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Spring Training Position Battles - Starting Rotation

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Rumor has it that the Padres need to organize a starting rotation. Please tell me how they’re going to do that.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In previous installments, we were looking at the position players, where the favorites are fairly well-defined and the depth behind them are the main questions. Now we enter the abyss of the 2017 Padres pitching staff, which is a murky and frightening place from afar. If you squint really hard you can see some promising angles, but this path is bound to be fraught with peril.

Currently on the 40-man roster: Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin, Paul Clemens, Jarred Cosart, Miguel Diaz, Christian Friedrich, Tyrell Jenkins, Zach Lee, Walker Lockett, Luis Perdomo, Clayton Richard, Cesar Vargas, Jered Weaver

Non-roster invitees: Logan Bawcom, Carlos Fisher, Dinelson Lamet, Aroni Nina, Andre Rienzo

Holy moly, that’s a lot of names, and most of them don’t jump out as bona fide rotation candidates. Keep in mind that the Padres deployed 14 starters in 2016, and most teams use 10-12 throughout a season. Also keep in mind that four of those 14 starters weren’t in the organization to start the season, so the Padres will likely make moves throughout the season which will affect this list. The challenge right now is trying to discern who has the best chance of making the rotation come April, so here we go.

One-year contract or no options remaining

Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin, Clayton Richard, and Jered Weaver were all signed to one-year incentive-laden contracts this offseason. Christian Friedrich was a minor league signing before the 2016 season and went on to lead the team in games started. Given their experience and contract status, it would stand to reason that this group should be considered the “favorites” to form the front of the rotation come Opening Day. Before naming them to the de facto rotation, however, it’s noteworthy that Cahill, Chacin, Richard, and Friedrich all made several appearances out of the bullpen in 2016, so they could be used in that role.

Jarred Cosart and Paul Clemens were acquired mid-season last year and finished the season in the Padres rotation. Cosart was involved in the Cashner trade with Miami and Clemens was claimed off waivers, also from Miami. While Cosart has worked exclusively as a starter, Clemens has bullpen experience, which could work in his favor. Still, with five veteran pitchers in their way and some hungry arms working hard for a shot, there is a ton of pressure on these two this spring.

Perhaps the best way to add some clarity to this first group is to run through them individually.

  • Clayton Richard, 33, LHP: a starter with the Padres from 2009-2013, Richard’s career was interrupted by lingering shoulder issues that eventually led to surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome in 2014. He made his MLB comeback with the Cubs in 2015 and pitched mainly out of their bullpen until his release in 2016. After being signed by the Padres last August, he finished the season strong with a 2.52 ERA across 11 appearances, nine of which were starts. A lower arm slot discovered in his recovery seems to have freed up his motion as well as making him one of the best in the league at inducing ground balls.
  • Jered Weaver, 34, RHP: The long-time Angel was nearly a Padre, garnering heavy consideration in the 2004 draft. Now he’s ready to prove the critics wrong with a new team. Spine issues, particularly in his neck, contributed to a dramatic drop in his already low velocity, which made him susceptible to surrendering long homers and big innings. The one thing he did well in 2016 was eat innings, making 16 starts of six innings or more. With a new medical staff and a young, athletic defense behind him, maybe Weaver can turn things around.
  • Jhoulys Chacin, 29, RHP: Once a top 100 prospect, Chacin’s career has seen plenty of ups and downs. After bursting on the scene with an outstanding age-22 season with the Rockies, he bounced from Colorado to Arizona to Atlanta to the Angels over the last three seasons. Shoulder issues limited him in 2014 and 2015, but he was healthy yet inconsistent in 2016. Now he has an opportunity to reestablish himself as a legitimate starter with the Padres.
  • Trevor Cahill, 29, RHP: Another former top-100 prospect, Cahill began his career as a promising starter with the Oakland A’s, making the All-Star team in 2010. A trade to Arizona coincided with a decline in his performance, leading to an eventual removal from the rotation. He didn’t improve in bullpen service, and he was traded to the Braves at the start of the 2015 season. He was released by the Braves that August and was picked up by the Cubs. They worked some magic with him, solving his control issues and turning him into a dominant reliever. Now he has brought his new-found game and his 2016 World Series ring to San Diego to try to shed the reliever role and become a starter once again.
  • Christian Friedrich, 29 LHP: When he was signed to a minor league deal prior to the 2016 season, the move hardly created a ripple. Expected to be a bullpen piece, Friedrich went on to lead the team in games started, making 24 appearances for the team. Increased curveball usage contributed to his new-found success. The former Colorado Rockies pitcher now comes into camp hoping to shore up the control and fatigue issues that plagued him last season.
  • Jarred Cosart, 26, RHP: Another former top-100 prospect (seeing a theme here?), Cosart combines a fastball with movement, a sharp curveball, and a nice changeup with command issues and a tendency to leave a flat pitch right over the heart of the plate. It’s easy to see why his stuff draws attention, but he needs to demonstrate an ability to get quick outs and avoid walks to retain his spot on a major league roster. While he’s never relieved, he could be shifted to that role if they see him as a longer-term project.
  • Paul Clemens, 29, RHP: Last season, Clemens turned a waiver claim into 16 appearances for a not-awful 3.67 ERA down the stretch for the Padres. What he struggled with, like Cosart, was efficiency and turning a lineup over. The third time he faced a lineup in 2016, opponents lit him up at a .341/.396/.500 clip. He finished the 2016 season with four strong starts, but he needs to sand down some rough spots to retain his roster slot.

In Hot Pursuit

The next wave of rotation candidates fits into a few distinct categories. We have two young guys who have pitched well for the Padres in recent memory. We have two guys who are new to the team but bring a prospect pedigree. We have two young guys who may get a chance to step up. All of them are on the 40-man roster, but all have minor league options and years of team control remaining which may be used to help polish them as future rotation candidates.

Our old buddies

  • Cesar Vargas, 25, RHP: Signed as a free agent before the 2016 season, Vargas showed promise early last year before being sidelined with elbow issues. While he never made any prospect buzz, he seems to have the command and mental approach to grind out quality innings at the big league level. He appears healthy after playing in the Mexican Winter League this offseason.
  • Luis Perdomo, 23, RHP: Last year’s Rule 5 selection was one of the brightest spots in the Padres 2016 season. An understandably rough start by the inexperienced youngster was smoothed out as he developed a heavy sinker that helped him become a member of the rotation. Some think he’s the best starter in Padres camp right now, but he has three option seasons remaining and it may make sense to let him develop away from the pressure of the bright lights.

Rework Projects

  • Tyrell Jenkins, 24, RHP: Since December, Jenkins has been a Cardinal, a Brave, a Ranger, and now a Padre in a whirlwind of trades and waiver claims. He’s remaining upbeat through it all, seeing this opportunity with the Padres as a gift that could turn his career in the right direction. He features a nice fastball/curveball combination with a developing changeup that has raised suggestions in the past that a bullpen job may suit him better, but the former top-100 prospect may be a project that the Padres will develop as a starter after all.
  • Zach Lee, 25, RHP: Yet another former top-100 prospect, the stuff that made Lee a perennial list-maker seems to have diminished in recent years. His lone MLB appearance in 2015 with the Dodgers was dreadful, and I recall a GLB’er saying that he was at the game and he remembers Lee getting chewed out in the dugout after being pulled, having his manhood questioned or something to that effect. Last summer he was traded to Seattle and didn’t impress enough to garner a contract offer. With one option season remaining, he could be another minor league project to invest a couple of months to see if there is some magic to be found in his game.

Young Studs

  • Walker Lockett, 22, RHP: When a kid dominates all the way from single-A up to AAA in one season, people tend to take notice. The Padres responded by adding him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. MadFriars’ 2016 Pitcher of the Year uses a sinker-heavy approach with a quality changeup and plus command to induce tons of ground balls and weak contact. Service time considerations will likely bury him down the depth chart, but he’s certainly a name to follow.
  • Miguel Diaz, 22, RHP: One of three Rule 5 selections this season, Diaz needs to remain on the Padres’ active roster to be retained by the organization. He has worked as a starter through his minor league career but it’s expected that he’ll be stashed in the far end of the bullpen as was the plan for Luis Perdomo a year ago. We saw how that worked out for Perdomo. Diaz could start games this season if he shows the ability and the team is in need of an emergency start.

The Wild Cards

I’ve already written too many words. I’ll just list these guys here.

  • Logan Bawcom
  • Carlos Fisher
  • Dinelson Lamet
  • Aroni Nina
  • Andre Rienzo

They’re in camp, they’re not on the 40-man roster, but they all could be considered for a rotation slot this spring. I’m getting verkempt. Talk amongst yourselves.