Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the Craig Kimbrel trade in 2015, Javy Guerra was unable to hit higher-level pitching with the San Diego Padres.
Reminiscent of another converted shortstop that became a relief pitcher, the Padres approached the 23-year-old and suggested he try a position change. A strong-armed defensive specialist as a shortstop, Javy Guerra started pitching in June of 2019 and threw 17 innings at Lake Elsinore with 23 strikeouts and a 1.059 WHIP. He topped out his fastball at 100 mph and got whiffs with his bitting slider.
That prompted a trial in Double-A Amarillo for 4.1 innings with seven strikeouts and a 2.08 ERA. On Sept 1, 2019, he got a major league promotion as a right-handed relief pitcher. He had thrown 21.1 innings at the minor league level. He hadn’t been a reliever for even six months.
His major league debut was not altogether smooth with 8.2 innings of six strikeouts and three home runs allowed on seven hits. But the promise of a blistering fastball that he can control in the strike zone, as well as the above-average slider, prompted the Padres to keep him on the 40-man roster this year.
Due to an offseason that saw the Padres add impact arms through free agency and trade, Guerra now has to compete with more experienced pitchers as well as some young and talented up and coming prospects.
With the back end of the bullpen set with Kirby Yates, Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan the middle innings will have Michel Baez, David Bednar, Jose Castillo, Pierce Johnson, Andres Munoz, Gerardo Reyes, Craig Stammen, Trey Wingenter, Matt Strahm and Luis Perdomo competing with Guerra for the remaining five slots. This will mean that six very talented relievers will be starting 2020 in the minors.
Stammen would appear to be a lock for one of those spots, and it would be safe to slot another for either hard-throwing Andres Munoz or Michel Baez. There should also be another lefty for balance, so either Strahm or Castillo could also be included. That leaves two open spots unless the Padres decide on an unbalanced pen or injuries pop up.
The challenge for AJ Preller and the front office is the wealth of talent and which of them are available for trade versus stashing them in AAA for depth. Guerra is no longer an option for the minor leagues as he is out of options and must either make the team or be traded unless they are willing to release him at the end of spring training.
There is no doubt that Guerra holds significant upside as a reliever and would be quickly signed by another team with the Padres getting no value in return. The construction of the bullpen will be worked out during spring, but the work done by Preller during the offseason has the Padres in a position to choose from a wealth of talent.
For those that believe AJ Preller is done dealing prior to the season the surplus of arms available for the bullpen shows that more needs to be done. The Padres will have five weeks to evaluate the talent at hand to determine who will be the eight arms in the pen, who to send to El Paso, and who will be traded to secure more talent for other areas of the organization.
If someone with the talent of Guerra is expendable for this team, it speaks to how deep the relief pitching will be for the Padres this season.