2013 San Diego Padres Preview
A solid second half gave Padres fans something to be happy about for a change last season, but a shaky starting rotation could lead to a regression in 2013.
2012 was a tale of two seasons for the San Diego Padres. In the first half of the season, the team was just plain lousy going 36-53, but after the All Star break, the team managed to find some rhythm and they finished the season going 42-33 for an overall record of 76-86. The team’s young offensive players began to gel and outplayed their veteran counterparts as the season drew to a close, giving Padres’ fans a glimpse of the future and some hope that the ball club is back on track to return to a contender in the near future. However the one area of concern for the Padres last season, and going into this season has been their starting pitching, and their front office did little to improve it from 2012. Whether or not the ball club will be able continue the success that they had from July through September with a rocky rotation remains to be seen, but the good news for Padres’ fans is that the team has a lot of talent in their minor league system that will be ready to contribute to the team’s success very soon.
The Padres needed immediate help in their starting rotation, and their front office responded by landing veterans Freddy Garcia, Sean O’Sullivan, and Tyson Ross and bringing them to camp to compete for spots in the ball club’s rotation. Of the three, only Ross is in camp on a major-league deal, Garcia and O’Sullivan both signed minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training and neither of them is guaranteed that they will make the ball club when camp breaks at the beginning of April. Instead, the Padres will likely look to the guys who made up their rotation last season to shoulder the bulk of the work this season as they wait the return of some of their young prospects from Tommy John surgery.
Anchoring the rotation will be Clayton Richard (14-14, 3.99 ERA) who managed to overcome injuries last season and complete his fourth season in a row with an ERA under 4.00. Richard will give up both hits and runs, he led the National League in both categories last season, but he will eat up innings and he will pitch his way out of difficult situations. Coming into camp healthy this season is a big plus for the right hander, and there is no reason to believe that he will not be able to take the reins and lead his rotation and his team to a successful 2013 campaign.
Behind Richard will be Edinson Volquez, who also bounced back last season after battling injuries in a three-year tenure with the Cincinnati Reds. He led the league in walks, but he also struck out 174 batters finishing the season with an even 11-11 record and a 4.14 ERA. If he can keep his control in check and get that ERA down to the 3.95-4.00 range, he will be a solid number two guy for the Padres this season.
Jason Marquis is expected to pitch third in the rotation, but he may not deserve the spot considering his past performance with the ball club. He finished the 2012 campaign with an 8-11 record, and a 5.22 ERA in 127.2 innings pitched. Marquis has a career ERA of 4.60, so if he wants to remain in the starting rotation he is going to have to show the club that he deserves it early this season, but given his competition the seems more-or-less a lock for the third spot in the rotation despite his pitfalls.
The last two spots in the rotation will likely go to Eric Stults (8-3, 2.91 ERA in 99 innings) and Casey Kelly (2-3, 6.21 ERA in 29 innings). Both men will be given their spots based on their performances this spring, and if neither of them impresses the Padres’ front office, they will be relegated to either the bullpen or the minors. Kelly is the Padres’ fourth-ranked prospect and he had a rough go in his first big league experience last season, but if he worked on his command this winter he should bounce back enough this spring to earn the fifth spot in the rotation.
The Padres also have a trio of youngsters who are waiting for an opportunity to make their mark on the rotation as well. Joe Wieland and Cory Luebke are both expected back at some point this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year and while they went a combined 3-5 with a 5.94 ERA over 59.2 innings pitched; their injuries certainly caused a lot of their problems last season. Both men have huge upsides and the Padres’ rotation could be in desperate need of their services by the time they are ready to return to the team. The club will also certainly look at Garcia this spring, but at 36-years old, he may not have much of a shot at making the ball club with the abundance of young talent available at the Padres’ disposal.
The Padres will, as usual, have a very solid bullpen again this season. They return closer Huston Street, who did a fine job last season, saving 23 of 24 games for the club and finishing the season with a 1.85 ERA in 40 appearances. His set-up men will be Luke Gregerson and Dale Thayer and both are solid 8 th inning guys who will keep offenses at bay and give Street a great chance to close the door on any potential rallies in the 9 th. Of the remaining pieces expected to make up the bullpen, Brad Boxberger, Brad Brach, Tommy Layne, Miles Mikolas, Nick Vincent and Joe Thatcher, none has an ERA higher than 3.78 and all have the ability to spell trouble for any offense that they may be put up against late in the game. Starting rotation candidate Marquis may also land a spot in the bullpen as a long reliever if he does not make the starting five.
The Padres could hit last season, and by returning their offense for the 2013 campaign they should be able to continue to put runs up on the board as their young players continue to have break out seasons. Lead-off man Everth Cabrera brings speed to the line-up and is a solid defensive shortstop in the field, but his .246 average is troublesome considering his is being looked upon to get on base whenever possible. If Cabrera can learn some patience at the plate and bring that average up, he will spell a lot of trouble for opposing teams with his legs and could steal 40 or more bases for the Padres this season.
Outfielder Will Venable is in a similar situation as Cabrera, he is a solid defensive player and can move around the bases as good as anyone else, but his ability to hit consistently has been his downfall. The Padres have deep talent in their minor leagues, and there is a good chance that Venable will be relegated to the bench later in the season if he cannot hit for at least .260 in the first half of the season. Third baseman Chase Headlely had a rough first half last year, but his performance in August and September earned him back-to-back NL Player of the Month awards. His .286 batting average looks very promising and he very well could hit his peak in 2013, unfortunately that will make him very enticing to a contender, and it would not be a surprise if he gets traded at the deadline given the Padres’ depth in their minor league system.
The Padres will hope that outfielder and clean-up hitter Carlos Quentin can stay healthy for the entire 2013 campaign, something he has yet to be able to do since his rookie season. If he can, he will be a formidable clean-up hitter who could be good for 35 to 40 homers and 80-plus RBIs. First baseman Yonder Alonso had a good rookie campaign for the club last season, but his power is not where it should be at this point. He hit .273 last season, but he only had 9 home runs so the Padres will be looking for more solid power from him this season if he wants to stay in the line-up full-time.
The bottom-third of the Padres’ line-up, outfielder Cameron Maybin, second baseman Jedd Gyorko and catcher Nick Hundley will be interesting to watch as all three men have something to prove. Maybin finished 2012 with a .243 average and much like Cabrera and Venable the club will be looking for that to improve if he wants to stay in the line-up every day. For Gyorko, the Padres will hope that he can take his minor league power and consistency and translate into the majors during his rookie campaign. He will be taking over a new position, but if all the pieces fall into place Gyorko will undoubtedly be a candidate for NL Rookie of the Year come October. For Hundley, he will have 50 games to prove that he deserves to be behind the plate on a daily basis as Yasami Grandal will be serving his suspension for testing positive for PEDs. Last season, Hundley hit just .157 so if he wants to have a job when Grandal returns he will have to turn that around early.
While San Diego showed some signs of improvement in 2012, they simply did not do enough with their starting rotation this offseason to believe that they will keep that momentum going. They should have a solid offense, and defensively they will be very strong, but if their starters give up the ghost early in the game, it may be difficult for them to fight their way back, especially if their bullpen get taxed too much too early and is out of gas by the time the calendar flips over to August. The Padres should finish close to .500, but a finish better than third place in the NL West is not likely. In a couple of years though, when their young pitchers are healthy and hit their stride, this is going to be a club that will be able to contend with Los Angeles and San Francisco for the division crown.
By Robert Gonzalez