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On Fire in the Desert Vol. 3

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With a week until Opening Day, which Padres are looking extra-ready for Regular Season action? It’s the final installment of “On Fire in the Desert,” before the 2018 Cactus League fades into memory!

MLB: San Diego Padres at Arizona Diamondbacks
Jose Pirela has picked up right where he left off last season
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The end of Spring Training is near, and the roster is solidifying before our eyes...Or not...Backup catcher, second base, the rotation (4th and 5th spots) and the bullpen (middle/long relief) are still in limbo.

With these competitions in mind, let’s see who’s On Fire in the Desert as Cactus League play comes to a close.

*Using the same cutoffs as last time (20 PA, 4.0 IP), there are 21 position players and 26 pitchers in consideration.

Carlos Asuaje (2B)

53 PA, .362/.392/.681, 3.8 BB%, 13.2 K%, 13 RBI, 3 3B, OppQual 6.8

MLB: Spring Training-San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Angels
Will Asuaje be the starting second baseman?
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The least-touted piece of the Craig Kimbrel trade, Asuaje has played himself into starting consideration with tough at bats and solid defense. He could be part of an all-Venezuelan double play combo teaming up with shortstop Freddy Galvis, and sharing reps at second with Jose Pirela. Speaking of...

Jose Pirela (OF/2B)

50 PA, .452/.520/.714, 14 BB%, 18 K%, OppQual 7.8

MLB: New York Mets at San Diego Padres
Jose Pirela and Manny Margot will be joined by Wil Myers in the outfield
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Pirela was acquired from the Yankees in 2015 for an unheralded prospect (Ronald Herrera). In 2016, he got a quick cup of (cold) coffee with the Padres, and got injured in Triple-A. He elected free agency and re-signed with the team as a minor league free agent. In 2017, he was the eighth! Padre to start a game in the outfield, behind Manny Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Travis Jankowski, Allen Cordoba, Cory Spangenberg, Matt Szczur and Franchy Cordero. All this is to say that Pirela is an easy guy to root for, and we should be excited to see if he can repeat his breakout 2017 numbers.

Raffy Lopez (C)

22 PA, .333/.455/.778, 18.2 BB%, 27.3 K%, OppQual 6.7

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays
Andy Green likes Lopez’ left handed bat
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres are Lopez’ fifth team (Cubs, Angles, Red, Blue Jays) since he was drafted in 2011. He’s had brief stints in the majors with the Cubs in 2014, the Reds in 2016, and the Blue Jays in 2017. Last season, Lopez spent time at Double-A (50 PA), Triple-A (223 PA) and the bigs (63 PA), during which he put his left-handed bat to good use against righties posting a .947 OPS and hitting a home run every 14.6 at bats.

Cory Spangenberg (2B/3B)

44 PA, .275/.341/.600, 9.1 BB%, 22.7 K%, 3 HR, OppQual 7.8

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at San Diego Padres
Spangenberg found some untapped power last season
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The 27-year old—who was drafted between Javier Baez and George Springer in 2011—enters 2018 fighting for his Padres’ career. With the second baseman of the future, Luis Urias, knocking at the door, it’s time for Spangenberg to prove that he can be a left-hand hitting, speedy, super-utility player for the Padres long-term. Many suspect that Asuaje is going to start the year at second base, with Spangenberg headed to El Paso. That could be a blessing in disguise if the Chihuahuas get him reps all over diamond, improving his defensive versatility.

Tyson Ross (RHP)

15.0 IP, 6.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.07 WHIP, OppQual 8.4

MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels
AJ Preller knew that Tyson needed to come back to San Diego
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t very long ago that he was just a long-shot, non-roster invitee. But now Ross looks like a lock to open the season as the Padres’ fourth starter. Alongside Clayton Richard, Ross could be an important role model for the young Padres pitchers. Unlike Richard, Ross, at his best, is a dominant, front-of-the-rotation guy, who could bring a nice haul at the trade deadline.

“The velocity is back, the slider is back, the arm stroke is cleaner. He’s locating fastballs better...than I saw him do a few years back...I think he’s got a lot of good things out in front of him.” - Andy Green on Tyson Ross

Dinelson Lamet (RHP)

10.2 IP, 9.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.31 WHIP, OppQual 6.9

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres
Dinelson Lamet
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The 25 year old Dominican comes into the season looking to build off a rookie campaign in which he posted the fourth highest K/9 among National League starting pitchers. His fastball/slider arsenal is reminiscent of the aforementioned Tyson Ross. Lamet is working on a curveball to expand his repertoire and hopefully blossom into a legit 200 inning / 200 strikeout horse.

Robbie Erlin (LHP)

6.1 IP, 11.4 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.947 WHIP, OppQual 8.6

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres
Robbie Erlin was acquired in the 2011 Mike Adams trade
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The 27 year old, former third rounder hasn’t pitched in a regular season game since April 17th, 2016. Since being called up in 2013, Erlin’s been hit with a slough of injuries. He spent time on the 60-Day DL in 2014, on the 7-Day DL in 2015, and missed most of the last two seasons with Tommy John surgery. This could be his last chance to stick in the big leagues in a Padres uniform.

Joey Lucchesi (LHP)

7.0 IP, 7.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.571 WHIP OppQual 6.9

MLB: San Diego Padres-Media Day
Joey Lucchesi, the Padres 9th overall prospect
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The 6’5” left hander has been simply dominant at every level since he was selected in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. He’s thrown 40 or more innings at three levels, Low-A, High-A and Double-A. At each stop he has had at least three-and-a-half strikeouts per walk, and allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning pitched. As of this writing, he is still in big league camp, though it’s likely that he goes to Triple-A and awaits a midseason call up.

Eric Lauer (LHP)

10.2 IP, 8.44 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 1.13 WHIP OppQual 8.4

MLB: San Diego Padres-Media Day
2016 first rounder Eric Lauer
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Lauer—along with teammate Joey Lucchesi—was a California League all star for the Lake Elsinore Storm, before earning a mid-season promotion to Double-A San Antonio. So far this spring, the Padres’ 13th overall prospect (5th among LHP) has done nothing but impress. Lauer will likely start the year in the El Paso rotation.

Adam Cimber (RHP)

8.0 IP, 9.0 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, 0.6254 WHIP, OppQual 7.2

MLB: San Diego Padres-Media Day
2013 ninth rounder Adam Cimber
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Among pitchers with at least 50 IP in the Pacific Coast League last season, Cimber ranked first in WHIP (0.91) and third in K/BB (6.50). He also had the seventh highest groundball percentage (54.3%) and the seventh lowest line drive percentage (13.6%). The Padres have taken notice and are starting to expose him to better competition this spring (OppQual increased from 6.5 last week).

“Cimber has been great...I don’t think you could ask him to do anything more in spring training. His stuff has been good and he’s thrust himself into the conversation...I think he’s definitely shown he can get big league hitters out.” - Andy Green

Three Bonus Players:

None of these guys have lit the world on fire from a traditional stand point, but in light of the Padres’ new on-base approach, Travis Jankowski, Chase Headley and Manny Margot deserve mention. Margot in particular has really struggled at the plate (.257 BABIP this Spring), but he’s getting on base more often than he did last year (.313 OBP in 2017) thanks to a very solid walk rate.

- Jankowski: 18.6 BB%, .372 OBP, 23.3 K%

- Headley: 26.2 BB%, .452 OBP, 9.5 K%

- Margot: 15.1 BB%, .321 OBP, 18.9 K%

Previous articles:

On Fire in the Desert Vol. 2

On Fire in the Desert Vol. 1