Earlier this week, in parts one and two of a four-part series, I discussed the Padres’ starting pitching options for 2017. On Monday, I looked at pitchers that would be returning to the team after pitching significant innings for them in 2016, and on Tuesday, I looked at some new additions who could crack the Opening Day rotation.
With the most likely options out of the way, we now turn to six pitchers who will very likely start the season in the minor leagues and be used as further depth if needed later on in the season. Given that the average MLB team uses 10-15 starters a year, these five or six guys will likely be a later resort should the Padres suffer injuries or significantly poor performance from the first ten or so guys on the list. Some of these guys are young and looking for their first crack at the big leagues, while others are looking to make a return after injury troubles in 2016 and previously.
Upon the conclusion of looking at the Padres’ pitching depth today, I will be able to piece together all the moving parts and make some projection about what the Padres staff will look like come Opening Day, and which guys may be left out or added later. But before that, here are six guys who could make starts for the Padres later on in 2017, or beyond.
First up on the list of interesting names the Padres could turn to in 2017 is right-hander, Dinelson Lamet. To this point, Lamet has yet to make his major league debut, although he pitched one inning in this year’s spring training. Lamet has since been optioned to minor league camp, all but solidifying his place on the Opening Day roster of the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas, along with another recently optioned Padre starting option, Cesar Vargas.
In 2016, Lamet went all the way from High-A ball to Triple-A after spending the entirety of the 2015 season with Low-A Fort Wayne. Lamet was exceptional in 12 games to start the year with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm, accumulating a 2.35 ERA over 65 innings. This performance earned him a promotion to Double-A, where he was similarly good with the San Antonio Missions, finishing his stint there with a 3.39 ERA over 14 starts and 74 1/3 innings before a late season promotion to Triple-A. With only two late-season starts in Triple-A, Lamet should get most of 2017 to develop in the minors, although he could push for a big league promotion if he performs well. Either way, Lamet should be a contributing member of the Padres’ rotation for good, by 2018.
Alongside Dinelson Lamet, right-hander Michael Kelly was also given a non-roster invite to spring training this season, and was also sent down to minor league camp after just about a week with the team. Kelly, like Lamet, will likely find a place within the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas starting five at the beginning of the 2017 season.
Also, like Lamet, we’re seeing a common theme here. Kelly spent the 2016 season at three different levels. After posting a 5.83 ERA over his first six starts in High-A, Kelly was promoted to Double-A, where he turned the season around with the Missions. In his nine starts with the Missions, Kelly dazzled, striking out 49 batters in just over 49 innings and finishing his time there with a 2.90 ERA. Kelly earned an earlier season promotion to Triple-A than Lamet did, but struggled with an ERA just shy of 5.00 in 49 2/3 innings. At this point, it appears Kelly and Lamet are both vying for a more expanded role with the Padres later this year and beyond, although Lamet does have the slightly better prospect pedigree.
Andrew Walker Lockett
Despite many saying the upper levels of the Padres’ farm system are devoid of pitching talent, the trio of Lamet, Kelly, and right-hander, Walker Lockett, could all be useful big league arms in 2017 and beyond. Despite being the youngest of the three, Lockett was not only the most impressive in 2016, but he has also been the most impressive this spring, as he is the only of the three to still be playing with the big league team.
While Lamet and Kelly saw three levels in 2016, Lockett was so exceptional that he nearly completed the entire tour of the Padres minor league system, as he started the season in Low-A ball and finished the year in Triple-A. After eight solid starts with Fort Wayne to start the season, in which he had an ERA of just 3.00, Lockett earned a promotion to High-A, where he was even better in 10 starts, accumulating a 2.98 ERA in the process. Lockett would finish the season with four strong starts in Double-A, with an even better 2.08 ERA, and then three tougher starts in Triple-A, to the tune of a 4.50 ERA. Lockett should start the season in Triple-A and compete with Lamet and Kelly for a potential big league rotation spot later in the year.
Moving past the three young pitchers of note, the Padres quickly move on to injured players who could come back strong this season, starting with left-hander, Robbie Erlin. Just last May, Erlin was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL and he underwent Tommy John surgery after that. Less than 12 months out from that surgery, Erlin has yet to return to full strength. Given the usual Tommy John timeline, Erlin is looking to make a mid-season return for the Padres, and he could fit into the rotation at that point depending on how the first few months of the season go for the rest of the staff.
Between these four, the Padres should have plenty of late season options should any of the other guys previously listed struggle, get injured, or perhaps even get traded if they are performing well. The Padres probably don’t want to have to rely on any of these four, but there is some potential here if the Padres are forced to do that.