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Padres 2018 Spring Training Preview: Starting Rotation

How will the starting five take shape during this year’s Spring Training?

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The Padres have many questions to answer going into this year’s Spring Training festivities. Among the numerous question marks on the Padres roster two reside in the back end of the starting rotation. Who will the Padres bring into Spring Training to take the hill? Let’s have a look at this year’s collection of starting pitcher candidates:

Philadelphia Phillies v San Diego Padres

Clayton Richard

The de-facto Opening Day starter unless the next pitcher on the list gets the nod, Clayton was extremely serviceable for the Padres last year, throwing 197.1 innings in 32 starts with a 4.79 ERA. Richard is at his best putting the ball on the ground: his 59.2% groundball rate was third in MLB behind Marcus Stroman and fellow Padre Luis Perdomo. With the void at shortstop filled with Freddy Galvis, many are pegging Clayton to do better than allowing 240 hits (most in MLB).

The veteran lefty signed an extension with San Diego for 2 more years and should figure to serve as a rotation placeholder or possible bullpen arm once more starting pitching options become available from the extremely deep farm system. Outside of eating innings Richard should also provide mentorship and serve as an example for his fellow teammates.

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Dinelson Lamet

Bursting onto the scene in 2017, Dinelson Lamet has been described by many as a breakout candidate for the Padres rotation. The right-handed Lamet finished off the 2017 season with a 7-8 record and a 4.57 ERA. Outside of the general numbers resides his 10.9 K/9, which ranks him 9th in MLB among pitchers with at least 100 innings. Known for a fastball that touches upper 90s and a wipeout slider, Dinelson has been heralded as a possible ace if he develops a third pitch. Currently Lamet is working on a changeup and has room to grow with another season of work. Among the other improvements the 25-year-old Dominican needs to make on his game is against left-handed hitters: lefties had a .258 batting average against compared to righties only hitting .151.

With the groundswell of starting pitching coming through the Padres system, Dinelson could project into a stellar bullpen piece should he be unable to develop a serviceable third pitch. The next couple seasons will serve as a barometer for Lamet’s future.

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Luis Perdomo

Brought into the fold as a Rule 5 pick in 2016, Luis now has 2 seasons of MLB pitching experience and many are hoping Perdomo takes another step forward after a mixed 2017 campaign. Despite adapting relatively well in 2016 to MLB talent Perdomo’s 2017 wasn’t as large a jump forward: while cutting his ERA down from 5.71 to 4.62 Luis issued more free passes (46 in 2016, 65 in 2017). There are still positives to look for in Perdomo’s approach: his groundball rate at 61.8% was second best in MLB (ahead of aforementioned teammate Clayton Richard).

Luis will be worth watching in 2018 as he could benefit from a stronger infield defense and take another step forward before reaching his arbitration years beginning next season.

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Matt Strahm

Part of the return in the Padres’ trade with the Royals last season, the 26-year-old Strahm spent that time on the shelf due to a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. A promising left-hander, Strahm made his MLB debut last year and made three starts before hitting the disabled list in July after giving up 10 earned runs in 11 2/3rds innings over 3 starts.

Despite the extremely small sample size Strahm has marked potential as either a starting pitcher or in a relief role; he was considered the Royals 2nd best prospect prior to his injury. Matt sports a mid 90s fastball with a changeup and curveball as his secondaries and is a prime project for Darren Balsley. Expect to see Strahm make a case for the starting rotation though A.J. has no hard plans for the lefty’s role in 2018.

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Colin Rea

Colin Rea returned to the Padres after a take-back stemming from medical record impropriety bit the Padres two seasons ago in a trade with the Marlins. Part of the medical record snafu was revealed when Colin left his Marlins debut after 3 13 innings; Rea had a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament which may have been misreported by the Padres during the transaction. After an attempt with PRP therapy Rea underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entirety of the 2017 season.

The right-handed Colin enters 2018 as a question mark: will we see the Colin Rea that almost threw a no-hitter and was the 4th best Padres prospect at one time, or the pitcher with a 5.35 ERA over his last 13 starts?

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Robbie Erlin

Another pitcher who missed all of 2017 thanks to Tommy John surgery, Robbie Erlin will look to fill a spot at the back end of the rotation or possibly in long relief with his Spring Training audition.

The outlook on the lefty Erlin is cloudy at best; one can go off his career 4.54 ERA or his once-promising rise through the Padres system.

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Bryan Mitchell

Coming into the Padres system as half of the return for Jabari Blash (the other half being Chase Headley), Mitchell has been touted as another Darren Balsley project after being utilized as both a reliever and starter by the Yankees with mixed results. Expect to see Mitchell get a good long look in camp as a starting pitcher: Andy Green said as much when the team acquired the 26 year old.

“He pitched in the bullpen, pitched in a starter’s role every now and again. (The Yankees) were never able to give him the consistent opportunity, which we think he’ll thrive in.”

Mitchell has a starter’s mix of pitches: a fastball that can touch 100 mph alongside a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. His ERA as a starter (3.76 over 9 starts) is better than as a reliever (5.77 over 57 23 innings).

Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres

Jordan Lyles

Signed to a big league deal with the Padres for this season with a 2019 option after being a waiver-wire pickup in 2017, Jordan will get an extended look in Spring Training as a possible starting pitcher and (yet another) Darren Balsley reclamation project.

Lyles boasts a top pedigree (1st round pick in 2008) and a starter’s arsenal of pitches (mid-90s fastball, change-up, curveball, and hard slider) with the opportunity to “put it all together” in this year’s camp. After a uninspiring 2017 campaign (9.39 ERA over 5 starts with the Padres) Jordan will have to pitch his way into a roster spot.

Chris Young/Tyson Ross

A few old friends will be making reappearances in a Padres uniform this Spring Training.

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Many Padres fans remember Chris Young from his stint with the Padres and his 2007 All-Star campaign. Though Young boasts a 33-25 with a 3.60 ERA record with the Padres, his time spent after San Diego has been a mixed bag, going from New York to Texas to Seattle before earning a ring with Kansas City in 2015 and subsequently being released by the Royals after a 2017 7.50 ERA season. Signed to a minor-league contract with the Padres, Chris will have to make a statement in Spring Training in order to earn a roster spot.

Milwaukee Brewers v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Tyson Ross will also return to the Padres for another shot at the rotation. The 2014 Padres All-Star missed all of 2016 with right shoulder inflammation and was summarily non-tendered. Ross joined the Rangers for the 2017 season and had a forgetful season with a 7.71 ERA in 12 appearances and 10 starts. Ross will try to recapture the magic that made him an incredibly promising starter while a Padre and reconstruct his career post-thoracic outlet surgery much the same as Chris Young and Clayton Richard have.

Other options

Walker Lockett - The once-promising Lockett looked like a surefire call-up after posting a 3.35 ERA in El Paso when a back injury threw a snag into his season. Lockett made a comeback in El Paso’s championship bid last year, throwing eight innings in two starts during the playoffs. Lockett will assuredly start next year reestablishing himself in El Paso with a call-up possible should other pitchers begin to fall out of the starting 5.

Joey Lucchesi, Jacob Nix, Cal Quantrill, Eric Laurer - The waves of talent touted by Padres management will make their first showings with the big league team this Spring Training. Among these pitchers invited to camp Joey Lucchesi seems to be in line for the first call-up. Don’t expect any of these names to break camp on the main roster (they’d have to be added to the 40-man) though do look for a few to get a cup of coffee come September.

The 2018 Padres starting rotation is indicative of a team in transition; veteran arms and fill-in pitchers will be featured alongside still developing young talents. Expect to see the minor league talent in Spring Training make a case for September call-ups and spots in the 2019 Padres starting rotation.