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Young hurlers making way up Padres' pipeline

Minor League system stockpiled with promising pitchers at all levels

It took the Padres 17 innings to defeat the Blue Jays on May 31, and to do so, the Padres needed their starter for the next game -- Clayton Richard -- to pitch two innings in relief. So for the next game they had to recall Robbie Erlin, who pitched well enough to earn his first career win in his first career start and save the bullpen.

The Padres went through a stretch where they played in extra innings four of 10 games in late May-early June. Combine that with some short starts from Edinson Volquez and Richard, and the club has had to use its resources in the Minor Leagues rather frequently as of late.

That has given prospects such as Erlin, Burch Smith and Brad Boxberger a chance to provide fresh arms in the bullpen and make spot starts.

"Like I tell all these guys, once they get here they are officially one of us," Padres manager Bud Black said before last week's game against the Blue Jays. "We keep an eye on them, because we know eventually there's going to be a time when we might have to use them again."

Erlin, the Padres' No. 8 prospect, was sent back to the Minors after his first start to continue in the rotation, but the Padres could recall him again at some point this season.

"He's mature beyond his years and has pretty good feel for what he's doing out there," said Randy Smith, the Padres' vice president of player development and international scouting.

Some of the Padres' best pitching prospects, such as Casey Kelly (No. 3 prospect) and Cory Luebke, have been put on hold due to injury. But San Diego seems to have some pitching depth in the organization and used three of its first four Draft picks last year on high school pitchers -- Max Fried (No. 1), Zach Elfin (No. 10) and Walker Weickel (No. 13).

The left-handed Fried, last year's seventh overall Draft pick and the team's top prospect and No. 48 overall prospect, is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA in nine starts with 43 strikeouts in 44 innings at Class A Fort Wayne.

One of the most impressive players in the organization has been Jose Madrid -- a reliever taken in the seventh round by the Padres. His numbers have been outstanding so far, and he had an ERA under 0.30 at one point.

"Since the first day he took the mound, he's been outstanding," Randy Smith said.

San Diego drafted three position players on the first day on Thursday, but the team insists that it was just drafting the best players on the board instead of targeting hitters directly.

"The baseball Draft is so different, you just draft the best guy on the board regardless of what your needs are or what your depth might be in the system, because they have a ways to go before they impact the big leagues," Randy Smith said.

The Padres have some position player talent as well, such as second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who has been one of the best rookies in the Majors this season. Gyorko leads leads all rookies in hits with 64.

Randy Smith was impressed with the entire Double-A starting staff, including pitchers Donn Roach (No. 14 prospect) and Kevin Quackenbush (No. 18), as well as Burch Smith (No. 19), who is 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA as a starter in Triple-A since May 22, when he first Major League stint ended. That prompted the Padres to recall him this past Saturday.

"They're still figuring things out," Randy Smith said about the team's young pitchers. "But they got bright futures."

Jamal Collier is an associate reporter for
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