With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2019 Padres, breaking the team down position by position. Today, we preview the San Diego starting pitchers.
Around the Horn series:C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | LF | CF | RF
SAN DIEGO -- There's a lot of potential for the Padres to field a very good pitching staff in a year or two. They boast the best farm system in baseball, littered with elite pitching talent at every level, and seven of their arms rank among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects. That's more pitchers on the Top 100 list than 28 other teams have players in total.
It's extremely important that the Padres nurture and develop that group properly. Because right now, "potential" is much more abundant in the San Diego rotation than proven production.
A season ago, the Friars posted the highest ERA among starters in the National League, at 5.09. Among the current Opening Day rotation options, Luis Perdomo has made the most career starts with 59. No one in the group has reached 20 career wins yet.
It puts the Padres in an odd state of limbo, caught between two distinctly different stages in their trajectory as an organization. Their rotation has been undeniably rocky over the past three seasons. It could be very good over the next few.
But what do the Padres do in the interim? And how can they speed up the transition to a contending-caliber pitching staff?
The Padres' front office has grappled with those questions for the past year. Should San Diego trade from its farm for a proven Major League starter? Should it pony up big money for an ace who can offer help instantly?
So far, the answer has been, "No." The Padres' only offseason addition was Garrett Richards, who likely won't pitch this season as he returns from Tommy John surgery. As things stand, only Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer can be penciled into the Opening Day starting five.
After them, it's a mishmash of unheralded prospects and long-relief types. It's certainly still possible that the Padres add a starter to the mix before Spring Training. But as things stand, the options are relatively thin:
In the rotation: Lauer, Lucchesi
In the mix:Robbie Erlin, Bryan Mitchell, Perdomo, Matt Strahm, Jacob Nix, Brett Kennedy, Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill
Top 30 prospects -- No. 2 MacKenzie Gore, No. 5 Chris Paddack, No. 6 Adrian Morejon, No. 7 Michel Baez, No. 8 Allen, No. 9 Luis Patino, No. 10 Ryan Weathers, No. 11 Cal Quantrill, No. 12 Anderson Espinoza, No. 14 Nix, No. 21 Reggie Lawson, No. 26 Dylan Coleman, No. 29 Pedro Avila
Much of the Padres' best-case scenario regarding the rotation won't play out at the big league level. It's vitally important to the organization's future that the current group of prospects produces at least a few frontline starters. In the best-case scenario, Gore, Patino and Paddack continue on that path, and a few others, like Baez and Morejon, make strides as well.
At the big league level, Lauer and Lucchesi establish themselves as undeniable Major League rotation pieces. Strahm, meanwhile, transitions seamlessly from reliever to starter, and by midseason Dinelson Lamet returns from Tommy John surgery and maintains his impressive ability to miss bats.
It's not an elite rotation. But it holds its own while prospects like Paddack, Allen and Quantrill get their first taste of the big leagues as well.
It's worth remembering just how promising Lamet's rookie season really was. His 28.7 percent strikeout rate was the highest single-season mark for a regular starting pitcher in Padres history. In the worst-case scenario, Lamet's timetable for a return is slowed, and he struggles to find his form when he gets back on the mound.
Meanwhile, the back end of the San Diego rotation is exposed. Mitchell, Perdomo, Nix and Kennedy have all been prone to hard contact, and the trend continues. The Padres spend the season shuffling starters back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors, while slumping to an ERA that again ranks toward the bottom of the Majors.
A reasonable prediction
It's fair to expect this rotation to struggle, especially at the start of the season. Lauer and Lucchesi are up and down. Strahm and Erlin are better suited for relief roles. Perdomo and Mitchell continue to flounder.
But the group steadily improves as the year goes by. Lamet returns and posts even better numbers than he did in 2017. Allen arrives and starts to establish himself as a clear piece of the future staff. Even Paddack gets into the mix during the final month or two.
By the end of the season, the rotation's numbers aren't great. But the Padres are set up nicely for 2020, with Richards poised to join the group. During the offseason, general manager A.J. Preller decides it's time to splurge on a big-name starting pitcher to headline a suddenly promising young rotation.