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
"I like to think I handled myself well when I was up there.
I don't know, some guys might think different," Luebke
joked. "Hopefully, I'll get another shot up there and it's
something I'll definitely benefit from.
"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
"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
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
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
6. Reymond Fuentes, OF: Prospect No. 3 coming from
the Red Sox in the Gonzalez deal, Fuentes was No. 8 on
MLB.com's Top 10 list of outfield prospects. He's athletic and
toolsy, with his plus speed working on both sides of the
ball. The power hasn't come yet, but there's some pop in his
bat to come. Better strike zone judgment will improve all
of his offensive game, and it's starting to happen. Next
stop: the California League.
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
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
Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMay
oB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.