April is a month and a half away, but players are starting to show up in Peoria. Pitchers and catchers are due to report on the 18th, with their first workout on the 19th. It's time to take a look at the players we will see in camp and what their prospects are to make an impact on the opening day roster as well as down the road.
The first three starters of the rotation seem to be set, but there's still uncertainty. All three have been mentioned in trade rumors for various reasons. After them, there's a mix of guys trying to break out of the bullpen, veterans eager for another shot, and prospects who need to earn a path to their big break.
- Tyson Ross: 2015 was a good year for Tyson. While the rest of the pitching staff struggled, Tyson put up arguably his best season with career highs in starts, innings pitched, and strikeouts. With two years remaining under team control, it's been argued that Tyson Ross' trade value might never be higher. There's good reason that other teams have been asking about him, but Preller is right to set the asking price high. Another year of progress and he could go from front-end starter to Ace. Concern exists that his slider-heavy approach increases his injury risk.
- James Shields: The former ace experienced a significant drop-off in 2015. While his strikeout rate went up, his walk rate and homer rates went way up as well. The velocity and the stuff didn't seem to change from previous seasons, so there's reason to hope for a bounce back. His contract is big, but it gets comparatively more palatable each year as pitching salaries around the league balloon. He has an opt-out clause after the 2016 season, so this could be considered a "walk year" if he has a good season and is inclined to head back to free agency.
- Andrew Cashner: Our favorite mullet-coiffed fireballer struggled throughout 2016 after showing promising growth the previous two years. This BTBS article dove in to reasons why, but there's more beyond statistical analysis. Between personal off-the-field issues and a new team environment, Cash is the strongest candidate on the staff to come back strong in 2016.
- Brandon Maurer: Working as a reliever in 2014-2015, Maurer found a new level of effectiveness. He broke into the big leagues as a starter, and he wants to start again. He'll get a chance this spring.
- Brandon Morrow: Re-signed to a minor league contract, Morrow is completing recovery from shoulder issues that shortened his brief-yet-bright 2015 campaign. At the start of last season, he was the Padres' most dominant pitcher.
- Colin Rea: After a phoenix-esque uprising through the minors, Rea was better than expected in six starts late last year. He earned the chance to try to earn a spot on the opening day roster.
- Drew Pomeranz: Coming over from the A's in the Yonder Alonso trade, Pomeranz profiles much like a lefty Tyson Ross, with a similar repertoire and also a strong platoon split tendency. He needs to show that he can be effective getting lefties out to get a shot in the rotation. Otherwise, he'll likely start 2016 in the bullpen.
- Robbie Erlin: Seeing brief MLB time in each of the last three seasons, Erlin has yet to bring his minor league success to the majors. If he doesn't make the cut, he's still young enough to hold out hope of a Rea-like breakout.
- Luis Perdomo: Drafted from the Cardinals by the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft and traded to the Padres, Perdomo is a highly-regarded prospect with electrifying stuff and command issues. To keep him, he needs to stay on the active roster all season. Preller might be inclined to find a role for him, whether it's in the rotation or the bullpen. He's started throughout his career, so he has as much of a chance as anyone on this list.
- Philip Humber: Best known for pitching a perfect game for the White Sox in 2012, the 33-year-old journeyman most recently worked in Korea. He'll likely spend the season in San Antonio, but he'll be in camp to start the spring.
- Daniel McCutchen: Another 33-year-old veteran journeyman, McCutchen has seen MLB service in parts of five seasons.
- Carlos Pimentel: The 2015 PCL Pitcher of the Year has command issues but is described as lion-hearted and knows how to work out of a jam.
- Carlos Villanueva: Mainly a reliever over his career, Villanueva has some experience as a starter.
- Nick Vincent: The Ramona native has been a Padres bullpen mainstay for the last four years.
- Kevin Quackenbush: Sometimes considered a closer candidate, Quack was excellent in 2014 and fell off in 2015.
- Fernando Rodney: The flamboyant fastballer is poised to be the closer for the Padres in 2016.
- Buddy Baumann: The journeyman lefty minor leaguer is on a major league contract for the first time. Profiles as a LOOGY.
- Cesar Vargas: Another journeyman minor leaguer on a major league contract.
- Ryan Buchter: Dazzling stuff and a history of control issues make this lefty an intriguing candidate.
- Josh Martin: The Rule 5 draftee needs to find a spot to stick on the roster.
- Blake Smith: Another Rule 5 draftee, Smith is a converted outfielder.
- Jon Edwards: Also a converted outfielder, Edwards spent time with the Padres after coming over in the Will Venable trade.
- Johnny Hellweg: The best name on this list is a tall righty who fits Darren Balsley's mold to a tee.
- Cory Mazzoni: Mazzoni struggled during his MLB appearances in 2015 but scouts like his makeup and his stuff.
- Tayron Guerrero: I've seen it suggested that Guerrero could be the best reliever in baseball if he could get command of his powerful repertoire.
- Leonel Campos: 27-year-old Campos needs to break out to remain on the 40-man roster this spring.
- Jose Dominguez: Brief MLB appearances with the Dodgers and Rays over the last three seasons haven't shown the domination that he has displayed in the high minors.
- Adam Lopez: After rehabbing from injury, former top prospect Lopez spent 2015 in independent league ball.
- Derek Norris: The 2014 All-Star had an up-and-down season in 2015. An early hot start at the plate flamed out as he caught more innings and played in more games than previously in his career. Early struggles in framing seemed While he was stellar at throwing out baserunners, his game calling and pitcher management have been questioned. One thing that goes without question is the heart and hustle that Norris brings to the field and the dugout. He was the most outwardly passionate player on the 2015 squad.
- Christian Bethancourt: The Padres traded Casey Kelly and catcher Ricardo Rodriguez to get the toolsy Bethancourt. The power and cannon arm are for real, but he has yet to show that he can hit MLB pitching, and his defense behind the plate has drawn serious concern. Clearly a project acquisition, Bethancourt is out of minor league options.
- Austin Hedges: Long considered one of the best defensive catching prospects in the game, Hedges proved all scouting reports right behind the dish in extended MLB time in 2015. His glovework and game management skills are far beyond his years. His bat needs to turn a corner to be considered a legitimate MLB starting catcher. Early success in 2015 in AAA didn't come with him to the MLB. Here's hoping that the lessons learned in his MLB time in 2015 have helped him shore up his offensive weaknesses. Hedges still has minor league options, which may play in to where he starts the 2016 season.
What does it all mean?
I'm no fortune teller, but I love pondering the possibilities. There's a month and a half until the team breaks camp. That's plenty of time for Preller & Co. to work some deals. Ross, Shields, and Cashner each have their own trade appeal. Ross is a premium value. Shields is a heavy contract that doesn't look as bad as it did a year ago. Cashner would be a sell-low, but he's talented enough to draw attention. Norris and Hedges have trade appeal as well. Preller's stocked the system with loads of live bullpen arms, so there's a position of depth there. We could go on and on with trade scenarios, but I'd like to presume that the names stay the same and try to make something up with that. Here's what I see in my crystal ball:
Catcher: I think Hedges gets sent down to AAA to play every day and sharpen his hit tool. He saw success in AAA, but knows what he needs to improve to become a competent hitter in the MLB. That leaves Norris as the starting catcher and Bethancourt as a backup, whose primary job will be to learn the craft from the Padres player development folks.
Starting Rotation: Ross, Shields, Cashner, Morrow, Maurer. I think Morrow comes in to camp looking as good as he did a year ago. I think Maurer will show that he's put in work in the offseason to fill out his repertoire and approach to work through lineups multiple times.
Bullpen: Villanueva, Baumann, Vargas, Pomeranz, Perdomo, Vincent, Quackenbush, Rodney. Perdomo stays so they can keep him long-term, and they look to him to Despaigne's swingman role. He can be Villanueva's protege in that role, and Pomeranz provides lefty middle relief. Vincent-Quack-Rodney tries to become the new Adams-Gregerson-Bell finish team.
However it shakes out, this will be an interesting spring. Since the team seems to have a different goal this year, we may see more looks at guys we wouldn't typically see as Preller & Co gather talent in the "not-a-rebuild" process. Spring is coming!