From what I understand there is a lot of anticipation in El Paso for the Chihuahuas' first season. Home games are still weeks away with the stadium still getting ready, but their first ever games will start tomorrow. With their debut not far off, today the AAA team announced its first roster. If you want to know a little something about every player on the roster, then I suggest you click that link since they have everyone covered.
My first curiosity about the roster was: What is the starting rotation going to be? When everyone is healthy, the Padres will have quite the logjam of pitchers between the majors, AAA and AA. As it stands now with injuries to Josh Johnson, Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland along with Casey Kelly still recovering from last year's Tommy John surgery, the ranks have thinned. Robbie Erlin and Donn Roach were supposed to be part of that logjam, but are in the majors because of those injuries. One or both may return to AAA later in the season. Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland should join the team at some point as well with Kelly being the closer of the two. In the meantime, it looks like Burch Smith, Keyvius Sampson and Juan Pablo Oramas will headline the rotation. Smith was recently ranked minorleagueball.com's John Sickels as the 7th best Padres Prospect and Sampson as the 8th best. Oramas was given a C+ grade and mentioned as just outside the top 20. In addition to those 3, Jorge Reyes will likely fill in as part of the rotation until that logjam comes back. The team will need a 5th starter on April 7, but I do not see an obvious candidate on the roster. All the other pitchers have mainly been relievers. Perhaps converted OF Jason Lane will get some starts. Chihuahuas fans can also expect Matt Wisler and/or Jesse Hahn to play for the club later in the year, but will start the season in AA.
Here is where I expected everyone to play in the first game:
C - Adam Moore/Rocky Gale
1B - Kyle Blanks
2B - Alex Castellanos
3B - Brooks Conrad
SS - Ryan Jackson
LF - Reymond Fuentes
CF - Rico Noel
RF - Jeff Francoeur
DH - Cody Decker
I hedged on catcher since I do not know who the team prefers. Decker and Blanks could alternate between 1B and DH, but I would also expect Blanks to get time in LF. Decker might get some starts at catcher as well. Castellanos can play 2B or 3B, but I am thinking he will be mostly at 2B to start the season. I gave Conrad the nod at 3rd and Jackson at Short, but Jackson could get plenty of time at 3B with Alberto Gonzalez playing SS. Gonzalez can also play 2B or 3B. Fuentes and Noel could interchange between LF and CF. Noel has more speed so I put him in CF. Fuentes was recently ranked by John Sickels as the 17th best Padres Prospect. Francoeur is one true, healthy RF right now so expect him to be out there opening day. Travis Buck will serve as a reserve OF.
In the bullpen, the big headline is Leonel Campos. Campos was a Non-Roster Invitee to the Padres' Spring Training camp and was recently ranked John Sickels as the 19th best Padres Prospect. Kevin Quackebush was another NRI to Padres camp and will return to AAA to be part of the back end of the Chihuahua's bullpen. Two NRI's and former major leaguers Tony Sipp and Blaine Boyer are also notable 'pen contributers.
In addition to those injuries I mentioned with the starting pitchers earlier, a few players will begin on the AAA DL.
- 1B/OF Alex Dickerson was acquired from the Pirates this offseason and John Sickels ranked him as the 13th best Padres Prospect recently. He will begin the season on the DL after injuring his ankle during Spring Training. Expect him to be the every day RF when he returns. In the meantime it looks like MLB veteran Jeff Francoeur will fill in out there.
- INF Jonathan Galvez will also being on the DL. Once a touted talent, there has been some prospect fatigue with him to accompany his struggles in the upper minors. He is still just 23 despite having originally signed with the Padres in 2007 and will get time at 2B when he is healthy.
- OF Dan Robertson also picked up an injury and will start on the DL. He is a fun, scrappy player who can play all 3 OF positions. He has started 265 games in AAA over the last 2 years, but it looks like he will be the 4th OF for the team once he is healthy.
- RHP Rob Johnson is converting from catcher (which he played in the major leagues) to pitcher, but will begin his first post-conversion season on the disabled list.
Edit: Today the Padres claimed Bobby LaFromboise off waivers from the Mariners (who designated him for assignment after signing former Padre Chris Young). The lefty reliever was assigned to AAA El Paso. He will cut in to Tony Sipp's playing time.