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Tempering Expectations For Returning Pitchers 

With Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner recently flashing glimpses of the talent they each possess, I’ve noticed a growing swell of optimism as it pertains to the potential future Padres pitching staff. In addition to Ross and Cashner, Padre fans point out the inevitable return from Tommy John surgery of Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly as reasons to feel good about the core of starting pitchers the Padres will have. That’s all well and good and after the miserable crew of hurlers we’ve been subjected to this season (thinking of you Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis and Clayton Richard) I can understand wanting to turn the page to what promises to be a brighter future. Nevertheless we need to cool it a bit when it comes to our expectations of Luebke, Wieland and Kelly as they come back from their injuries.

There seems to be this sense emanating from a segment of Friar fans that once they get all of their young arms together and healthy that the Friars will instantly become a playoff contender. I’ve even heard a similar sentiment expressed indirectly by members of the Padres organization.

Recently, following a stellar outing from one young Padres arm (I can’t honestly recall which one for sure but I believe it was Ross) Ted Leitner recounted a conversation he had with Buddy Black for a pregame show on The Mighty 1090. When Ted brought up the names of some of those young hurlers and asked Buddy about getting them all together on the same staff he described the look in the face of the Padres skipper.

Of course I didn’t actually see it but the image conjured up in my mind from Teddy’s description was one of Buddy Black staring ahead with a slight grin and a look of dreamy longing in his eyes. I get it; if I had a starting pitching staff like the Friars have had this year I’d be staring off into space dreaming of better things. Hell, I’d probably be cross-eyed and drooling by that point after watching Marquis and Volquez combine to walk an average nearly five batters per nine innings all season long.

I hate to say it because it makes me sound like a pessimist and I really don’t like being a pessimist but the message inferred from Buddy is the same one the organization has been force-feeding Friar fans for years now. Hope. Not for today but for tomorrow; hope that has yet to be realized.

Going all the way back to the KT/Sandy Alderson administration and up through the current management team, the organization preaches the same philosophy of building through the draft, developing young talent and seeing the homegrown talent prosper. They say they can’t compete for the marquee free agents and in order for them to contend they need to do it by streaming in a steady flow of young affordable talent. That’s a fine philosophy but what happens when that stream of talent ends up being more of a trickle.

At the end of the day the Padres have failed to properly execute their philosophy and I’ve gotten to the point where I take anything coming from the organization with a grain of salt. That includes any high praise of prospects or their expectations for young players. So when I start to get the sense that the Padres are laying the groundwork for a sell job based on the potentially great Padres pitching staff of next year, or the year after that, or the year after that, I tend to be a little doubtful.

Now I like Luebke. I really think he can return and be the best southpaw starter in the NL West not named Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner. He has roughly a full season of major league experience (188.1 IP), a career ERA of 3.25 and has averaged better than a strikeout per inning. Pitchers return from Tommy John surgery 100% healthy all the time and I am confident Luebke will too. But it will take time for Luebke to get back to what he was.

Luebke has played baseball for most of his life. He’s pitched for most of that time. He can’t simply stop for pretty much two years and pick up right where he left off. No one does that. It will take time for him to get the feel for pitching back.

I also tend to think that the Padres will be careful with Luebke. The Padres have the lefty under contract for two seasons beyond this one and also hold two options that can tie Luebke to the club through the 2017 campaign. That means they have a lot invested in Cory and won’t risk harming their investment by overtaxing him upon his return. I see an innings limit put in place for him next season consequently limiting his potential impact.

As for Wieland and Kelly, both hurlers are just 23 and have combined for all of 11 total starts at the big league level. They are still prospects at this stage of their respective careers and as we know with prospects not all pan out as hoped. In fact, a majority of prospects fail to live up to their advanced billing. Mathematically speaking there is a great chance at least one of Kelly or Wieland will not establish themselves as quality starting pitchers for the Padres or any other major league club.

So any expectation that Kelly and Wieland will return next season and augment a pennant-winning rotation fronted by Luebke is misplaced. They can help, no doubt, but if the Padres do make the playoffs with those three pitching key innings it’s not going to be in 2014; it’s going to be in 2015, or 2016, or maybe never. Let’s make sure we temper our expectations upon the returns of Luebke, Kelly and Wieland. That’s all I’m saying.

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About the author: Glen Miller

Life-long baseball and Padres fan who attended his first Friar games way back in 1983. I've been a contributor on Friarhood for more than two years and enjoy talking baseball with the knowledgeable fans that frequent the site. Prior to my beginning here I owned and operated my own San Diego sports site while writing for several other sites focusing specifically on hockey. When not watching, reading or writing about sports I might be sleeping or perhaps spending time with my family since I have few other hobbies. I did recently try my hand at golf and am a pretty good pool player to boot.