Rookie year a win-win for Paddack, Padres

September 21st, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- When the Padres named to their Opening Day rotation, they faced a daunting task. Here was a promising 23-year-old rookie who had earned his place in the starting five. But he had thrown only 90 innings in 2018, his first year back from Tommy John surgery.

The Padres needed to find a way to navigate a full big league season with Paddack in their rotation. So they spoke extensively with Paddack and his camp, then set about mapping out a plan for 2019. Six months later, it couldn't have played out much better -- for both parties.

"We had a set plan, and we followed it," Paddack said. "And we got pretty dang close to everything that happened. A big part of why I was successful was just trusting them, knowing they had my best interests."

Paddack's season ended on Tuesday night in Milwaukee, as he was shut down after his 26th start and a total of 140 2/3 innings. He posted a 3.33 ERA with a sub-1 WHIP, and he finished with a 0.77 ERA in his final four starts.

Numbers aside, the Padres had a few objectives for Paddack's rookie campaign: They wanted him to get the experience of pitching deep into September. They wanted him to learn from both successes and failures in the big leagues. And they wanted him to build an innings base that would set him up for success in 2020.

When it became clear Paddack had earned his way into the big league rotation, general manager A.J. Preller and others in the Padres front office set out to determine how they could accomplish those goals.

"There were a lot of conversations,” Preller said, “with [manager] Andy [Green], the Major League coaching staff, our development staff, former pitchers that have gone through coming back from surgery and talking about what their first season was like at the big league level, conversations with his agents.

"We looked at everything. Everything. And, ultimately, we were able to come up with a plan that we felt good about. The fact that he was able to execute it, it puts us in a good place for the future."

Of course, Paddack isn’t the first high-profile client of Scott Boras to have his innings monitored following surgery. That list includes Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey among others. On Saturday, Boras praised the Padres for the way they handled Paddack this season.

“The communication was great with both ownership, A.J. and his staff and on-field personnel,” Boras said. “The amount of information that was shared and understood by all allowed for good decisions. ... And C.P. handled it very well mentally and emotionally because he understood the need.”

A quick refresher of the Padres’ plan for Paddack this season:

• Paddack never pitched with fewer than five days’ rest.

• Paddack never went past 100 pitches in a start, and he rarely started an at-bat past 90.

• The Padres optioned Paddack to the Minors in June for a breather when he had begun to struggle.

"It was about being smart and looking long-term and building up his workload the right way," Preller said. "I think he was able to check all those boxes."

Boras noted that any plan for a returning pitcher needs to be personalized. This one certainly was. The Padres spoke with Paddack after each start and assessed his status. They factored that into their decision to continue throwing him deep into September.

“You look at each case individually, and you look at when the surgery was and how many innings he had the prior season,” Boras said. “You certainly want to hear from the pitcher and how he's feeling during the course of it, and you measure his velocity and his command. A lot of this has historic markers as well. You've got, for us in our camp, Strasburg and many others like him, who have followed through and have come through the process and become very durable pitchers after Tommy John surgery. That was certainly the goal with CP.”

When Paddack was optioned to Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore in June, a significant portion of the baseball world cynically viewed it as a move to manipulate service time. The Padres insisted it wasn't. Paddack, they said, would benefit from a few days to reset -- especially given the workload limitations he was facing.

Sure enough, Paddack was recalled after just 10 days. At any other point in the season, the Padres could've optioned Paddack again. Given that his season ended with 11 days left on the calendar, they might have even been justified in doing so. It would've gained them an extra year of team control with Paddack, too. That didn't happen.

"We've shown that we're going to put the guys that we feel like are the best players at the big league level, and we're going to do what's right for their development,” Preller said. “We're going to make that the priority."

Sure, the Padres could have tweaked their plans for Paddack's rookie season to ensure he would become eligible to be a free agent in 2025 instead of 2024. But all along, they maintained that his present development in the big leagues was more important.

Service-time concerns weren't a consideration, Preller said, and clearly those aren't just words. He's backed that up with his actions, first by promoting for Opening Day, then by keeping Paddack in the big leagues for a full year of service.

In the meantime, Paddack made it through the season healthy and without any hiccups or deviations from the plan. It's clear he appreciates the way he was treated.

"I tip my cap to the Padres' front office and the entire organization," Paddack said. "They've done a really good job putting me together over the past two years. It wasn't an easy process.

"Being such a competitor, it was hard at times. You just want to go out there, pitch every day, go complete game [shutout]. That's everybody's goal. But they talked to me, and they really explained that for me to have a successful career, these next two years are really crucial."

Sure enough, Paddack is set to be unleashed in 2020. The Padres will continue to be cautious, but nearly all of his restrictions will be lifted. They envision Paddack as a front-of-the-rotation workhorse, and he'll get the chance to be that next year.

Ultimately, that was the point of Paddack’s 2019 season.

"It's gone by so fast, dude, it amazes me,” Paddack said. “Man, I remember pitching here on March 31, seeing all my family here with cowboy hats down the right-field line. Now I'm done with the last day of my first season."

And he's set up nicely for the next one.