In a bit of surprise for many Padres fans, the bullpen situation coming into the 2018 Spring Training season is somewhat stable. Plenty of familiar faces are assured locks for bullpen jobs despite trade rumors. Despite the stability, the Padres have brought in plenty of inside and outside competition to see who shakes out and can finish off games.
Plenty can change between now and the deadline, so let’s take a look at who will be fighting for a spot in the Padres bullpen this Spring Training:
The lone representative for the Padres in the 2017 All-Star Game, Brad Hand goes into 2018 as the de-facto closer for the Padres after a stellar 2.16 ERA 2017 campaign. The converted starter and waiver-wire pickup has proven to be as durable as he is consistent; the only pitcher to have pitched more innings than Hand over the last two seasons is Addison Reed. Brad has also made adjustments over his last two seasons, largely abandoning the curveball and focusing more on a slider-heavy approach with fastballs mixed in.
After signing an extension with the team that goes through the 2020 season, expect rumors of Hand being dealt to circulate throughout the season should he continue his excellent performance.
Another successful waiver-wire pickup, Kirby Yates should serve as an set-up man for Brad Hand after a solid showing in the Padres bullpen last year. Kirby ranked 3rd among relievers behind Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen in producing swinging strikes thanks to his mid-90s fastball and splitter.
Yates was a candidate for the closer position after Brandon Maurer was dealt to Kansas City and could possibly fill the role again should Hand be dealt during the season. Expect to see plenty of the Hawaiian righty this season setting up in the 7th and 8th innings.
Craig Stammen was 2017’s feel-good story: once a starter with the Nationals, the oft-injured righty had a career renaissance with the Padres last season, posting a 3.14 ERA over 80 1⁄3 innings of work. His success parlayed into a 2-year $4.5 million re-up with San Diego and an almost-guaranteed spot in the ‘pen.
Though Stammen has been prone to the longball, fans are hoping Craig can continue to show success out of the bullpen and possibly become a trade chip much the same as the pitchers above him are.
The king of spin-rate made his Padres debut in July last season and has shown progress despite allowing more home runs than he did in the minors. Most notable about Maton is his fastball: though it sits around 93 mph, the spin which he imparts on it makes it difficult to square up on. Maton makes use of this pitch high in the zone to generate strikeouts (46 in 43 IP) alongside a slurve/curveball breaking pitch. The biggest adjustment Maton will have to make is keeping that spinning fastball elusive; he surrendered 10 home runs in 43 MLB innings after only surrendering 4 in 109 innings in the minors.
Phil will likely stay on the major league roster and receive plenty of chances to continue his growth.
The first new name in the Padres bullpen comes from Japan and is a unique pitcher worth watching this spring. Makita is a classic right-handed submarine pitcher with an extreme sidearm delivery that led him to a 1.91 ERA over his last two seasons with the Seibu Lions in Nippon Professional Baseball. Kazuhisa relies more on the deception of his delivery than pitch speed: his fastball generally sits in the low 80s and is mixed with a slider, a curveball, and a sinker.
Signed over the next 2 years Makita will have an opportunity to prove his stats from NPB will carry over into success in the Padres bullpen.
An unconventional strikeout pitcher with an unconventional delivery, Kyle McGrath made his debut with the Padres last July and did two stints overall with the big league club, posting a 2.84 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 19 innings. Kyle utilizes a unique overhead left-handed delivery with precise location despite not possessing huge speed on his fastball.
Being that the list above is largely composed of right-handed pitching save for Hand, McGrath may find a spot on the roster thanks to being left-handed. The lefty will have to work on lowering his home run rate should he want to remain in the Padres bullpen.
A left-handed call-up last year, Buddy Baumann did well enough in his 17 2⁄3 innings to warrant a shot at the bullpen. Primarily a fastball thrower with a slider out pitch, Buddy finished 2017 with a 2.55 ERA despite his fly ball tendencies yielding more home runs than outs. Buddy’s performance in AAA over the last two seasons (~3.00 ERA) serves as testament that he has nothing more to prove in the minors and will have to sink or swim in the majors.
The competition for left-handed pitching in the bullpen not named Brad Hand comes down to McGrath, Baumann, and a pitcher you’ll read about further down.
As you can also see in the picture, Buddy Baumann gets it.
The slide-stepping once-electric Marlins closer will spend another Spring Training working his way back from injury; after losing all of 2016 and the beginning of the 2017 season to recover from Tommy John surgery Capps will be returning to Padres camp after thoracic outlet surgery.
Carter will be a big question mark this Spring Training. Will he be able to reclaim the triple digit speed he once coupled with his slide delivery to annihilate batters to the tune of a 1.16 ERA while in Miami, or will he still need more time to recuperate after enduring another surgery?
Part of the return for Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski from the A’s (the others being Drew Pomeranz and Jabari Blash), the Venezuelan Torres was kept in the big leagues for the 2017 season to prove whether his ascent through the minor leagues the previous season was real. Jose was serviceable enough as a lefty out of the bullpen though had issues with giving up home runs despite posting the lowest walk rate in his young career. The lefty has potential to be better than a LOOGY and should be in the mix for a spot in the bullpen alongside aforementioned lefties Kyle McGrath and Buddy Baumann.
A 22-year-old international signing poached in last year’s Rule 5 draft, Miguel Diaz showed every bit of his inexperience (94 innings in pro ball) last year alongside some great potential to become a strikeout machine. One only needs to see the movement on his fastball to see what Diaz is capable of.
While Miguel may also become a possible starting pitcher option, the best bet is to expect the right-handed Diaz to spend time working on his command issues in the minor leagues with the hopes his pitch location improves enough to make his stuff worthwhile in the major league ‘pen.
The massive 6’9” left-handed reliever has earned a shot at the major league bullpen despite a 2017 season in the minors that was good in AA, not so great in AAA. Brad earned a shot in AAA after putting up a 2.64 ERA in 26 2⁄3 innings in San Antonio and promptly gave up 8 earned runs in 7 innings of work in AAA El Paso.
Despite the AAA struggles Wieck is an intriguing talent who does better against righties than lefties and is capable of being a top-flight reliever if his secondary offerings develop. Expect Wieck to start the season in AAA unless he has a very compelling showing in ST.
Signed to a big league contract by the Padres after being left off the Yankees 40-man roster, Colten Brewer will have a chance at making the Padres roster despite minor league woes. While Brewer’s numbers in AA were fantastic (1.31 ERA, 43 SO in 41 1⁄3 innings) he struggled in AAA (13 earned runs in 10 innings).
While many see the big-league contract as a sign of a guaranteed roster spot Colten will have to prove his AA numbers translate to the big leagues and a spot in a crowded bullpen competition.
Signed to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite, the 7-year veteran will look to earn a spot and recapture some of the magic that he utilized as former closer for the Seattle Mariners. “The Bartender” boasts a two pitch mix of a four-seam fastball and a buckling 12-6 curveball.
Trey Wingenter/Jonathan Aro/Adam Cimber/Michael Mariot/T.J. Weir/Eric Yardley
Fellow Gaslamp Ball writer roydjt summed up this group of minor league arms in his non-roster invitees article.
Starting Pitching Conversions
Jordan Lyles/Matt Strahm/Bryan Mitchell/Robbie Erlin/Tyson Ross/Chris Young
The pitchers competing for a starting rotation spot could also find spots in the bullpen as both long or short-inning relievers. A few of these pitchers can also be stashed in the minors (Chris Young and Tyson Ross are signed to minor league contracts).
As crowded as the starting rotation tryout is the bullpen figures to be more intriguing with the carryover of several pitchers rumored to be trade targets this season. The Padres have a large amount of relief pitching talent in the minors, so some solid performances from relievers who make the main roster could yield more youth via trades to inject into the farm and lead to more MLB debuts for future Padres.