During the Padres’ epic collapse last year, the team simply ran out of viable starters down the stretch and finished 79-83. The organization has placed an emphasis on starting pitching depth during the off-season, signing Nick Martinez, trading for Sean Manaea, and (they hope) adding a healthy Mike Clevinger to the mix.
Even with the depth added, the Padres still may need to dip into the minors for starting pitching. Last season, 15 different pitchers started games for the Padres – though that number is a bit skewed by Pierce Johnson, Matt Strahm, and Craig Stammen each serving as an opener at least once. Anyway you analyze the Padres organization, it is clear that the team will need 10-12 starters to get through a successful season. While the starting rotation appears to be in good shape at the big league level, let’s take a look at the depth the Padres have in the minors in the rotation and in the bullpen.
You can also read the depth charts for catchers and infielders and outfielders.
SP MacKenzie Gore: Gore, 23, suffered through a miserable 2021 season which saw him appear at four different levels and make a brief cameo in the Arizona Fall League. Gore struggled mightily with fastball command and he was hit hard in El Paso before rebooting his delivery in the ACL and finding some success.
While Gore entered the spring as a big question mark, the early results have been very encouraging. The former third overall draft pick threw the ball well all spring, displaying a mid-90s fastball and a fantastic slider. Gore’s spring ERA was stellar until his last outing and he walked just three batters in 12 spring innings while punching out 16. While Gore he seems like a good bet to start at the big league level at some point in 2022.
LHP Robert Gasser
The Padres drafted Gasser, 22, with last year’s Round B Competitive Balance pick. After struggling as a reliever at the University of Houston in 2020, Gasser hit the weight room and drastically improved his stock with a solid 2021 season, including a significant increase in his fastball velocity. After throwing 85.2 innings with the Houston Cougars, Gasser made a cameo with the Storm late in the season and dominated in 14 innings.
He has a fastball that sits in the low-90s but can touch 96 with a curveball that will need some refinement and a change-up that could become a real weapon. The organization is starting him in Fort Wayne to start 2022 and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see him as a big league option as soon as next season.
RHP Victor Lizarraga
The 18-year-old Lizarraga made his professional debut last season in the desert and showed some flashes over the 30 innings he worked. The young righty struggled a bit with command, issueing 15 walks and surrendering five homers, but racked up 35 strikeouts.
His fastball sits in the low-90s but he should be a bit more in the tank. He also has a slider and change that have the potential to be above-average pitches. Lizarraga will open the year as the youngest player in Lake Elsinore. He is at least 2-3 years away from impacting the big league roster.
RHP Brayan Medina
Like Lizarraga, Medina is another highly talented arm that the Padres were able to acquire on the international market. Medina opened last season with three brutal outings in the desert before heading back to the DSL. While he continued to struggle with command issues, walking 21 batters in 28 innings, he struck out 42 batters on the island.
The 19-year-old possesses arguably the biggest upside of any pitching prospect in the system but will need a few years of refinement before being in the mix for a viable big league option. He will open the year in extended spring training and could get an opportunity to pitch in Lake Elsinore before the season ends if mechanical changes take for him this spring.
Note that LHP Ethan Elliott, the 24-year-old lefty whose season ended last year with a shoulder injury, announced his retirement at the end of spring training. He’d been unable to throw during camp and was looking at surgery before the surprise announcement. The Tennessee native had emerged as a cinderella story as a 10th-round senior sign in 2019.
On the mend
RHPs Reggie Lawson and Efrain Contreras
Lawson and Contreras were ranked #19 and #20 respectively on our preseason top 20 list. Both pitchers had Tommy John surgery in 2020 and both should head to San Antonio in May or June.
Lawson, 24, threw just 6.2 innings last year for the Missions after making his way back from his initial elbow injury. Lawson has struggled to stay healthy throughout his pro career but when he has been on the mound, he’s flashed three pitches that should be at least average. If Lawson is healthy, he is an intriguing depth option.
Contreras, 22, was added to the 40-man roster this offseason after missing the entirety of the 2021 season. When Contreras was healthy in 2019, he posted solid results in Low-A before earning a late-season promotion to High-A where he tossed four innings in a playoff game.
Pre-injury, Contreras was maxing out his fastball at 96 mph and he displayed good control. Contreras hasn’t pitched in an official since undergoing surgery after the 2019 instructional league season.
Not quite a prospect anymore but…
Ryan Weathers, Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez
Weathers came into spring training with a shot to claim a big league job but he was ultimately optioned to El Paso. Weathers got off to a good start with the Padres last year but struggled in the second half after sustaining a leg injury in July. Weathers is still just 22 and the Padres will almost certainly need him to pitch in the big leagues this season.
Morejon began the 2021 season in the big league starting rotation but suffered a torn UCL in April. He is likely out until mid-season at the earliest. Morejon could give the staff a boost later in the season.
Like Morejon, Baez had Tommy John surgery in March and was placed on the 60-day injured list at the beginning of spring training and should be ready to pitch at some point later in the season.
Others of Note: RHP Pedro Avila returned to the big leagues last season and pitched in one game late in the season. The righty had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and spent most of last season pitching out of the bullpen. Avila is on the 40-man roster so he could have an opportunity to start some games for the Padres in 2022. … Righty Reiss Knehr had a rough showing in the big leagues when he was called on to jump from Double-A, but he’s on the 40-man roster and when his change-up is working, it’s a true weapon. … Veteran RHP Heath Filmeyer signed with the Padres in the off-season after spending most of last season with the Guardians Triple-A team. Filmeyer started 16 games last season and has worked as a starter throughout his professional career. He has pitched 29 games (16 starts) at the big league level for the Royals, although he has not appeared at the major league level since 2019. He’ll open the year in El Paso’s bullpen … RHP Jesse Scholtens led the Chihuahuas staff last season in innings (101.1) and strikeouts (103). Scholtens doesn’t possess big-time stuff but he has been competent in an extreme hitter’s park. The Wright State alum has spent five seasons in the Padres’ organization, throwing 546 innings during that time span. … The Padres claimed RHP Kyle Tyler off of waivers from the Red Sox at the end of March in an effort to add more starting pitching depth. The 25-year-old Tyler was originally drafted by the Angels in the 20th round in 2018, out of the University of Oklahoma. The Angels designated him on March 19, he was claimed by the Red Sox, and they designated him a few weeks later. Last season between Double-A and Triple-A, Tyler pitched to a 3.66 ERA in 20 games (14 starts). The Padres will hope he makes it through waivers and he can stick in El Paso to open the year.
RHP Matt Waldron made headlines in 2021 after he converted to throwing a knuckleball as part of his pitch-mix. Waldron isn’t your prototypical knuckleballer; his heater sits in low-90s and has hit 94 mph in game action. He pitched well in Fort Wayne but struggled a bit in San Antonio down the stretch. He will open the 2022 campaign in the Missions’ rotation. … Big righty Jarlin Susana waited to sign in this January’s international free agency class, so he is already 18 and in Peoria. He already ranks among the system’s most talented starters, though obviously is a long, long way away. Watch for him to make his debut later this season.
The Padres spent the first phase of the offseason accumulating bullpen depth with the acquisitions of Luis Garcia and Robert Suarez. In the minors, the Padres have a couple of prospects who should be able to help the team at some point this year.
RHP Kevin Kopps
In years past, Kopps might have made the team out of spring training. Instead, the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner will begin his first full season in San Antonio. Kopps, 25, was the Padres’ third round selection in last year’s draft. He pitched in 14 games at three different levels and allowed just one earned run in 14.2 innings.
Kopps uses a cutter/slider hybrid that is his best pitch. His fastball tops out in the low-90s. The Arkansas Razorback is basically a finished product who should slot into the Padres’ bullpen in the not-too-distant future.
In the Wings:
LHP Ray Kerr was the headliner coming back to San Diego in the Adam Frazier trade with Seattle. Kerr, who can hit the high-90s with his fastball, split the 2021 season between Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma. In 39.2 innings Kerr pitched to a 3.18 ERA with 60 strikeouts. … 26-year-old Evan Miller threw 77.2 innings for El Paso last year, including four starts. Miller was hit hard at times but he managed to strike out 85 batters in 77.2 innings. … LHP Tom Cosgrove converted to the bullpen full-time last season and pitched well. In 22 outings, the former Manhattan southpaw pitched to a 2.36 ERA and opposing batters hit just .192 against him.
On the mend
Chase Walter struck out 74 in just 39 innings of work at two Low-A stops last season. The big man, who can hit triple digits and has a wipeout slider, opens the year on the Injured List, but should be out with an affiliate relatively soon. … Chris Lincoln hasn’t pitched since soon after the Padres drafted him out of UC Santa Barbara in 2019, but the big righty is a name to watch once he gets to an affiliate later this spring.
David Jay contributed to this article.
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