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Padres Rotation: Depth Chart Discussions

In the coming weeks, we’ll be covering each team’s potential depth charts in an effort to shine a spotlight on the interesting playing time battles that will be waged this spring. Obviously none of these depth charts are set in stone — rather they should function to focus your attention in the right places to find cheap fantasy value.

Today we head out to San Diego to check in on the Padres rotation, which could be legitimately labeled a mess at the moment. The good news is that there are some intriguing options, the bad news is for the forecasters (like me!) trying to project innings total for their potential starters. It’s not fun, let me tell you. I won’t pretend to really have a clue as to which five starters will open the season in the rotation, but I will do my best to analyze the options.

Early Depth Chart:
Clayton Richard
Edinson Volquez
Jason Marquis
Eric Stults
Freddy Garcia
Casey Kelly
Anthony Bass
Andrew Cashner
Tyson Ross
Cory Luebke

Phew. That’s nine starting pitchers who have a non-zero chance of opening the season in the rotation, with a tenth (Luebke) who will be almost certainly a part of it once he returns from Tommy John surgery rehab. What we do know at this point are that Richard and Volquez are 100% guaranteed members of the staff. I figured Marquis was as well, but oddly the Padres own depth chart has listed him seventh. Do they have some inside info? I cannot imagine they would sign him to a one-year deal for $3 million if they didn’t plan to hand him a rotation slot.

After Marquis, it becomes quite foggy. Eric Stults is listed third on the Padres.com site and fourth on MLB Depth Charts. The 34-year old (yes, I am as shocked as you that he’s that old!) has a whopping 256.0 Major League innings to his name, and has managed an ERA- barely worse than the league average. Surely, his 2.91 ERA last year over 99.0 innings will get him a much longer look than deserved. It’s all smoke and mirrors, though, as his strikeout rate stinks and he has been a fly ball pitcher throughout his short career. Only tiny BABIP and HR/FB marks saved him from an ERA well above 4.00 last season and a trip right back to Triple-A. It’s very possible he opens the year in the rotation, but I wouldn’t bet on that lasting very long.

We all know Freddy Garcia and the Padres picked him up on a minor league deal just a couple of weeks ago. He actually showed pretty decent skills last year with the Yankees, but an inflated HR/FB rate, which hurt his LOB%, wreaked havoc on his ERA. Moving back into the NL and with better luck, he might still have something left in the tank. Of course, fantasy owners should still ignore him as he hasn’t pitched more than 157.0 innings since 2006. But like Stults, he might very well open the year in the rotation, but poor performance or injury for the 36 year old could give a youngster a shot.

Speaking of youngsters, the next group includes Casey Kelly, Anthony Bass and Andrew Cashner. Formerly a shortstop and having focused solely on pitching only since 2010, Kelly’s skills have been underwhelming in the minors. However, he has shown a penchant for inducing ground balls and has good control, so maybe a future Tim Hudson? Hudson at his peak was a pretty good fantasy earner, but always more valuable in real baseball. The same might be said of Kelly’s future. But if he can push his strikeout rate above 7.0 on an annual basis, then he’ll be quite intriguing with the enviable skills trifecta we always search for. It’s also worth nothing that he missed time early last season with elbow soreness, so that’s a bit scary.

Anthony Bass opened 2012 is grand fashion, posting a 2.30 ERA in April, while striking out nearly a batter per inning. It all went downhill for them however, as his monthly ERA never dipped below 4.70. Then he went down with a shoulder injury, which cost him more than two months, and he made just one more start after returning in September. With the way his season went after April and the shoulder issues, he’s probably a longshot to win a rotation spot. He has some modest intrigue though with his ground ball tilt and above average strikeout ability.

Last of the youngins is Andrew Cashner. I might have what you call a man crush on him. Strikeout ability? Check plus. Quality stuff along with a blazing fastball? Yup. Acceptable control given strikeout rate? You bet. Wait, and a ground ball rate above 50%?! I think I’m in love. Of course, not everything is rainbows and unicorns. He underwent surgery on his thumb in early December and although the possibility exists, he is more likely to open the season on the disabled list. If nothing else, this should reduce his attractiveness on draft day and allow you, the intelligent, dashingly good looking fantasy owner reading this here article, to scoop him up on the cheap. I will be upset at myself if he doesn’t make it onto every single one of my teams this year.

Oh, and then there’s Tyson Ross. He’s really only listed above because Padres.com lists him fourth in the rotation. Really? I would be shocked if he wins a spot. And then we have Cory Luebke, who underwent Tommy John surgery last May, and is hoping to return by the All-Star Break. But, which Luebke is the real one? He posted a 9.9 strikeout rate as a starter in 2011, but that rate plummeted to just 6.7 last year, and SwStk% was in free fall as well. He should reclaim his rotation spot upon return, but aside from the performance risk we know about from TJ returnees (velocity down, control off), we’re still not sure what a normal, healthy Luebke should actually be expected to do. So, I probably wouldn’t bother with him in shallower leagues.

So the bottom line is that without a crystal ball, I really haven’t a clue who opens the season in the rotation past Marquis. However, of the possibilities fighting for a spot, I would rank them Cashner, [large gap], Kelly and then Bass for fantasy intrigue.