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2013 Spring Training Preview: Feast or Famine 

Chase Headley

Chase Headley

As the Padres begin preparing for the 2013 season the fans are left to wonder what became of the 2012 post-season announcement by GM Josh Byrnes that adding starting pitching would be the priority for the new year.

Signing Freddy Garcia to a minor league contract with an invite to major league camp doesn’t really seem to be the big ticket player we were all thinking of. Re-signing Jason Marquis for the bottom of the rotation? Not really what I was hoping for. Trading for Tyson Ross who possesses a big upside but has so far not come close to delivering? Again, not really what we were led to believe would be coming.

I don’t think that anyone that follows the Padres needs to be reminded of the catastrophic amount of pitching injuries visited upon them last season. Or the fact that many of our returning arms won’t be ready until midway through the season, at best.

So, what happened?

It seems that the off-season free agent market was not what Padres brass expected. Many of the names they were rumored to be interested in signed for contracts well beyond what the front office was willing to pay. As a result, we are now looking at a starting rotation consisting of Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Eric Stults, Jason Marquis and either Anthony Bass or Casey Kelly. Assuming that Kelly wins the job, Bass would most likely be the long man in the bullpen, a job he handled pretty well at times last season but not his best role. If we are to be really optimistic we will throw Tyson Ross, Robbie Erlin or maybe even Donn Roach into the mix as a starter or the long man. At best, we have two proven starters and two bottom of the rotation veterans with some unproven youngsters fighting it out in the middle. The re-signing of Tim Stauffer could provide some needed support but we all know of the spotty and unreliable health he has experienced since signing with the Padres. There is no reason to expect that to change.

And when those inevitable injuries occur?

We need to hope that Freddy Garcia and Sean O’Sullivan have had good springs and have earned themselves a spot on the 40 man to provide some depth. Maybe the injury bug won’t hit until late and Cory Luebke or Joe Wieland will be ready to come back.

Is there a chance that a spring trade might still be possible?

Many other teams have an excess of major league starters fighting for rotation spots this spring. Byrnes might be able to swing a trade using some of the prospects in the depth positions to pry a proven arm from another team. We shall have to wait and see if there is some relief for this group as the spring progresses. Let’s all hope that is the case.

For those of you asking “Who is Sean O’Sullivan?” I urge you to go to the Padres website and check out the video posted there on Sean. O’Sullivan, acquired as a free agent, can impress with his stuff but consistency has not been a strong point. At 25 yrs old he can still settle in and be a useful pitcher if the magic of Darren Balsley works on the young man.

A few words on Tyson Ross, older brother of Padres prospect Joe Ross. He was acquired in a trade from Oakland (Andrew Werner, Andy Parrino) along with 1B AJ Kirby-Jones. A 2008 draftee (2nd round), he came with strong credentials but has not delivered on that promise so far. He made his major league debut in 2010 and now owns a 6-18 record and 5.33 ERA in 53 games with 21 games started. Throwing a four pitch mix of FB (95 mph), sinker, slider and change he struggles with his control and his mechanics are questionable. A scouting report from John Sickels that was written in his debut season speaks of his good stuff but poor mechanics and inconsistent command. This seems to be another reclamation project for Darren Balsley and one that I hope we can later call a success.

Ok, so that’s the famine part. Where’s the feast?

As I am always a glass half-full person when it comes to baseball (hey, this is fun. Don’t be so negative!). The bullpen should be able to provide a lot of relief for those beleaguered starters. Assuming the Padres start the season with seven relievers, there is a large group to pull from to fill out those positions. We start with closer Huston Street and set up man Luke Gregerson. That leaves five spots spread amongst Joe Thatcher, Brad Boxberger, Brad Brach, Tommy Layne, Miles Mikolas, Dale Thayer and Nick Vincent. And that doesn’t count the long man of either Bass or Roach or Ross. I see that as nine pitchers fighting for those five spots.

Am I forgetting someone? Oh yeah, that sportsman of the field … Andrew Cashner. Rehabbing from a hunting accident that sliced a tendon by his thumb, Cashner is rumored to be progressing nicely and might be ready late March. He will probably start the season in the minors, or in the bullpen, and work his way back to starting, if possible.

That leaves lots of depth in the minors to pull from.

See, there’s some good news!

As for the position players. Chase Headley hasn’t been traded yet so all the negativity dominating the web and social media is a waste of everyone’s energy. It should be fun to see if Chase can take advantage of that shorter, closer wall in right and center fields to show of some more of that power he tapped into last season. And don’t forget there are other guys on the roster who can benefit from the new fences as well. Carlos Quentin is a pull hitter but he might also benefit from the shorter length in center. Will Venable, Chris Denorfia and Cameron Maybin may all be adjusting their swings this spring to take advantage of the new dimensions. If nothing else, more excitement could be in our future.

The much anticipated arrival of long touted prospect Jedd Gyorko is another highlight of this spring training season. Long known to possess a major league bat that is said to be an almost can’t miss (read the scouting reports, don’t listen to me), Gyorko is not known for his defensive prowess. Unable to stay at his natural position (3B), for obvious reasons, the Padres moved him to 2B last season and he has shown acceptable arm strength but less than average foot work and glove work (Baseball Prospect Nation- Will Swanner).

At 5-10 and 195 lbs, Jedd is not overly athletic or fleet of foot. He needs to hit, and hit really well, to offset his defensive shortcomings. Gyorko is a gap to gap hitter with line drive power but only an average HR ability. If he can win the 2B job in spring training that will leave shortstop as the only position that needs to be settled before camp breaks. I believe the job is Everth Cabrera‘s to lose but I have every confidence that if he does slip the Padres will not hesitate to give Logan Forsythe the opportunity to win the job. If Cabrera sticks at SS, Forsythe will need to battle it out with Alexi Amarista for the super utility job. Logan affirmed at Fanfest that he has been taking fly balls in the outfield, as well as all over the diamond, to prepare for this season.

Our backups in times of trouble? James Darnell and Kyle Blanks are both returning from injuries of last season. Both play multiple positions and have been known to hit well when not hurt. And no one should forget that Mark Kotsay is back for another season as the pinch hitter/DH extraordinaire.

Ok, so now we have to talk about the catchers.

Yasmani Grandal put this organization into a black hole when he took illegal drugs and was caught doing so. The word in the media is he is also implicated in the Miami anti-aging clinic fiasco as well. If the investigation by MLB shows further proof of Grandal using illegal substances a further suspension could be possible. It would be in the best interest of the Padres if we all forget about Grandal for the foreseeable future.

If Nick Hundley does not bounce back from the horrendous year he had in 2012 there will be a big hole in the lineup where the catcher should be. John Baker is a good guy and a good receiver but consistent hitting escapes him and his role is that of a backup catcher. The minor leagues can offer only journeyman free agent signee Rene Rivera, Jason Hagerty and Eddy Rodriguez. Prospect Austin Hedges will be in spring camp but in no way is he ready for big league catching at this point.

The Padres have an unprecedented number of players in spring training this year. Understandable considering the injury issues that last season forced the GM to go outside the organization to troll for anything with two arms and two legs to fill out the roster. They will be putting their eyes on lots of players that will fill out the minor league ranks and give the organization some depth to pull from.

As a sidelight to your spring training stat watching, keep an eye on the way the Padres are using their young stud outfielders. Edinson Rincon, converted from 3B last season and is still learning, but can hit. Rymer Liriano is a legitimate five tool prospect who played terrific baseball in the fall league this past year and Yeison Asencio, formally known as Yoan Alcantara, who is not as young as we all thought but he has hit at every level. He might be the sleeper for the Padres this year and could really help himself out by progressing quickly from here on out.

My bottom line here?

There is considerable depth throughout the system in just about all areas except pitching and catching. If there is any hope of competing with the super-power Dodgers, world-champion Giants or the Towers-led Diamondbacks this season, the Padres will need luck and some career best seasons from a few players. Not impossible but also not likely.

I look forward to this spring so I can get a good look at some of the blossoming talent on the horizon. Also, this is baseball and every team still has a chance to be Champions in February and March.

This is fun, people! Enjoy.