1. James Shields
I don’t know if Shields is going to be the Opening Day starter, but with the big contract he just got from the Padres in free agency (4 years, $75 million) he is the big man on campus. He has tallied 200 or more innings pitched in each of the last 8 seasons, so he would be a good choice to get the #1 nod and soak up the extra innings that could come with that role.
2. Tyson Ross
Ross could easily be called the #1, even though he looks slated to start the 2nd game of the season. After all, he was an All Star last year. Some are just waiting for the other shoe to drop on Ross after his career did a complete 180 once he went south from Oakland to San Diego. He went from sleeper, to a breakout, to workhorse All Star in two seasons. The criticism on him is that his innings totals jumped up really fast over those two years and that doesn’t mix well with his slider-heavy repertoire (which has shown to be an indicator of future injuries, but not a certainty). Working for him is that his body is mature a 27 years old.
3. Andrew Cashner
Last year’s Opening Day starter becomes the de facto #3 after the aforementioned new BMOC Shields and All Star Ross. When Cash is healthy he seems like he could throw a no hitter on any given night. Over the last couple of seasons he has had a couple close calls. That "if healthy" part is something that does happen, but only in short spurts. Repeating his relative health of the 2013 season, where he threw 175 innings, would be great. And if you combined that with his increased effectiveness of the 2014 season, then that would be ideal.
4. Ian Kennedy
Kennedy is 4 seasons removed from his big year in 2011 when he finished 4th in the Cy Young Award voting, but don’t let that career year blind you from how good his comeback was in 2014. His ERA improved by nearly a run and a half (more than just a Petco Park factor assist) and he set a career high in strikeouts. He’s a #4 starter that most teams would love to have.
5a. Brandon Morrow
There’s no clear favorite for the 5th spot in the rotation, but for the purposes of just picking someone I’ll go with the free agent acquisition. Morrow is a power pitcher with a top 5 draft pick pedigree. In 2012 it looked like he had finally broken out at age 27, but his health limited him to only 21 starts. The next two years he only got less healthy and it kept him from recapturing the 2012 magic. The Padres are giving him a change of scenario a shot to see what he can do if healthy.
5b. Odrisamer Despaigne
At this point Despaigne is neck and neck with Morrow, but since last year was only his rookie season (even at age 27) he has options and could be stashed at AAA. His extensive mix of offspeed pitches kept hitters off balance in his first few starts such that they could rarely make solid contact. That kept runners off the bases and runs off the board while not resulting in many Ks. The league caught up some with more looks, but he still finished strong whiffing batters at a higher rate towards the end. Could be due for either a sophomore slump or he might have some more tricks up his sleeve.
Robbie Erlin: The 24 year old southpaw has been a major league ready arm for going on 3 seasons now, but his short stints haven’t impressed. For now he provides depth, but his former prospect status points to a hurler that with some adjustments could hold down a rotation spot in the future if needed.
Josh Johnson: The former Marlins ace never got to throw a pitch for the Padres last season after they paid him $8 million to acquire him in free agency. He will continue to rehab from Tommy John surgery, but could be ready to make an impact for the Frirars before midseason after signing a significantly cheaper one year deal to stay with the club.
Cory Luebke: Like Johnson, Luebke is also recovering after Tommy John surgery. Also like Johnson it was his 2nd such procedure. Unlike Johnson he got both of his without throwing a single major league pitch in between. If Luebke can finally come back sometime midseason then it would be quite the emotional return for a man who once the staff’s most promising young hurler.
Matt Wisler: The Padres’ top pitching prospect is only 22 years old and there’s no harm in letting a young arm like that mature a bit more in the minor leagues. He had a rough introduction to AAA last year, but by the end of the season he showed signs that he was getting close to major league ready.
Casey Kelly: Kelly is the last player acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez trade that’s still with the Padres. I hear there is still some promise in his 25 year old arm, but it’s hard to believe it after various injuries have kept him off the mound the last few years.