Legends On Deck

The Upside of The San Diego Padres-Part One

It’s awfully easy to write off a team that’s in the midst of a rebuilding process. It’s especially easy to do when said team hasn’t made a recent practice of winning….well, anything in a long time.

The San Diego Padres, as all of you know, are one of those teams. Having experienced an extended period of, shall we say, less-than-ideal win/loss records (since their 1998 WS appearance, they’ve won more than 80 games only five times), there is a reason for optimism in America’s Finest City.

Padres Hunter Renfroe (Photo by Gabe Rodriguez)

So what’s so special about the Padres? There is a great deal of raw talent on this ML roster, with prospects like Hunter RenfroeManuel MargotAustin Hedges and Allen Cordoba far from their peak. That’s not to mention guys like starter Luis Perdomo, or relievers like hard-throwing righties Miguel Diaz and converted catcher Christian Bethancourt or the mid-to-high-90’s heat of lefty Jose Torres. As I thought about it, I realized that there is more to this team than first meets the eye.

So I decided that I would drone on incessantly about why I’m digging the Padres in 2017. Let’s start with a broad overview of the roster at El Paso:

At Class-AAA, the Chihuahuas have a roster full of players who could be ready to contribute at any moment. Pitchers like Tyrell Jenkins and Zach Lee could be available very soon, if the Padres have to deal with injuries in the rotation. Neither one has had any real ML experience to speak of, but they’ve seen enough action at the high levels of minor-league baseball that it wouldn’t be much of a stretch. Both of them have been high-level prospects at one point in their respective careers, and as long as they remain healthy it’s possible that they could ultimately deliver on that promise. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jenkins moved into a short relief role to maximize his arsenal; he appeared in a career-high 138 1/3 innings in 2015 between Class-AA and Class-AAA, and at this point his ability to handle 30+ starts at the ML level is definitely in question. He’s been a long-time favorite of mine, but my expectations are now somewhat tempered.

Lee had his struggles at Class-AAA in 2016, though in 2015 he put up a 11-6, 2.70 ERA in 19 starts with the Oklahoma City Dodgers. The PCL is not a great place to be a pitcher, that’s for sure, and Lee’s home/road splits were almost even (2.85 ERA at home, 2.56 on the road). Couple that with his rankings as a prospect over the past few years, and you have a guy who could still show you something in the big leagues. Then again, there’s always that chance that he decides to pursue a college football career if his baseball future takes a turn for the worse. Last year in February, Lee told Fox Sports that he would consider doing just that if he thought he no longer had a shot at making it in pro baseball.

Currently a starter with El Paso, Walker Lockett is a 4th round pick from 2012 out of Providence School of Jacksonville in Florida, and has shown a great deal of promise in the minors over the past few years. Lockett is 6’5”, 225, has simple mechanics and a very basic approach to hitters. He sits around 94 with the fastball, mixing in a heavy two-seamer, a very good change and a curve that could become a reliable off-speed option. He’s been working on a slider, but I haven’t seen it yet myself. He jumped through four levels of the San Diego minor-league system in 2016, and beyond having issues with what was reported to be a pretty nasty blister and a shoulder injury which cost him nearly a year of developmental time, he has the look and the repertoire of a future ML starter. I like him to be a strong #4 in the ML rotation, maybe even #3. He’s on my “One To Watch” list for 2017.

Kevin Quackenbush is a ML veteran, and could jump into the Padres ‘pen as soon as they need him. After all, he’s made 173 appearances for San Diego over the past three seasons, so it’s not a stretch for him. In 2016, Quack made 60 appearances in relief for SD, finishing with a 3.92 ERA due in large part to a susceptibility to the long ball, as well as a dip in his SO/BB ratio by nearly a full point (1.91 in 2016, 2.90 in 2015). He did have a successful ML debut in 2014 (56 appearances, 2.48 ERA, 3.11 SO/BB ratio, 1.104 WHIP), so it’s possible that his numbers could swing back to that neighborhood.

After all or part of 11 seasons in the minors, along with mixed results as a starter, Andre Rienzo spent 2016 as a short reliever and closer in the Marlins organization. Making his ML debut back in 2013 for the White Sox, Rienzo signed a minor-league deal with the Padres in December of last year. It appears that he will continue working as a closer with El Paso, since he took to that role well with the New Orleans Zephyrs in 2016 (27 appearances, 14 games finished, 2.85 ERA, 8 saves), but he has to cut down on his typically-high walk rate (4.0 BB/9 in 74 Class-AAA appearances). Rienzo could contribute to the Padres as a short-relief or middle-relief type, but he needs to work out some command issues before that happens.

Dinelson Lamet has mid-90’s heat and a wipeout slider, so his floor puts him at top-tier setup man. His ceiling, however, could be either #2 or #3 starter or even All-Star-level closer, depending on whether or not he can work out even an average third pitch. He does throw a change-up from time to time, but he has work to do before it becomes a reliable and consistent option, and he’ll need to work out the kinks in his command to remain in the rotation. Lamet is “effectively wild”, to a degree, as these same command issues can make him difficult to square up at the plate.

Padres Carlos Asuaje (Photo by Gabe Rodriguez/LOD)

The El Paso offense has more than a few hitters who are quite nearly ready to make themselves known in the big leagues, aside from the more widely-known Cory Spangenberg. Second baseman Carlos Asuaje was the 2016 PCL Rookie of The Year (.321, 9 HR, 69 RBI, 32 doubles, 11 triples in 134 games), and is currently #11 on the Padres’ Top Thirty Prospects list, according to MLB.com. There is little question as to whether he’ll hit in the majors, but while he has some versatility position-wise his arm realistically limits him to second base. His glove plays best at second, anyway. Offensively, he’s somewhat comparable to Jose Altuve with less speed, though Asuaje has good enough instincts on the base-paths to take the extra base or swipe the odd bag.

Outfielder Franchy Cordero is in his sixth season of pro ball, having started out as a shortstop in rookie league back in 2012. Thankfully he was moved as far from short as possible, since he made an obscene amount of errors there; in 165 career games at short, Cordero had 39 games in which he did not make an error. That’s right. 126 miscues. He’s still smoothing out the rough edges, but he could become a dependable corner outfielder in the majors. He seemed comfortable in center last year, and he’s got the speed to cover plenty of ground, so it’s mainly about becoming a bit more comfortable out there. Cordero does appear built for the outfield, and should become at least a ML-caliber OF off the bench.

Jose Pirela was acquired in a trade with the New York Yankees in November 2015 for pitcher Ronald Herrera. He started off 2016 with the Chihuahuas after losing out to Adam Rosales for a utility role on the Padres. Pirela has done work all over the field, literally everywhere except pitcher and catcher, and has good speed on the bases. Issues with breaking balls have not helped his case for big league time (.220 BA vs. sliders, .111 BA vs. curves in limited AB), but he’s one of those players who can fill an important role when the injury bug hits.

Outfielder Colin Cowgill and catcher Tony Cruz are both ML vets, and are available if needed. Cruz has experience at first and third as well, and could be useful as a versatile corner infielder and (on this team) perhaps a backup catcher if Bethancourt has an epiphany on the mound and abandons catching altogether. The Padres have already utilized three different catchers (Hedges, Torrens, Sanchez) and Sanchez is likely to experience lingering effects from the foul tip he took to the mask vs. the Dodgers on April 6th. This isn’t his first tussle with head shots, either.

Dusty Coleman is primarily a shortstop, but has worked 106 games at second in the minors. At age 30 and blocked at short by Erick Aybar and Allen Cordoba, it’s unlikely he’ll be up in the big leagues without an injury or a trade. Coleman actually looks more comfortable at second, but that spot is being held firmly by Asuaje.

Then there’s Jabari Blash. An example of a Three True Outcome hitter (walk, strikeout, or home run), Blash was called up from El Paso when Sanchez went down with a concussion.

An All-Star at short-season Everett in 2011, a mid-season All-Star in the California League with High Desert in 2013, then again in the Southern League with Jackson in 2015, his raw power is maybe an adjustment or two from manifesting at the ML level. The talent is there. Now it’s just a matter of becoming acclimated to the big leagues. Detractors aside, a player with his ability sometimes experiences a sort of “eureka” moment, and suddenly everything clicks. It’s entirely possible that he could become a key component of the Padres’ offense.

Now here’s the requisite disclaimer, as if you needed to hear it. First off, we’re talking about players who could contribute at least in minor roles to the major-league club, and because there is an extensive rebuild going on in San Diego this could take a few years. There are definitely bright spots; Jenkins, Lee, Lockett, Spangenberg, Asuaje and Cordero are among the brightest, and could become key players. But that leads me to my second point: this is about what is possible, as only Spangenberg and Jenkins have had extended looks in the majors. I firmly believe that the core of what will become a winning club in San Diego is already in place, and it’s only a matter of time before they deliver on their potential.

 

(Part Two will be an overview of the ML roster, the well-known prospects who are already getting their chance to produce, as well as a number of lesser-known players who could become vital to the Padres’ future success.)

 

Clinton Riddle

Contributing Writer at Legends On Deck®
Clinton Riddle has been writing for sites such as SB Nation, Fansided, Baseball Magazine and Sports Central (as well as the occasional newspaper) for more than 8 years, in addition to feeding an obsession with photography for nearly 30 years. He has an abiding interest in telling the stories not often told, hoping to give fans of the game a greater understanding of the sacrifices made by many pro athletes as they strive to succeed. A medical background has given him a firm grasp on the significance of sports-related injuries, as well as how they might impact a team's record.

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