Back in the glory days, when the Padres were a competitive playoff team, San Diego was home to one of the strongest bullpens in the league.
With the young arms currently on the roster, the bullpen is in a perfect position to recreate the dominance they once held.
Opening day is quickly approaching and Andy Green’s team has around 10 to 11 pitchers competing for seven or eight bullpen spots.
As the bullpen race heats up, let’s dive deep into this situation.
After signing an extension this offseason, Brad Hand is without a doubt the best pitcher on this entire staff. Possessing one of the best sliders in all of baseball, the Padres moved Hand to the closer role after trading their former closer, Brandon Maurer, to the Kansas City Royals at the 2017 trade deadline. Hand excelled, converting 21 of his 26 opportunities. Padres manager Andy Green has spoken about using Hand in high leverage situations, meaning he will not exclusively pitch in the ninth inning, so while Hand’s role is not completely clear, his bullpen spot is not up for grabs.
Rejuvenating his career last year with the Padres, Craig Stammen returned to the team in hopes of replicating the success he had last season. Andy Green’s go-to long reliever, Stammen was really good in situations when he needed to be in 2017. Barring any injury, Craig Stammen is locked and loaded into a spot within the Padres’ bullpen.
Coming over from Japan this offseason, Makita is one of the most interesting pitchers in all of baseball. A complete submarine pitcher, Makita throws a plethora of pitches that do not exceed 80 mph. However, the movement on his pitches, combined with the angle at which he throws the ball, give him an interesting and exciting arsenal to work with. Picture this: One inning, a team has to face hard thrower Dinelson Lamet, and the next, go up against the significant decline in velocity of Kazuhisa Makita. The change of pace that Makita brings to the table makes him a guaranteed lock for a bullpen spot.
Much like Craig Stammen, the Padres took a chance on Kirby Yates last season and, miraculously, the decision panned out well. Acting as the setup man for Brad Hand for a majority of the second half last season, Yates came in during high leverage situations and had success. His deceptive arm motion, as well as great movement on his fastball, gives Kirby Yates something strong to work with. There is no doubt in my mind he will start the season in the Padres’ bullpen.
This situation is a little confusing. In a recent article, I wrote about how Strahm could be either a starter or a reliever. Assuming that he is delegated to a bullpen role, Strahm is locked in and ready to go. Having possibly the best arsenal of pitches on this staff, Matt Strahm’s potential is through the roof. His stuff is electric, but a knee injury he suffered in 2017 may hold him back from beginning the season as a starter. Nonetheless, don’t expect Strahm to be in the bullpen all year, as Andy Green will surely want to see what he can do as a starter. His spot is not going anywhere.
Have a “leg up” on others
One of the most under-the-radar pitchers in this entire organization is Buddy Baumann. In 23 games last season, Baumann posted a 2.55 ERA with a 2-1 record and 21 strikeouts. Likely to make it simply because he is a left-handed, Baumann has some quality stuff and has been effective in the small amount of innings he’s worked at the big league level. Assuming he secures a spot, expect Baumann to turn some heads this year.
At one point in his career, Carter Capps was one of the most dominant relief pitchers in all of baseball. His unique delivery, combined with some overall great stuff, makes Capps an intriguing relief option for the Padres. However, Capps has suffered multiple injuries in recent memory. Having endured both Tommy John and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, the biggest thing for Capps will obviously be to stay healthy. If he was fully healthy, there would be no doubt that his spot in the bullpen would already be locked and loaded. Ultimately, whether he makes the bullpen or not will entirely depend on his health.
“The Spin Rate God”, as some might say, impressed in a short stint with the Padres last season. So much so that, if the asking price was met for Brad Hand, the Padres would have shipped the left-hander away and been comfortable in making Phil Maton their closer. Holding right-handers to a measly .211 batting average in 2017, Maton clearly made a case for himself to be a part of this bullpen for the long run. The only way he starts the season in the minor league system is if Andy Green believes he needs a little more development, although that is highly unlikely. Expect to see Maton’s electric fastball at the big league level in 2018.
The big, right-handed pitcher provides a great clubhouse influence. This spring, he has pitched very well and could make the team is he continues to show that his shoulder and arm are fully healthy. The Padres need some veteran presence in the locker room, and Young could be that man. He will need to pitch nearly flawlessly to be considered for the team on Opening Day.
Might make the cut, but probably not
When the Padres signed Lyles to a one-year deal this offseason, their intentions were to make him a starter. However, after a horrid spring thus far, multiple reports have surfaced from Padres camp that if Lyles makes the staff, it will be as a reliever. Having never really found success at the big league level, there are certainly other pitchers in this organization that should have more success than Lyles and make it unlikely for him to get a role on this staff.
Signed to a major league deal this offseason, Brewer is likely headed to Triple-A El Paso. While his spring has been quite impressive, there are just better pitchers than him in this organization, and pieces that the team believes are long term bullpen pieces. Is it possible we see him with the Padres this year? Certainly. But for now, expect Brewer to begin with the Chihuahuas in El Paso.
If you’ve ever watched Kyle McGrath pitch, it’s very possible that you thought to yourself “That is one funky delivery”. The 25-year-old left-hander has one of the most deceptive, and awkward, deliveries in all of baseball. He will not overpower hitters with a fastball, but instead has quality off-speed pitches and good control. McGrath is not in the same position as the other two in this “category”. He simply won’t start the season with the team because he is still raw and needs more development. McGrath did find some success at the big league level last year, but the Padres want to see him improve more before they commit a bullpen spot to him in 2018.