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Inbox: Will Padres' top young arms arrive in '19?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell answers questions from fans
January 10, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in approximately one month. In terms of young talent, Padres camp should be one of the most interesting in recent memory.It's possible six of MLB Pipeline's top 100 prospects will be in the big league clubhouse in Peoria, Ariz. Their

SAN DIEGO -- Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in approximately one month. In terms of young talent, Padres camp should be one of the most interesting in recent memory.
It's possible six of MLB Pipeline's top 100 prospects will be in the big league clubhouse in Peoria, Ariz. Their presence signals a potentially bright future in San Diego.
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Naturally, the first Padres Inbox of 2019 contains mostly questions about those prospects, particularly those that play up the middle and on the mound.
Chris Paddack, Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill: When does each arrive and what should we expect?
-- Mark, Costa Mesa, Calif.

Clearly, pitching help is on the way. The Padres posted the highest rotation ERA in the National League last season, but there might not be a team with a deeper pool of pitching prospects than San Diego. Paddack, Allen and Quantrill are all expected at some point in 2019, but they certainly aren't on the same trajectory.
Allen will arrive first, having already succeeded at every level of the Minors. In five starts for Triple-A El Paso last season, the 21-year-old left-hander posted a 1.63 ERA. He's going to seriously compete for a rotation spot in camp, and I'd be surprised if he's not in San Diego during the first half of the regular season.
Quantrill, meanwhile, struggled at the upper levels of the Minors last season, and he's probably destined for a late-season arrival if he proves himself in Triple-A. Paddack, who has the best stuff of the three, only threw 90 innings last season after 2016 Tommy John surgery. If he continues to dominate -- he owns a 1.82 ERA in professional ball -- he could arrive as soon as July, but his innings will be monitored very closely.
Is Luis Urias considered a fairly certain Opening Day starter?
-- Benjamin C., Huron, S.D.

"Fairly certain" is probably the exact phrasing I'd use. It's not a guarantee, but it's pretty darn close. The only question is where Urias will play.
The Padres' No. 4 prospect split time between second and shortstop in the Minors. Urias is widely believed to be the team's second baseman of the future, but that's only because Fernando Tatis Jr. -- the No. 1 prospect -- is waiting in the wings at shortstop.
• Padres' Top 30 prospects
Tatis is probably a couple months away from a callup, and the Padres have Ian Kinsler to play second base in the interim. They don't have a shortstop, and Urias fills that void perfectly.
There are two mitigating factors, however. First, the Padres want Urias to earn his place in the bigs this spring. He's only played 12 big league games, and he hit just .208 before going down with a pulled left hamstring. Then, there's the issue of the hamstring itself. Urias had a setback with the injury earlier this offseason. The Padres insist he'll be ready for the start of camp, but the situation is worth monitoring.
All this talk about third base, and no mention that the Indians tried Francisco Mejia there. Any reason the Padres aren't exploring that option?
-- Ferdi H., Del Mar

Mejia's experience at third is pretty limited. He's only played 11 games there, all in 2017. For reference: William Myers played more games at third base in the Minor Leagues, and he was basically starting from scratch when he made the transition last summer.
If the Padres were to move Mejia to the hot corner, he'd have a long way to go, and there's no guarantee it'd work out. Is that really worth the time and energy, when the 23-year-old backstop -- ranked as the No. 26 prospect in baseball -- could bring so much value behind the plate? Catching is the sport's most demanding position, and the Padres don't want to heap yet another difficult defensive chore on the plate of a rookie. They can find a long-term third baseman elsewhere.
Even if he only catches 50-60 games (while Austin Hedges gets the rest), the Padres see enormous value in keeping Mejia behind the plate right now. If he begins to realize his ceiling as a hitter, San Diego could give him some time in the outfield, where his elite arm and athleticism would play well (without much effort needed). But both Mejia and the Padres believe his focus should be solely on catching this spring.
Does Ian Kinsler's attractive contract make him a potential summer trade candidate when Tatis arrives?
-- Jesse O., Phoenix, Ariz.

That depends on what Kinsler does before Tatis arrives. The 36-year-old veteran will get a chance to play nearly every day during the season's first couple months. But his .681 OPS in 2018 was down more than 100 points from his career mark. He needs to turn things around at the plate -- most notably with his power output.
If he can do that, Kinsler's two-year, $8 million deal (with a team option for a third season) is, indeed, attractive. By midseason, he'll have added third base to his resume, and he boasts valuable playoff experience for any contenders shopping for an infielder.
Right now, the Padres have no plans to trade Kinsler. But it was always a possibility when they signed him to a potentially team-friendly contract. Then again, it's only team-friendly if Kinsler can reverse his downward trend at the plate.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.