Injuries to big leaguers often offer an unexpected path to the show for minor leaguers. However, when these minor leaguers were already on the fast track to the big leagues, injuries can mean a premature appearance against the best talent baseball has to offer. For an example of this, we need only look to this season with the early call-up of Joe Wieland. Last season, it was Anthony Rizzo. And as the injuries continue, we will see more call-ups – some expected, and some unexpected. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the talent waiting in the wings for their shot at Major League glory.
Gyorko was recently promoted to Triple-A Tucson. This was in part because of all the player the San Diego Padres had to steal away to plug holes in their leaking ship of injuries. Gyorko had a slow start to the season in Double-A San Antonio, he was moved around the infield a bit raising questions about whether a long-term contract was on the horizon for Chase Headley, but he’s performed well in Tucson so far.
In 6 games with Tucson Gyorko is hitting .320/..357/.680. He has 2 home runs and 6 RBI. He has been used as a third baseman there after returning to the position toward the end of his stint at Double-A.
Because of Chase Headley, it is unlikely that Gyorko will get an early call-up. However, Headley was held out of last night’s contest due to soreness. If the injury festers and develops into something more – as seems to be the case with the Padres this year – Gyorko may get his shot sooner rather than later. As for a permanent move to the big league club, the front office will first have to make a decision about what they intend to do with Headley. Once that decision is made, the team can explore their options with Gyorko.
Grandal did not win over many Padres fans earlier this year when asked about Nick Hundley‘s contract extension. When asked about whether he thought that would block him from a Major League debut, he essentially told reporters he was not just playing for the Padres but the other 29 teams out there. Those types of comments tend to rub people the wrong way…until you start talking with the bat. And that’s exactly what Grandal has done so far in Tucson.
In 26 games, Grandal is batting .326/.438/.512. His three home runs ranks him fifth on the Tucson club. On the defensive side of things, Grandal seems he might be a step back from what the Padres currently have in Hundley. Grandal has two passed balls on the year and is throwing out just 25% of runners compared with Hundley’s 41%.
Nick Hundley isn’t going anywhere unless he continues his woeful hitting. Grandal may be given the opportunity to replace John Baker as the back-up/platoon catcher, but he will not be overtaking Hundley’s spot anytime soon.
When James Darnell went down with his shoulder injury and ultimately was placed on the 15-day DL, questions arose about who would play left while Carlos Quentin continued his rehab. Darnell was already the fifth left fielder the Padres had used this season. With the rash of injuries and lack of production, Matt Clark may have a shot at making the Padres sooner than most thought.
The problem for Clark, though, is that the organization seems intent on playing him at first base rather than left field. Last season, Clark played 61 games in left and 14 games in right, and 33 games at first. This season, he has been used exclusively as a first baseman.
Clark is currently hitting .259/.339/.457. He has 8 home runs, but he strikes out much too often. Through 44 games, Clark has 43 strikeouts.
With Yonder Alonso‘s bat heating up, Clark may be hanging out in Tucson for the foreseeable future. Unless the Padres use him a piece in a trade, Clark will likely not be given the opportunity to see Major League action until September call-ups.
While the Tucson Padres website has Decker listed as a first baseman, he has only played one game at first combined between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson. The majority of his time has been spent in the outfield. He’s played 20 games in right field and 8 games in left field for San Antonio.
Decker was just recently called-up to Tucson and has only appeared in one game in which he walked twice. His Double-A stats are impressive though. Through 42 games, Decker hit ..286/.385/.662 with 14 home runs. In 2011, Decker hit 15 home runs in 59 games. It seems he has found his power stroke. Now that he will be playing in the hitter-friendly confines of Tucson’s Kino Veterans’ Memorial Stadium, his home run totals should continue to climb.
Decker has a much better shot at being called-up early because of his ability to play the corner outfield positions. The Padres have used a platoon in both right and left field. Will Venable has even had some time in center during Cameron Maybin‘s off days. Don’t be surprised to see Decker up with the big league club by July.
You’ll notice the list above doesn’t include any pitchers. Robbie Erlin is too far away from being ready, Casey Kelly is still battling a worrisome elbow injury, and Joe Wieland has already made his debut. The fact is, the Padres don’t have much help in the pitching department readily available. Down the line, they will, but if injuries continue, the Padres will have to make more moves like they did when they brought in Eric Stults.
Kip Wells has veteran experience and is pitching for Triple-A Tucson. He’s not exactly the type of player that would be featured in an article like this, but he is worth mention. Should any other pitchers go down, Wells would likely be next in line to fill the hole.
There will be a time in the future where we can look forward to a rotation including Cory Luebke, Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland, and Robbie Erlin. Until then, the Padres will have to make due with what they have.