February might seriously be the most boring time of the year for a baseball fan.
The Christmas holiday has just passed, football season is over, and baseball is on the verge of pitchers and catchers reporting. As boring as February can be, it is a sign that baseball is right around the corner. With pitchers and catchers reporting this week, it is only a matter of weeks before we see real major league action, with just under two months to the regular season.
At this point, most teams have already finalized their rosters for the upcoming season, or at least have the potential players who will compete for spots. For the Padres, that story is no different.
At the end of last week, the San Diego Padres finally made the announcement of their spring training invites. For the initiated, these are the players who are not on the big league, 25-man roster or the organizational 40-man roster. These players are referred to as non-roster invites because they will have to earn their way onto the Major League roster, or perhaps even the 40-man roster.
On Friday, the Padres announced their full list of 28 non-roster invites, which includes 13 pitchers, four catchers, seven infielders, and four outfielders.
With a Major League roster that is in a state of flux, there’s a real chance for a few of these guys to actually earn a big league spot for the upcoming season. This may not be the most exciting Spring Training for Padres fans, but at the least there are some interesting players to watch, and some interesting storylines to pay attention to.
In terms of the most interesting names on this list, there are probably only three or four worth really highlighting. For clarity’s sake, it helps to split those players into two groups: those who could see some time in the Padres rotation this season and those who could see some time out of the bullpen.
The two most obvious choices to see some time for the Padres in a starting capacity in 2017 are Dinelson Lamet and Michael Kelly. In terms of upper-level pitching prospects, the Padres farm is pretty barren, with Lamet and Kelly the only two with realistic chances of pitching at the next level. In Lamet’s case, he still maintains the status of a real prospect, and could be a backend of the rotation-type starter at the next level. In exactly 150 innings split between High-A Lake Elsinore, Double-A San Antonio, and Triple-A El Paso, Lamet pitched to an even 3.00 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with a .229 batting average against. Lamet had some struggles in his short Triple-A stint, but he certainly could do enough to earn one of the many open rotation spots this spring.
By comparison, Michael Kelly was actually fairly similar to Lamet, logging 128 and two-thirds innings between High-A Lake Elsinore, Double-A San Antonio, and Triple-A El Paso. Kelly wasn’t nearly as successful as Lamet, with a 4.34 collective ERA and 1.38 WHIP, but both players seem to be on the verge of big league playing time, and stand out as the only Padres pitchers of note above High-A. With a strong spring training, Kelly also could earn a rotation spot, especially given the Padres nearly completely open starting rotation competition. Regardless of how the spring shakes out, both these guys could end up seeing at least a few starts in the bigs in 2017.
As for the other names of note on this list, all are relievers, as Jon Edwards fights his way back from injuries, Craig Stammen looks for another chance to prolong his career, and the duo of Phil Maton and Jason Jester hope to end their time as prospects. For my purposes, the focus should really be on Maton and Jester, who both were strong out of the bullpen at almost all levels in 2016, including the Arizona Fall League. While Maton is certainly the more impressive of the two, sporting a 1.74 ERA in 51 and two-thirds innings between Low-A, High-A, and Triple-A last season, Jester is no slouch himself, accumulating a 3.20 ERA in 56 and a third innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Jester is the more advanced of the two, but Maton seems to be the one more poised for big league success. Either way, both could end up with some big league playing time at some point in 2017.
Of all the Padres non-roster invites to this year’s Spring Training, these two lefties seem to be the most intriguing. Both were dominant in 2016, sporting 0.93 and 1.17 ERAs respectively between mostly High-A and Double-A. Between the two of those guys, the Padres could have two very interesting long-term, left-handed options out of the bullpen. It’s hard to know whether either guy will see big league playing time in 2017, but if the likes of Brad Hand, Ryan Buchter, or Carter Capps are a part of midseason trades, these guys, along with Maton and Jester, could get the call.
There’s really nothing to see here.
There’s not really a lot to see here either, although Erick Aybar could be an interesting veteran option for the Padres in 2017, at least as a backup to Luis Sardinas, if not an outright starter. The Padres would obviously hope he would be better than the experiment that was Alexei Ramirez, but he may not even find a place on the team at all. In terms of young talent, Luis Urias is one player who is certainly intriguing, especially given his complete demolition of the Cal League in 2016. There’s obviously no chance he makes this Padres roster, but him getting some time against big league-caliber pitching should be good for him. Both Brett Wallace and Jose Pirela will once again get chances to make the Padres roster (yawn) and Christian Villanueva could be an interesting story if he can hit in spring.
Out of these four, Collin Cowgill seems like the most logical option to make the big league team in a backup capacity, especially with the likely full-time debuts of Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and Alex Dickerson to go along with Travis Jankowski. The rest of these guys could be kept at Triple-A as additional depth, with Jabari Blash being a project that the Padres hope can pay some benefit in the long-term. Either way, none of these guys are doing much to compete with the young four mentioned above.
All in all, the Padres certainly have some intriguing names to watch this spring. With the pitching staff and bullpen are a state of flux, much of the excitement this spring will be in watching to see which pitchers have a chance to make the big league roster. The rotation is almost completely open and the bullpen has spots to fill as well, with many potential options poised to attempt to fill those roles. The Padres may be in for a pretty awful season, but spring training should hold at least some entertainment for Padres fans starving for some baseball action.