Having watched the San Diego Padres field an array of less than stellar arms in the last few years, what I’m about to share comes as welcome news to long-suffering fans.
“Pitching, pitching, and more pitching,” wrote Kyle Glaser of Baseball America recently in his report on the Padres’ farm system. “It’s hard to find another system with the sheer number of major league-caliber arms as the San Diego Padres have.”
In a time when managers often pull starters before their third time through the opponents’ lineup, Justin Verlander’s performance in the playoffs reminds us of the importance of dominant starting pitching. Glaser also notes that the depth of pitching talent in the Padres’ minor leagues can help compensate for the inevitable injuries or underperformance.
According to Baseball American’s top 10 Padres’ prospect list, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. holds the top spot followed by MacKenzie Gore, Michel Baez, Cal Quantrill, Adrian Morejon, Luis Urias, Anderson Espinoza, Logan Allen, Joey Lucchesi and Gabriel Arias. Only Tatis, Urias and Arias are position players, but all three can play shortstop, which has been a revolving door of mediocrity for years.
Of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball as rated by MLB Pipeline, Gore ranks 24th, Arias 48th, Tatis 51st, Espinoza 71st, Baez 93rd. Most of the top prospects in the Padres’ system will not start showing up in the major leagues until 2020. However, MLB Pipeline projects an ETA of 2018 for Quantrill, Urias, LHP Eric Lauer, RHP Jacob Nix, catcher Austin Allen and outfielder Michael Gettys.
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But, according to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune, shortstop Tatis Jr. could arrive as early as the second half of the 2018 season. Lin notes that “service time…will be a significant consideration for an uber-talent such as Tatis Jr., and the San Diego Padres might be wise to wait until 2019 to start his clock.”
Leaving Tatis in the minors the whole season would be a typical Padres’ move. After all, with the 2018 team expected to be middling at best, why not leave Tatis Jr. in the minors for one more year of seasoning and save precious dollars in the meantime?
But, if Tatis continues to perform at a high level, this new ownership group could send a positive message to those long-suffering fans and bring the shortstop to the major leagues. As AJ Preller, Padres’ general manager has remarked: “the great ones come fast.”
Ron Fowler, executive chairman of the team, has made the optimistic projection of a .500 winning percentage in 2018. The Padres last fielded a .500 or better team in 2010 (.556 winning percentage) with Bud Black as manager; Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Headley, Will Venable, David Eckstein, and Tony Gwynn Jr. as position players; Mat Latos, Luke Gregerson, and Chris Young as pitchers.
As a reward for such a long wait, fans would certainly welcome the arrival of the first of promised waves of talent, especially at shortstop or with starting pitchers. LHP Clayton Richard, who recently signed a two-year contract, could serve as a worthy role model for all the young players, thanks to his work ethic and quiet leadership.