SAN DIEGO -- Eric Lauer may be just 23 years old, but he knows what he's capable of doing. As he wrapped up his rookie season Friday night, he also knows he's capable of playing a huge role in the Padres' cultural shift over the next few years.San Diego has
SAN DIEGO -- Eric Lauer may be just 23 years old, but he knows what he's capable of doing. As he wrapped up his rookie season Friday night, he also knows he's capable of playing a huge role in the Padres' cultural shift over the next few years.
San Diego has touted one of the best farm systems in the Majors for the last few seasons -- they are currently listed as the best system according to MLB Pipeline -- and the 2018 season has introduced a few of those prospects to the big leagues.
Lauer is one of those guys. After following teammate Joey Lucchesi -- who was the first pitcher from the 2016 Draft to make it to the Majors -- by making his big league debut April 24, Lauer has stitched together an encouraging rookie campaign and put himself closer to being a piece of the puzzle of the Padres' 2019 starting rotation.
Lauer's success wasn't immediate. He was rocked in his Major League debut and was tagged for seven runs (six earned) with four walks over three innings. Since then, however, he's constructed a more admirable reputation. Even after missing a month with shoulder discomfort, Lauer still notched 112 big league innings over 23 starts. He finished the year with a 4.34 ERA and 100 strikeouts, and his rookie campaign has earned him both high praise and high hopes heading into next season, when the Padres are hopeful he'll be able to add on to his promising initial season.
"It shows that I've made improvements," Lauer said. "I've really worked on trying to cement myself here and make sure I'm in the rotation for next year. I think I've definitely shown that there's moments that I can and will be efficient at this level."
Lauer could've hardly ended the last month of his first season any better. After working 6 1/3 innings of one-run (which was unearned) ball against the D-backs on Friday, Lauer finished September with a 1.33 ERA over his final four starts.
"I don't want to say it puts a cherry on top, because it wasn't great all the way through, but it's a step in the right direction," he said. "It definitely helps me feel better heading into the offseason."
Nobody is a lock for the Padres' rotation next spring, but Lauer and Lucchesi hold the highest odds. Lucchesi will start the final game of the 2018 season Sunday, but he and Lauer have already combined to become the first Padres rookies to each reach the 100-strikeout mark since Bob Shirley and Bob Owchinko did so in 1977. The friendly competition between the two has fueled Lauer throughout the season and he expects it to continue heading into the spring.
"We've been close since we got drafted," Lauer said. "We came up together, we live together -- it's nice to have that other guy to bounce off of without judgement or anything. We help each other out and we push each other. It's fun to watch him go out there and shove, and then I try to outdo him and he tries to outdo me. It's that friendly competition that you kind of need in a starting pitching staff."
Lauer knows that he is a key player in the Padres' self-proclaimed "Hot Talent Lava" of the seasons to come and knows that even though the 2018 season as a whole was ultimately disappointing, the change of the culture in San Diego is coming. He's happy to be one of the leaders of that change.
"It's that new wave of guys coming up. It's like a glimpse into the future of what the Padres can be," he said.
"You can feel the culture change coming along. It's just the beginning. We have a lot of young prospects and a lot of special guys. We just need to get to the point where we're meshing and gelling as a team, and then we're going to be really good."
After spending the majority of the season as the Padres' backup catcher, A.J. Ellis has seen his role on the team reduced to a pinch-hitter. As San Diego gives No. 3 overall prospect Francisco Mejia time behind the plate, along with ensuring Austin Hedges gets regular time as well, Ellis hasn't seen much action.
The 11-year veteran got the start Saturday, with manager Andy Green leaving it as a testament to the impact he made in the clubhouse.
"You couldn't ask somebody to handle better what he's handled this last month," Green said. "Not many people handle that well. His maturity has been evident to all. He's constantly -- in Austin Hedges' case particularly -- had a strong impact. I think everybody wants to see A.J. play one more baseball game."
Entering Saturday, Ellis had appeared in 64 games this season, slashing .281/.389/.356. He's caught 43 of those games, logging a .997 fielding percentage.
Katie Woo is a reporter for MLB.com based in San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.