It’s May 25 and the San Diego Padres already find themselves 14 games back of the division leading Colorado Rockies and with the second worst winning percentage in all of baseball.
So far, the Padres have been pretty successful at embracing the tank. Even so, the Padres have seen some of the farm system build up start to pay off with the promotions of Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe. Both guys have had their ups and downs, but their development has been great to watch over the first eight weeks of the season.
It’s clear the Padres have done everything in their power to build up their farm system in order to have a chance at competing tomorrow, not today. We have already seen the first signs of that.
And more good signs appear to be on the way.
Following an injury to Trevor Cahill, and a subsequent injury to Jered Weaver, the Padres have found themselves down two starting pitchers. While Jarred Cosart has slid in to fill Cahill’s spot, which now could be his even longer with Cahill being shut down for a week or two, the Padres were lacking another starter to fill Weaver’s slot. Rather than call up one of the few veterans the Padres have in the minors, or attempt to acquire a player from outside the organization, the Padres have chosen to go a different root entirely: 24-year-old, right-hander Dinelson Lamet.
Originally signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, Lamet is one of the few prospects of note left from the pre-A.J. Preller era. With Hunter Renfroe now in the big leagues, Lamet may be one of the last major prospects the Padres call up from the pre-Preller era. Obviously there are some notable exceptions, Luis Urias being a rather large one, but in total Preller has his hands all over the system. At 24 years old and with three plus years of professional experience under his belt, the Padres seem to believe that Lamet is ready now, at least for a spot start or two.
Dinelson Lamet’s development hasn’t come without its pitfalls, but Lamet has definitely come a long way in the last three or so years. After getting just a small taste of professional ball with the DSL Padres in 2014, in which he threw only four innings, Lamet got his first real full season action at the start of the 2015 season with the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Over a full season with the TinCaps, Lamet threw 106 and 1/3 innings, striking out 120 batters while walking 44 and finishing the season with a 2.96 ERA.
After having so much success in Low-A, the Padres began Lamet at High-A to start the 2016 season. Following an even better 65 innings in which Lamet struck out 54 batters and gave up only 17 earned runs, Lamet earned himself a promotion to Double-A. With the Missions, Lamet threw 74 and 1/3 more stellar innings, striking out 91 batters. Lamet struggled slightly following a late season promotion to Triple-A, but he completed an almost full tour of the Padres minor league system with wild success. Going into 2017, it seemed to be only a matter of time before Lamet would be pitching in a big league rotation.
So far in 2017, Lamet has not disappointed, striking out 50 batters in his first 39 innings with the El Paso Chihuahuas, giving up one earned run or less in six of his eight starts. Lamet has had his issues with some walks, but he has more than made up for it with his strikeout ability and ability to get hitters out in a multitude of ways. Given his early season success, and substantial progress over the last year plus, the Padres clearly felt he was ready for a big league promotion.
It was clear that Lamet needed to work on both lowering his walk rate and working on using his changeup to effectively get out left-handed hitters, and so far he has had some success with both. Lamet still struggles with pitch counts and getting deep in too many counts, but he has made some good strides in that department overall. With a low-to-mid 90s fastball and an upper 80s slider that operates as a true out pitch, Lamet has all the makings of a big league starter. Fine tuning his changeup command and overall control will still be important developments Lamet needs to make, and those appear to be things the Padres brass think he can improve on at the big league level.
It’s hard to think about what Lamet not working out as a starter, but if he doesn’t, he could be an impactful late inning relief arm with lots of fastball velocity and a good, hard slider as an out pitch. However, Lamet has made such strides in his development that a starter still is the likeliest option at this point. There is still work to do, but he seems more than up to the challenge.
Going into his big league debut on Thursday, we shouldn’t set our expectations too high. After all, this is a guy making his major league debut in hostile territory, in New York of all places. Lamet could look great over five or six innings and prove he belongs in the big leagues, or he could get roughed up and prove that he may not be a finished product just yet. It’s really hard to predict how prospects will acclimate to the next level, but either way, the Padres will soon find out how the next phase of their development as an organization is going to go. And at least some of that relies on the big right arm of one Dinelson Lamet.