Young arms lead Padres' top 10 prospects list
Kelly, Castro, Luebke among Friars' future faces on the mound
With the possible exception of 32-year-old Aaron Harang, the 2011 San Diego Padres' rotation will once again be full of 20-something arms. With one of the youngest big league rosters in baseball, that's par for the course.
And it seems to be working. The Padres have a good, young nucleus that helped the team win 90 games a year ago and finish just shy of the postseason. The youth movement will once again be called upon to pick up the slack, especially with the departure of Adrian Gonzalez.
That pitching staff looks ready to shoulder as much of the load as possible. San Diego had the second-lowest ERA in the National League in 2010, and the young guns will need to continue that for the Padres to stay competitive. They have six potential starters, and there's plenty of depth down on the farm to back them up.
Lefty Cory Luebke is ready to help out right now. Big right-hander Simon Castro isn't far behind. And that Gonzalez trade with the Red Sox brought in another quality arm at the higher levels (not to mention two intriguing bats) in Casey Kelly.
Luebke got his feet wet last year and held his own. That brief taste certainly helped him get a sense of what he needed to do to find success at the highest level.
"My time with San Diego -- the team as a whole, the staff -- I felt I was welcomed with open arms. Our veterans made it an easy transition going from Minor League ball to Major League ball. I was lucky to have help from some of those guys."
The way Luebke has pitched the past two seasons, it doesn't look like he needs much more help. The left-hander went 10-1 with a 2.68 ERA in Double- and Triple-A last year, giving him a 21-5 record and a 2.73 ERA in 2009 and '10 combined. He's not sure where he's going to begin this season, but he's in camp trying to make the decision to keep him in the big league rotation an easy one for the powers that be.
"I obviously put pressure on myself to succeed," Luebke said. "At what level that's going to be at -- that's for them to decide. I'm going to get ready. Wherever they tell me to go, that's where I'm going to go. I'm just looking forward to it. It's a fun game. I can't wait to get there and have a good time with it."
Padres' Top 10 Prospects
1. Kelly, RHP: The key to the Gonzalez trade, Kelly will begin his first season with the Padres and his second as a full-time pitcher in 2011. The No. 22 prospect on MLB.com's Top 50 list didn't have the greatest numbers last year, but his stuff still impressed. More experience should lead to better results, and he could be hitting PETCO Park by next season.
2. Castro, RHP: A Futures Gamer and Texas League All-Star a year ago, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound right-hander is ready to knock on the big league door. With his size and stuff, he's at least a workhorse, and at most more of a frontline starter. He'll start the year in Triple-A, but if he pitches like he did in 2010, he could see San Diego before the season is over.
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B: No. 7 on MLB.com's Top 10 list of first base prospects, Rizzo came with Kelly in the A-Gone deal. A survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma, he's now the Padres' first baseman of the future. He's a legit power bat from the left side and carries a good glove as well. He, too, should hit Triple-A in 2011, and PETCO could be home the following season.
4. Luebke, LHP: The 25-year-old made four appearances with San Diego in September and looked particularly good at PETCO. He should get the chance to pitch there a lot more this season. While his ceiling might not be enormously high, he should make for a very solid middle-of-the-rotation type starting right now.
5. Jaff Decker, OF: Last season was a bit of a lost one for Decker, who missed a lot of time with injuries at the start and the end of the year. In between, he still showed the ability to hit for average, power and get on base, especially after shaking off a rough start. Even with missed time, he should move up to Double-A, and his bat will carry him to the big leagues in the next couple of years.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
7. Drew Cumberland, SS/2B: Cumberland joined Castro at the Futures Game last July, but didn't play much beyond that, as a gash in his knee ended his season. The middle infielder can hit and can run, and while he's got the hands and range for short, his arm may move him to second. Either way, he's an intense sparkplug who's got "future leadoff hitter" written all over him.
8. Matt Lollis, RHP: Talk about jumping on the fast track. The 2009 15th-rounder began last year in short-season ball and finished pitching in the Class A Advanced California League playoffs. He's big (6-foot-8, 280 pounds), has four pitches in his arsenal and is a pretty consistent strike thrower. He's ready to give Lake Elsinore a more extended look to start the season.
9. Jason Hagerty, C: Hagerty didn't catch much at the University of Miami, thanks to Yasmani Grandal's presence, but he made up for lost time in his first full season. The switch-hitter showed some pop from both sides of the plate and really turned it on in the second half to make the Midwest League postseason All-Star team. He threw out 34 percent of potential basestealers as well, and he could hop on a bit of a fast track in 2011.
10. Donavan Tate, OF: When the Padres set a record for a bonus given to a high school position player, everyone was excited to see all the tools Tate would bring to the baseball field. Unfortunately, he's spent more time off it than on it thanks to injuries and illness. He's played a grand total of 25 games to date. The good news is he's still just 20, and if he can get a full season in with Class A Fort Wayne this year, his ceiling is still very high.
Under the Radar
Jose De Paula, LHP: The Dominican lefty signed as a teen and made his U.S. debut back in 2008, then missed most of '09 with an elbow stress fracture. He recovered to have a solid '10 and has the potential to have three average-to-plus pitches (fastball up to 93 mph, slider and changeup). He could start moving quickly.
Nate Freiman, 1B: He was a senior sign out of Duke who went in the eighth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. In his full-season debut, he was a Midwest League All-Star, though he played at that level at age 23. At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, the Padres like Freiman's raw power and how consistent he's been in barreling up the baseball.
Hitter of the Year -- Decker, OF
Yes, he was the 2010 preseason prediction as well, and that didn't turn out as planned. But this season Decker will stay healthy and show that even playing in Double-A San Antonio can't keep him from putting up big numbers.
Pitcher of the Year -- Lollis, RHP
There's a temptation to think Kelly will turn things around numbers-wise in 2011, but here's a hunch Lollis will pick up where he left off last season. He'll begin the year in Lake Elsinore, but end it with plenty of time in San Antonio. This time, he'll have more than enough innings to lead the system in ERA.