PEORIA, Ariz. -- Former Padres pitcher Andy Ashby wasn't sure what to expect when he was invited to be a guest instructor at the team's mini-camp for Minor League prospects.
What Ashby has witnessed in his nearly two-week stay in Peoria has astounded him.
"I was overwhelmed by these kids and the arm strength I saw," Ashby said. "These kids are polished. I can say the future of the organization is very, very bright. Great kids, they work hard and they want to learn."
Ashby, 45, still looks like he can pitch, and he's done some of that during drills in mini-camp, though it's mostly been throwing batting practice.
Ashby pitched 14 seasons in the Majors, with two stints with the Padres (1993-99 and 2004). He was 98-110 in his career with the Padres, Phillies, Dodgers, Rockies and Braves. He had his best years with the Padres, including winning 17 games in that magical 1998 season that saw the Padres play in the World Series.
Ashby ranks fifth in club history in victories (70), sixth in games started (185), sixth in innings pitched (1,212) and fifth in strikeouts (829). He started Game 2 of the 1998 World Series against the Yankees.
"I had the best time," said Ashby, who lives in Pennsylvania, but still has a home in San Diego. "I respect the fans there. I respect the organization. Once I got to San Diego, they told me I would start every fifth day and that meant a lot to me.
"That gave me a shot to establish myself. I learned how to pitch there. We had the best times, going to the World Series, the playoffs. And going through the hard times, you learn stuff. The fans treated me great, treated my family well."
Helping raise four daughters -- ages 17, 15, 14 and 13 -- has kept Ashby busy, but he's been able to spend two weeks in Arizona intent of helping at mini-camp, with a potential eye on getting into coaching at some point.
Some of the big arms in camp that have impressed Ashby are Walker Weickel, Matt Wisler and Justin Hancock, who are low on professional experience, but have high upsides.
Other young pitchers in mini-camp who are highly regarded include Zach Eflin, Max Fried and Joe Ross. In fact, 15 of MLB.com's top Padres prospects are pitchers. Not all are in mini-camp, but several are on the premises.
"I think they're learning so much faster than before," Ashby said of younger players. "Not saying I didn't respect the older guys growing up, but I just think there's so much [information] out there right now, and they take so much more in. It's impressive to watch these kids work."
"I'm a full-time dad now. I play golf, I hunt and do some charity work," Ashby said. "I keep busy. I thank [general manager] Randy [Smith] a lot for having me out here. I'm having a blast working with the kids."