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Crystal Ball: Projecting the 2018 roster - Starting & Relief Pitching

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The Padres have a bunch of talented arms with a bunch of question marks on their major & minor league rosters. Moves will be made, but let’s try to make some sense out of what’s on the table right now.

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres
Luis Perdomo will probably be in the Padres’ rotation next year. Who will join him?
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

With 2017 winding down and September roster expansion looming now is a good time to take a look around the organization to project who might be a part of the Padres pitching staff next year. The position players were fairly easy to project, but the pitching staff contains quite a few more question marks. Before diving in, it was assumed that all of the one-year contract players on the current roster will not return next year. There’s a chance that one or two might be back, but that’s a difficult thing to project.

The Probables

Starting Rotation

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres
Expect to see Travis Wood in the middle of the 2018 rotation.
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images
  • Luis Perdomo made a name for himself last year as the Rule 5 draftee entered the rotation and held a spot down longer than anyone could have hoped for. In his second season of service, he’s been prone to the blowup inning, but he’s been unflappable as he induces double plays to get out of jams as much as anyone in the game. He should only get better with experience, and therefore should be a mainstay in the Padres rotation for years to come.
  • Dinelson Lamet came up this year with two quality pitches and has ridden his wipeout slider and jumping fastball to some pretty impressive results. He’ll learn how to minimize the damage with time, but if he stays healthy and keeps pitching like he has, he’ll be alongside Perdomo for a long time.
  • Travis Wood came from the Royals last month and will surely want to re-establish himself as an MLB starting pitcher. His success from the bullpen with the Cubs may push him back into that kind of role, but he’d be more valuable as a starter. Assuming he stays healthy, he should be penciled into the starting rotation already.

Bullpen

San Diego Padres v St Louis Cardinals
Brad Hand will be the center of many trade rumors this offseason.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
  • Brad Hand is one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball and is currently the team’s closer. He might not remain in the closer role as he excels in various roles, but he will be a part of the 2017 roster, trade notwithstanding. That said, his trade value could conceivably be decreasing as his team control diminishes, so he’s a strong trade candidate this winter.
  • Phil Maton has turned his high-spin fastball into a formidable weapon, and he pairs it nicely with a wipeout slider. He’s only a rookie but he shows the poise and the stuff of a major league closer.
  • Kirby Yates has gone from waiver claim to bullpen anchor. One rough outing tainted his stat line, but he’s performed well against righties and lefties, has worked out of jams, and doesn’t fear the league’s best hitters. With two years left before arbitration, he also has high trade value but may need a larger sample size to draw offseason trade consideration.
  • Jose Torres showed quite a bit of regression early this season after an impressive debut last year. Advanced metrics suggested that he was quite lucky in his 2016 campaign, but he still has nasty breaking stuff and the moxie to bring it in leverage situations. Mistake pitches have been his downfall, which is common with young, hard-throwing relievers. Unless he gets pushed off the boat, he should remain with the big league club as he continues to progress.

The Question Marks

Starting Rotation: 40-man Roster Version

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals
Matt Strahm was a top Royals prospect and should come into spring training ready to rock.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images
  • Matt Strahm came from the Royals in the Cahill-Buchter-Maurer trade, and was the Royals top prospect before the start of the season. He should be fully recovered from a knee injury well before spring training and should be a strong candidate for a rotation spot. Possessing an MLB-quality fastball and curveball, look for him to try to establish a third pitch to make him a legitimate starter candidate.
  • Dillon Overton was acquired via waivers from the Mariners and has made one spot start for the Padres. He’s struggled to prevent hits, so he might be released at the end of the season, but he’s still in his pre-arbitration period so he might be retained for depth. He has been designated for assignment, so if he clears waivers he may stay on as a minor league pitcher for the time being.
  • Christian Friedrich has missed all of this season with various injuries and recently underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow. Early forecasts suggest that he should be healthy for spring training. He will be entering his first year of arbitration, so he may be a non-tender candidate or he may be a starting rotation candidate, or he might start next year on the DL again.
  • Jarred Cosart also underwent season-ending surgery this year and should be healthy for next spring. With a few chances to show at the MLB level with the team, he also might be a non-tender candidate.
  • Colin Rea underwent Tommy John surgery last fall and was cleared to start throwing in March. With a full year of rehab, he should be ready to go come next March.
  • Robbie Erlin also underwent Tommy John surgery, but his was in May, so he’s already more than a year into his rehab. He’s been ruled out for this year, but it sure would be nice to see the oft-injured Erlin finally claim a spot in the team’s rotation.
  • Kyle Lloyd made his major league debut earlier this year, taking a turn in the rotation after the departure of Trevor Cahill by trade. His numbers and his stuff don’t jump off the page, but by all accounts he’s a premium competitor and rates as high on the character scale as anyone in the organization.
  • Walker Lockett was added to the roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft after a breakout minor league season. His 2017 hasn’t been quite as impressive, and he’s been shut down with back issues. He was recently named to the Arizona Fall League roster, where he will build strength back up and work on mechanical tweaks that should be fully ingrained before next spring.
  • Tim Melville was claimed off waivers from the Twins recently. He pitched in independent ball after being released by the Reds last offseason, then bounced back with some quality appearances for Minnesota’s AAA affiliate. He’s under team control for a long time, but he’s taking up a 40-man roster spot, so he could be a non-tender candidate if he even finishes the season with the team.

Starting Rotation: Deeper into the organization

Chicago Cubs v Colorado Rockies - Game Two
Jordan Lyles looks like a prime refurbishment project.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The pitching depth in the upper minors has been pretty shallow the last couple of years, but it’s starting to look better. In AAA the candidates for MLB action next year are relatively few, as Michael Kelly hasn’t taken the next step this year and Matt Magill hasn’t done much to impress this year either. Jordan Lyles was claimed from the Rockies a while back and while he was pitching from their bullpen, he’s made five starts with the Chihuahuas and may be another refurb project for Darren Balsley & Co.

In AA, the talent is impressive to say the least. Cal Quantrill, Jacob Nix, Brett Kennedy, Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi, and Enyel de los Santos have all had solid or better seasons as the Missions are working toward a playoff run. Most or all of them will probably get an invite to spring training but will have to prove themselves before getting into a rotation competition. Cesar Vargas is in AA and would be the one man to watch next spring, as he held his own last year in his MLB debut before being shut down with elbow soreness. If he’s healthy and strong next spring he very well could make the opening day roster.

Bullpen: 40-man Roster Version

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres
Carter Capps needs to find his zip and his command, but don’t count him out.
Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images
  • Carter Capps has recently returned to the major leagues from his Tommy John surgery, and he’s been roughed up quite a bit, but the stuff is still nasty. The velocity should improve with time, as should his command. If he can get back to filling up the strike zone and start missing bats again, he should get back to being one of the league’s more dominant relievers.
  • Buddy Baumann finally made his MLB debut with the Padres this year, and as his season has progressed he’s settled in as a lefty specialist. With Brad Hand and Jose Torres on the roster, he’s buried behind a couple of talented lefties who will keep him on the fringe, but he’s proven useful this year.
  • Miguel Diaz finally made his return to the active roster after spending time on the disabled list with forearm tightness. He threw a bullpen session during yesterday’s game and he looked good, so he’s on the path to recovery. Now that he’s a keeper for the Padres, they can option him to a minor league team where he can get steady playing time and work on some things before coming back as a piece of the Padres’ future staff. Given his age and his ceiling, the team will likely want to give him time to improve rather than throw him back into the fire again next year.
  • Kyle McGrath dominated AA and AAA the last two years, but he got shelled in his limited MLB action this year. The lefty with the funky over-the-top delivery will probably stay in the Padres’ stable moving forward, but the command issues he showed may keep him from being a consistent contributor.
  • Kevin Quackenbush hasn’t been good the last few years, but he’s been a team player and he still has option years remaining. He’ll be a non-tender candidate for sure, but they’ve kept him around this long, so what the heck.
  • Jose Valdez has struggled this year much like Quackenbush. He has an option year remaining, so he might have some homework to do this offseason before the team makes a “keep or cut” decision with him.
  • Jose Ruiz is a dark horse. He was a surprise addition to the 40-man roster before last year’s Rule 5 draft, and he made his MLB debut out of convenience, coming down from Lake Elsinore to fill the void created by the Cahill-Buchter-Maurer trade. A converted catcher, his numbers in advanced single-A don’t suggest he’d be effective at the MLB level yet, but he has the velocity and movement to be a quality reliever.

Bullpen: Deeper into the organization

Releivers tend to move quickly, and there are some minor leaguers who are turning in impressive seasons who should receive invites to camp next spring. Brad Wieck has been hot-and-cold the last few years, and while this season has seen more than its share of command issues, the 6’9” lefty could be a force should he figure out how to find the plate. Eric Yardley and Trey Wingenter have been nothing short of dominant in AA San Antonio. Yardley is 27 and needs to move now if he will ever get a chance. Wingenter put up video game numbers as he climed three levels in 2016 and has continued to consistently perform through his full year in AA, so you’ve got to think he’ll get a solid look next spring.

In conclusion

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at San Diego Padres
“Hey Big Mac, can you help me beat some command into these guys?
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into spring training last year, it was clear that the rotation was a mess. The kids have progressed this year and the talent is starting to bubble up, but there are a ton of question marks with the players currently on the roster. We will likely see another offseason with small signings of guys who need to bounce back, but don’t be surprised to see the team take a couple of big swings on the market. The window of contention is starting to come into view, so acquiring a high-ceiling player who should be around for 3-5 years may be here when the MLB performance starts to match the talent currently in the minors.