Just before the Padres' finish off their home opener tomorrow against the San Francisco Giants, the El Paso Chihuahuas will take the field for their 2015 debut. The Friars' top affiliate boast the names of some old friends who have played for the Padres over the last couple of years and some prospects who expect to in the coming ones. Here's the full list along with some notes:
LHP Robbie Erlin, RHP Casey Kelly, LHP Jason Lane, RHP Cory Mazzoni, RHP James Needy
Analysis: The rotation looks pretty solid. Erlin is probably good enough to be a few teams' major league rotations at the point, Lane can eat innings, Needy is a nice sleeper prospect who did well in AA last year, Mazzoni is the new guy who came over in the Torres trade and has some promise and Kelly has the most upside of the bunch, but needs to get stretched out since injury recovery limited him in Spring Training.
Potential 2015 callups: Erlin should be the first one called up should the big league club need to go to the minors for a starting pitcher. Kelly is on the 40 man and if he gets back to where he was before Tommy John surgery, then he's a big league rotation candidate. Lane got a call up last year, but hopefully everyone stays healthy enough that he's not needed.
Best Prospect: Casey Kelly. He's the only one that currently shows up on some Padres prospect lists and some still see him as a future #3-4 starter in the majors, but only if his arm holds up. I could see him as a very good reliever if his arm only holds up with smaller workloads.
RHP Leonel Campos, LHP Scott Elbert, RHP Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP Marcos Mateo, RHP Brandon Maurer, RHP Aaron Northcraft, RHP Kevin Quackenbush, LHP Chris Rearick.
Analysis: Quackenbush should anchor the staff with closing duties. Elbert and Mateo, both minor league free agent signings from the Dodgers and Cubs respectively, provide veteran experience. Kohlscheen proved to be an asset for El Paso last year after arriving in the Denorfia trade. Rearick is coming off a fine year in AA. Campos and Northcraft (acquire from the Braves in the Justin Upton deal) both seem promising even though they had rocky introductions to AAA last year.
Potential 2015 callups: Quackenbush is the obvious one. He was almost in the major league bullpen until a last minute trade for Craig Kimbrel changed the team's plan. He's proven he's ready for the bigs, he just got caught up in a roster crunch. Similarly, Brandon Maurer (acquired for Seth Smith in the offseason) could be in a lot of teams' bullpens, but there was no room at the inn. He has also started before, so maybe he gets some starting nods as Casey Kelly gets stretched out. Campos is on the 40 man, but will need to do more this year to prove he deserves a spot. Rearick and/or Elbert will get major league chances should Padres rookie Frank Garces falter as the lone lefty in the big club's 'pen.
Best Prospect: Quackenbush and Maurer no longer a prospects, so it comes down to Northcraft or Rearick. Northcraft gets mentioned as a prospect more, but I like Chris Rearick. During Spring Training he looked poised to be a reliable left handed option.
C Rocky Gale, C Austin Hedges
Analysis/Potential 2015 callups/Best Prospect: This can all be combined to talk about Austin Hedges. Despite not hitting well in AA last year, Hedges still got a promotion to AAA. Scouts love his defense and some thing his bat will come around. Unless his hitting looks completely abysmal then I think he could get a callup if an injury were to hit Derek Norris.
1B Cody Decker, 2B/3B Taylor Lindsey, 2B/3B Mike McCoy, 1B/LF Tommy Medica, 2B/SS Ramiro Pena, 1B Brett Wallace
Analysis: The infield depth took a hit when Cory Spangenberg made the major league roster. The team has plenty of 1B candidates (which is fine, there are DHs in the minors), but of the 2B/3B/SS group only Taylor Lindsey is a prospect. Pena looks to man SS, but he a minor league journeyman. As is 34 year old Mike McCoy, who seems to have found himself a starting job unless something changes. Brett Wallace used to be a 3B, so perhaps he'll work there some with Lindsey going to 2B.
Potential 2015 callups: Medica is definitely on the top of the list when it comes to potential callups. If there are injuries or a need for another RH bat in the majors, then he'll be answered the phone. Lindsey is on the 40 man and could be shuttled to San Diego if injuries strike at 2B or 3B.
Best Prospect: Medica technically doesn't qualify anymore since he has passed the major league rookie threshold of 130 ABs, so by default it goes to Lindsey. The 23 year old 2B/3B was acquired in the Huston Street trade last year and is coming off a disappointing 2014. One of the big reasons it was disappointing was that his 2013 (in AA) was so good. He has pop in his bat and just enough athleticism for 2B and just enough arm for 3B. It would take a huge year for him to push for a major league job, but he's still a nice depth piece to have.
CF Abraham Almonte, RF Alex Dickerson, LF/1B Jake Goebbert, LF Rymer Liriano
Analysis: A very good group of guys to have roaming the outfield grass. Almonte, Goebbert and Liriano all got major league experience last year and Dickerson would have if not for an injury that sidelined him most of the season. Much like the major league club this is a good group of hitters, but as a unit the defense might be suspect. Liriano and Almonte though are by no means bad defenders. Dickerson has been mentioned as a possible 1B down the road and Goebbert basically was one last year with the Padres.
Potential 2015 callups:Any one of them could see time in the majors under the right situation. However, Goebbert was outrighted off the 40 man roster, so a return to the majors this season is a bit unlikely. Almonte is probably at the top of the list for a callup if there was an injury to a Padres OF.
Best Prospect: No question it is Rymer Liriano. He and Hedges are easily the bests prospect on the Chihuahuas. He is a potential 5 tool player who has impressed at every minor league level. His short debut with the Padres last year left many with the impression that he needs some more seasoning. He has only played 16 games at the AAA level, so he can still learn some of the level's ins and outs with El Paso. Expect him to rake in the hitter-friendly PCL though.