Most baseball games end with a relief pitcher on the mound, and so shall this series of articles. The 2017 Padres will field a young and talented assortment of position players. They will run a series of starting pitchers out there who reportedly know how to throw a ball and generally have something to prove. All of them will lean heavily on a bullpen that shapes up surprisingly well. Look a little deeper and you’ll get a glimpse of the first wave of pitching talent ready to crash the beaches this year or next.
Currently on 40-man roster: Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, Brad Hand, Kevin Quackenbush, Keith Hessler, Carter Capps, Miguel Diaz, Buddy Baumann, Jose Torres, Christian Bethancourt?
Non-roster invitees: Logan Bawcom, Jon Edwards, Carlos Fisher, Jason Jester, Phil Maton, Kyle McGrath, Aroni Nina, Craig Stammen, Brad Wieck
The back end of the bullpen appears pretty well defined. Brandon Maurer was the closer after Fernando Rodney was traded away and held the job down admirably. Lefties Buchter and Hand were as solid of setup men as could be last year. Those three figure to begin the season with the same roles. Carter Capps, acquired in the Andrew Cashner trade last season, is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last March and is already throwing at what seems to be full speed. His target for a return is opening day, so he could be pressing Maurer for the closer role early on. Before he got hurt in 2015, he was one of the most dominant relievers in the game. Hessler and Quackenbush were major parts of the 2016 bullpen but could also be on the bubble for the remaining spots.
With all of the starting pitching candidates in camp who have relief experience, it’s possible that any of Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Jhoulys Chacin, Christian Friedrich, Paul Clemens, or Jarred Cosart could be used as a swingman. All of those pitchers are out of minor league options, so the team may want to retain them as bullpen arms even if they don’t make the rotation right away.
Buddy Baumann saw limited opportunities last season, spending most of the year in El Paso. Jose Torres made an impressive debut at the end of last season. Both lefties have an outside shot at the opening day roster, but will likely see action later in the season.
Miguel Diaz was selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Milwaukee Brewers and must remain on the active roster all season to stay with the organization. Considered more of a starter than a reliever, he’s more likely to work from the bullpen given his lack of experience and development. If there was a way to carry an extra reliever on the roster without losing a position player, he could be stashed away similar to the approach with Luis Perdomo a year ago.
Extra reliever you say? In walks Christian Bethancourt. Some say he’s a unicorn. Some call him “The Most Interesting Man in Baseball.” What’s certain is that he has a fastball that runs into the upper 90’s with natural movement and is working on developing a slider and a changeup. If he can capably pitch once or twice a week, he can ease the burden on the relief corps enough to be able to carry one, two, or maybe three Rule 5 players through the season. It’s weird, but it might just work.
As for the non-roster guys, there’s a smörgåsbord of minor league talent ready for a chance. Carlos Fisher, Jon Edwards, and Logan Bawcom all have some MLB experience. Craig Stammen was once a dominant closer for the Nationals and is looking for a career revival. Kyle McGrath, Jason Jester, Brad Wieck, and Phil Maton are all legitimate “don’t tell me TINSTAAPP” relief pitching prospects who succeeded through the Chihuahuas’ championship run of a year ago. While the old guard may bring some stability, I’m looking forward to seeing the kids get a shot, and they’re all likely to come up sooner or later this year.
We have an experienced core to anchor the back of the bullpen. We have talented young pitchers to experiment and develop. We have veterans to fill out the spaces in between. This bullpen is shaping up well and should hopefully stabilize the pitching staff through what looks to be an interesting season.