Three for the Show: Starting Pitching
This is the ninth (don’t blink, it’s almost over) in a ten-part series where I will identify the top three players at each position in the Padres’ minor league system. Up next: Starting Pitching.
I’ll start off with a couple of disclaimers. I realize that pitching is pitching and that starters easily become relievers and vice versa. However, for my own sanity, I opted to break the position into SPs and RPs. SPs this time. RPs next time. Oh, and I’m covering more than three players, so deal with it.
My second disclaimer is that the pitching talent in the Padres’ system is very deep and is likely the reason why the organization is still a top ten when compared to other systems. So, again for sanity’s sake, I’ve chosen to cover guys at the upper levels who are poised to make a more immediate impact. There are likely guys in the lower levels who boast more raw talent or upside, but my focus is on the near term.
So, let’s begin in much the same way as we did with my last piece: a guy who will very likely miss the next season and a half as a result of…you guessed it, TOMMY JOHN SURGERY! Casey Kelly will entertain a second opinion, but given his issues in the past I’d put money down on his going under the knife. Again, it’s a shame to see these guys working so long to put themselves on the map only to have said map ripped out from under them one step away from the treasure. Kelly’s four minor league seasons produced a respectable K/9 of 7.3. A 1.268 WHIP is equally respectable. There’s a lot to like of his career HR/9 of 0.6. He features a ground and pound sinker, an above-average curve, and a strong changeup. We’re getting good at this waiting with baited breath thing, so here we go again…on our own.
Robbie Erlin is a player who will see some time in San Diego this season. He’s been limited to one good start (W, 4IP, 4H, 1ER, 1BB, 1K) by an oblique strain, but the talent is there when healthy. He’s the prototype crafty lefty, maximizing a mixup of his fastball, curve, and change in conjunction with aggressiveness and good control. His four minor league seasons have produced an impressive 10.1 K/9 to go along with a BB/9 of 1.4. He also keeps the ball in the yard, sporting a HR/9 of 0.9. Another impressive stat is his WHIP of 1.004. There’s much to like with Erlin, so look for him to move into the rotation at some point this season.
Another name to look for this season is Adys Portillo. Signed in 2009 as a 17-year old, Portillo came into his own, repeating at low-A Ft. Wayne during the 2012 season. In 91.2 innings, he allowed 54 hits, walked 45 (down from 70 in 2011), and struck out 81. He finished with a WHIP of 1.080 and sports a career K/9 of 8.6. Portillo can light up the triple digits on the radar, so the question will be whether he can consistently maintain his command. He possesses a big, breaking curve that can work very well in concert with the big fastball, but the key is going to be staying in the strike zone. He’s only 21 and will likely see time at AAA this season, with a chance to contribute at the big league level soon.
As far as I’m concerned, Keyvius Sampson will make his mark in San Diego sooner rather than later. Sampson dominated as a 20-year old in Ft. Wayne in 2011. He finished 12-3 with a 2.90 ERA to go along with a HR/9 of 0.6 and a K/9 of 10.9. His performance was justification for the organization to have Sampson skip hi-A Lake Elsinore all together. He struggled early in AA San Antonio last season, but he finished very strong thanks to better command. Overall, he sports a career K/9 of 10.2. He features a mid-90’s fastball, a strong change, and a curveball that could use some refinement. Obviously, as with most pitchers, the ability to hit his spots will be the key to his knocking on the door in San Diego.