What's going on with the Padres?
It's been a pretty miserable season so far for the Padres and their fans. The offense is terrible, general manager Josh Byrnes has been fired and replaced in part (temporarily) by Omar Minaya. Tony Gwynn tragically passed away due to mouth cancer, and then no one talked about Gwynn at the All-Star Game.
What's a San Diego fan to do? At least the brilliant season that closer Huston Street is having should return a decent prospect or two. Plus, the offense has been so rotten this year that the Padres are one of the few MLB teams that knows it is selling. Front offices like the Mets and Phillies that reportedly haven't made up their minds yet might be missing out on a seller's market.
Not every future Padres star is outside of the organization, though. A couple of young pitchers -- Cuban mystery man Odrisamer Despaigne and Matt Harvey's high school teammate Jesse Hahn -- have been surprisingly effective this season. They could be a sign that San Diego's future is closer than it appears, if only the team can acquire a couple of impact bats at the trade deadline.
Who are these guys?
Jake Goebbert is a 26-year-old first baseman who is on his third organization since being drafted by the Astros in 2009. Throughout his pro career, Goebbert has posted strong strikeout and walk rates, but he's never hit for enough power to be taken seriously as a big league first baseman. Nevertheless, here he is with the Padres. After being acquired from Oakland in the Kyle Blanks trade earlier this season, a Yonder Alonso wrist injury in June opened up a spot for Goebbert's major league debut. In 37 plate appearances so far, he hasn't been half bad with a .265/.324/.412 line to go with his first career home run. On the flip side, the lefty hasn't been allowed to face same-handed pitching. Tommy Medica and catcher Yasmani Grandal are getting the starts at first base when a southpaw is on the mound.
You might remember Brooks Conrad best for his days as a reserve infielder for the Braves. Specifically, he played a very big role in the D.J. Carrasco balk game from three years ago. After Conrad posted a 33-percent strikeout rate in 2011 (it appears that Francisco Rodriguez was the only person who couldn't strike him out that year), the Braves grew tired of him, and he bounced around in 2012, went to Japan for 2013, and landed back in the States with San Diego in 2014. Now back in the majors with Jedd Gyorko on the disabled list, Conrad is sticking with his aggressive approach. In 24 at-bats, he has 11 strikeouts and only two hits. One of those, however, has gone for a home run.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Bartolo Colon vs. Ian Kennedy
Anytime you can get a productive starter for a big league reliever and a minor league reliever, you do that deal. That's probably what Byrnes was thinking when he swapped Joe Thatcher and Matt Stites for Kennedy one year ago. Even if the red-bearded menace's only purpose is to serve as a trade chip to acquire baby Padres, Byrnes has done his old club a good deed. Kennedy's strikeout rate this season is a career-high 26 percent, and his home run and walk rates are under control after they spiked in 2013, causing a 4.91 ERA. All is well with Kennedy now, as his 3.17 xFIP should convince potential buyers that his improvement is not just a park-based illusion.
Like Kennedy, Colon has reportedly found himself on the trading block with some solid pitching in 2014. A pair of rough outings against Texas and Pittsburgh appeared to damage the big right-hander's value, but he bounced back before the All-Star break with a strong start against Atlanta. After a whole week off, Colon will be expected to shut down the Padres tonight, especially in a park like Petco that should benefit his fly-ball tendencies.
Saturday: Dillon Gee vs. Tyson Ross
One member of the Padres who it would be a surprise to see traded is Ross. The 27-year-old right-hander still has three years of team control left after this one, and his devastating slider is turning into one of the best pitches in baseball. Like Kennedy, Ross has the numbers to prove that his success is not a Petco Park side effect. He's striking out nearly one batter per inning, has cut his walk rate that was previously a major problem, and he's developed a 58-percent ground ball rate that will help him avoid the long ball almost anywhere he throws. In short, this guy looks like a keeper.
Gee also tends to look like a keeper when he's on the field. After missing almost two months with a lat muscle injury, he returned to hold the Braves to one run over seven innings last Wednesday. What's troubling about Gee is that his strikeout rate has declined in each of the past two seasons to the point where his success in 2014 seems like it's based more on his low BABIP and high strand rate than his stuff. The good news is that pitching to contact can work just fine in Petco Park, but Gee's strikeout rate is something to watch as the second half develops.
Sunday: Zack Wheeler vs. Odrisamer Despaigne
Despaigne has been a nice shot in the arm to the Padres' pitching rotation lately. He's allowed four earned runs in his first four major league starts, but before we proclaim the Cuban right-hander as the next El Duque, it's necessary to mention that he has 12 strikeouts and eight walks in those outings. On the other hand, Despaigne's latest start was his toughest (at the Dodgers) as well as his most impressive (two runs, zero walks, seven strikeouts). If his minor league numbers are any indication, Despaigne will continue to strike out a decent amount of opponents despite a fastball that averages around 91 mph. More of a deception guy, Despaigne relies heavily on his cutter and curveball, and he could be a success in the big leagues if he keeps his walk rate in check.
As a Mets fan, I'd love to go all-in on Wheeler one of these days, but he doesn't make it easy. Three total runs allowed in his last three starts is nice, but the 14 strikeouts and nine walks over that span leave me nonplussed. There have been a few starts where Wheeler's stuff and command have meshed to reveal what can be a brilliant pitcher (see his June 19 masterpiece in Miami), but such wonderful outings have been too few and far between to for me to consider Wheeler a future ace right now. Still, his numbers aren't bad for a 24-year-old right-hander in his second major league season, so he remains a major factor in the Mets' future... at least until the right trade opportunity arises.
Prediction: The Mets keep the good times rolling with a sweep!
What about some highlights?
Earlier this season at Petco Park, a dinosaur threw out the ceremonial first pitch!
Is that a bear in the stands? Nope! Just another one of Chuck Testa's realistic mounts.
Will Venable has struggled mightily at the plate this season, but his defense is still righteous, as evidenced by this amazing catch to rob Nolan Arenado of extra bases.