen with a underwhelming 6.50 ERA in 73.1 innings pitched. However, the year before with Oakland, he went 3-3 with a 2.75 ERA in 36 innings pitched. And in the minors with the A’s triple-A affiliate, he went 6-2 with a 2.99 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 78.1 innings pitched with an opponents batting average of .235. Ross has options, so the San Diego Padres could assign him to the minor-league camp, but I could also see him as a swing man in the bullpen with his live arm — although, his command might not be ideal late in the game.
Erlin, 22, who came over in the Mike Adams Trade from Texas, is a strike-throwing, left-handed pitcher with middle-of-the-rotation promise and room to grow. His ceiling may not be as high as Kelly, but his stuff gets enough swings and misses to be regarded as one of the San Diego Padres’ better pitching prospects. Erlin went 3-1 for the Padres double-A affiliate San Antonio last year with a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts. He struck out 72 batters in 51.2 innings pitched and walked only 14 batters. Like Kelly, he is on the cusp of being a rotation mainstay and should make the roster soon.
I would have Andrew Cashner in the starting five had he not been injured in the offseason. He will likely be stretched out in the minors to prove he is healthy before the Padres move him into the starting five. The San Diego Padres view him as a starter, so it’s unlikely he will break camp as a reliever.
Cory Luebke will be the Padres ace when he returns from his arm issue, but that won’t be until late June. In addition, Joe Wieland is in a similar situation, but he was just moved to the 60-day DL to make room on the roster, and his timetable will be much later than Luebke’s.
Padres pitching depth: Tim Stauffer, now 30, hopes he can make the roster after signing a minor-league contract following another surgery to repair a flexor tendon in his right elbow. Stauffer has looked sharp this spring, but he’s not ready to be a starter. I could see him in the bullpen, working his way into the rotation at some point. San Diego (East County) product Sean O’Sullivan will merit some consideration. Freddy Garcia looks to sneak his way back to a starting gig, but barring further San Diego Padres injuries, it doesn’t look like he has much of a chance considering his early performance and his other competition. Donn Roach is on the fast track, but I don’t believe the Padres will rush him. I expect to see him come mid-2013. Adys Portillo is another intriguing arm, although he’s not nearly as close, and he needs to refine his secondary pitches to get promoted; he’s probably closer to mid-2014. However, if the Padres have the same injury problems they did last year, Roach and Portillo could move along much quicker. Look for Roach sometime this year with his bowling-ball sinker that may remind you of the likes of Brandon Webb.
That’s my starting five for the San Diego Padres. What’s yours?