First of all, let me congratulate the past and present Padres Front Office members & scouts whose savvy moves over the last couple seasons have earned San Diego the #1 ranking in ESPN’s (Keith Law’s) list of top Minor League systems. So kudos, Josh Byrnes, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, etc. for all of your work. Now it is just a matter of watching, waiting, and wishing the team and the players luck that a majority of them pan out in the future.
Anyways, with Spring Training rapidly approaching, I think that all of us Padres fans are intrigued as to how this 2012 roster will shake out by Opening Day. This offseason, San Diego has made a number of moves to change/help out their Starting Rotation. Because it is such an important unit, and because there are some new faces, I thought that it would be nice to do a short breakdown of the starters vying for the chance to be on the starting staff for the Padres once the regular season begins. Furthermore, I’ll list where I think each player will end up in terms of their position ranking (#1-#5) on the staff. So hit that “Continue Reading button, and let’s get started:
Top 4 Guys: All Locks, Positions Yet to be Determined
While the Padres’ Top 4 spots in the rotation appear to be secured, because there isn’t a “clear-cut” #1 in the group, the battle could begin early and continue all March long for any one of these four Pitchers to establish himself as the Padres’ Opening Day starter.
Last season’s Opening Day starter (because Mat Latos was injured) has the inside track to being the #1 on the staff with Latos being shipped to Cincinnati and Aaron Harang going to Los Angeles.
Stauffer has essentially worked his way up on the staff from being a part time starter/bullpen guy in early 2010 (6-5 Record with a 1.85 ERA), to starting every fifth day near the end of the season, and last season emerged as one of San Diego’s most consistent starting pitchers working under Latos and Harang.
In 2011, Stauffer tied for second on the team with 9 wins logged a 3.73 ERA over 185.2 Innings, and started a career high 31 games. Hopefully with more run support, Stauffer can improve upon his 9-12 record from last season. After an injury plagued start to his career, Stauffer should have his best chance to be a #1 guy on this staff.
I personally believe that if Luebke has a nice Spring Training, the Padres will be willing to move him up in the rotation above other veterans on the staff. After a nice debut in late 2010 where Luebke went 1-1 in 4 starts with a 4.08 ERA and a terrific performance against the Dodgers on ESPN, Luebke was worked in long relief last season before being inserted into the starting rotation midway through the year.
To his credit, Luebke went 6-10 (over 17 starts and 46 games) with a 3.29 ERA and had 154 K’s in 139.2 Innings pitched, and essentially ensured himself a spot in the rotation even when the “Young Guns” from San Antonio and Tucson begin coming up to San Diego at the end of this season and beyond. If Luebke keeps improving in Peoria, I personally don’t think the Padres will hesitate to increase his work-load (within reason of course), and challenge him. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if Luebke ended the season as the #2 guy for San Diego.
Newcomer and trade acquisition in the Mat Latos deal, Volquez should receive every chance to earn the #1 or #2 jobs, but could find himself as an effective #3 behind Stauffer and Luebke.
Volquez and what lies ahead of him in San Diego is a bit of a mystery. After an All-Star season in 2008, Volquez has been bit by the injury bug, had Tommy John surgery, and run ins with PED’s. If Volquez wants to get his career back on track, he could not have picked a better place than San Diego.
Just ask Jon Garland and Aaron Harang, guys who had great seasons with the Padres and took advantage of pitching in spacious Petco. If Volquez want to improve on his 5-7 record and 5.71 ERA from last season and is excited about moving from homer-friendly Great American Ballpark, he might get his best shot in San Diego. In the event Volquez stays healthy and is slotted as the #3 guy, he could conceivably win 10-15 games for San Diego pitching against opponent’s #3′s.
How Richard comes back from his offseason shoulder surgery will determine how far he moves up in the staff’s hierarchy. Yet if Richard finds himself healthy as the #4 guy, that will likely mean that San Diego has something going for them at spots #1-#3.
Richard pitched well from 2009 to 2010 with San Diego, and accumulated a 19-11 record when healthy. Unfortunately, Richard was unable to follow up on his solid season and a half debut, and before he went on the shelf in 2011, Clayton struggled to a 5-9 record with a 3.88 ERA in 18 starts. As was the case with Stauffer, the run support certainly didn’t help his overall record, and maybe with the new bats, Richard won’t have to go out and pitch a gem every 5th day just to get a No Decision.
Hopefully, Richard is healthy in 2012, because he still has a lot to offer this staff. And at 29 there is plenty of good baseball left in him. Having a solid Lefty with a sub 4.00 ERA as the #3 to #4 option is always great for a team to have.