The Padres' minor league pitching depth is at the moment both shallow and deep. It was not that long ago that the team had very little pitching depth. The team rushed promotions of guys like Mat Latos, Josh Geer, Cesar Carrillo, Cory Luebke and Wade LeBlanc and tried out guys like Walter Silva and Josh Banks to try to help the big league club. Some key drafts and trades got it to the point where the lower minors had depth, but the upper minors had a dearth. The team was more patient with some these pitchers and so you might remember these days as ones where the team had to call upon the likes of Dustin Moseley, Jeff Suppan, Kip Wells, Ross Ohlendorf, Jason Marquis, Eric Stults and Andrew Werner. Eventually promotions to the majors came for guys like Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly only to see them get hurt. Still there was and still is depth plus potential for more if guys return to health.
Despite some very good bullpens over the years the Padres have rarely produced quality major league bullpen arms for their own club. Guys like Heath Bell, Luke Gregerson, Akinori Otsuka, Scott Linebrink, Joe Thatcher, Mike Adams and Huston Street have all come from trades plus one free agent signing in Otsuka. The team now has more talent in that area than it has ever had before.
Let's lay out some ground rules before evaluating. For each level I will use 4 categories: Elite, top, promising and depth. For the majors elite means established an All Star caliber pitcher. Top means an established, dependable, sometimes elite guy. Basically one of the top 100 starters or top 50 relievers. Promising means the team has control of the player for 4 or more seasons and has potential to become a dependable starter. Depth means that the team has multiple years of control left and could count on these guys to eat innings. For the minors Elite is a top 100 prospect. Top is a guy that looks on the path to a future big league career. Think B- grade or higher if you look at a minorleagueball.com list. Promising prospects are one of the top 30 prospects in the organization. Depth prospects sit just outside that, but can't be counted out.
Elite: Huston Street.
Top: Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and Joaquin Benoit.
Promising: Robbie Erlin, Donn Roach, Alex Torres and Nick Vincent
Depth: Eric Stults, Dale Thayer, Cory Luebke and Tim Stauffer
Grade: B. A good mix of depth. Some upside for Cashner to possibly reach that elite level that the staff desperately needs. However, given his previous results and limited future control (same goes for Ross) the depth he gives the system is only short term for now. Kennedy, Benoit, Stauffer and Street provide even shorter term depth. However, Erlin, Roach, Torres and Vincent could be around for a long time.
Elite: Matt Wisler
Top: Casey Kelly, Burch Smith, Keyvius Sampson
Promising: Juan Oramas, Joe Wieland
Depth: Kevin Quackenbush
Grade: A-. When the year started, it looked like the El Paso Chihuahuas would have solid rotation depth. With Kelly and Wieland on the mend and Erlin, Roach and Burch Smith all looking ticketed for the Padres' highest farm system club, it seemed like a logjam would occur. Since then, big league injury recurrences to Cory Luebke and Josh Johnson forced promotions for Roach and Erlin. Kelly, Smith and Wieland's own injuries prevented them from starting the season healthy. Then much of the depth lay with guys who needed to return from injury, a couple of still young pitchers (Sampson and Oramas) who will need at least a full season or more in AAA and some decent bullpen arms. And now Matt Wisler has just joined the squad. He is one of the few elite prospects on the club. In addition, Kelly's return from injury has already commenced as he is building up stamina with Lake Elsinore before joining the club later in the season.
Top: Jesse Hahn
Depth: Johnny Barbato, , Leonel Campos, Justin Hancock, James Needy, Adys Portillo, Devin Jones
Grade: C+. Just like the AAA team it appeared there would be an embarrassment of riches in AA as well as some of those arms that didn't fit in the majors or AAA would spill down to the San Antonio club. However, all those injuries meant that everyone that could go to AAA did. For a while that did not include Matt Wisler, but as of last Friday it now does, which changes the depth in AA tremendously. Still, offseason acquisition Jesse Hahn remains, although limited as the team keeps his innings at a minimum as he continues to build stamina after Tommy John surgery a couple years ago. There are also a lot of sleeper prospects here, which when you play the odds usually results in at least one big leaguer contributor.
Elite: Max Fried
Top: Zach Eflin, Joe Ross
Depth: Trevor Gott, Cory Hebner, Roman Madrid, Christopher Nunn, Ruben Mejia, Adam Cimber
Grade: B+. This borderlines on A-, but Fried has yet to pitch in a competitive game this year. Eflin and Ross have made up for it by looking like they could be elite prospects. Ross' stock was down at the end of last season, but at the rate he's going he could be a top 50 prospect come the end of the season. We'll see. The depth here looks like it could produce a major league reliever or two some day. Madrid had a very good season with the TinCaps in 2013, but has yet to pitch this year due to injury.
Promising: Adrian De Horta, Pete Kelich, Walker Weickel
Depth: Andrew Lockett, Tayron Guerrero, Bryan Verbitsky, Coby Cowgill
Grade: C. Just barely a passing grade. Last year this was the most promising staff in the organization, but after a 2013 draft that focused on hitting it was dealt a blow in 2014. Still there are some promising arms year that need time. I think there's at least one future major league arm here and a couple of these guys could move fast if things start to click.
Promising: Odrisamer Despaigne, Erik Schoenrock
Depth: Jaimito Lebron
Grade: C+. This is a hard part of the organization to grade. In reality, the bulk of the depth here comes from the upcoming draft. Despaigne just signed for $1 million, which is a lot compared to the 16 year olds that get signed, but not a lot compared to other Cubans. Schoenrock was mentioned as a prospect by John Sickels, but has yet to make his 2014 debut, so he gets put here. Jamito Lebron is a Dominican teenager the Padres signed to a decent bonus last year. International signings are probably the only way to make an impact here since most of the youngest promising pitchers should be in Fort Wayne. That being said, there have been years where this part of the organization was deeper. The lower level minor league pitching looks like a definite need in the 2014 draft.