by Ben Davey
Often times the bullpen gets overlooked (outside of the closers role), however the Padres are the prime example of what a great bullpen vs. a horrible bullpen can do for a team. In 05′-07′ the Padres had a sub 3.5 ERA from the bullpen every year. They also limited the number of inherited runners scored to one of the best in the league (I have about 30% from my stats). As a result the Padres played more then 162 games each one of those years (stupid game 163). Then comes 08′ where the Padres had a 4.45 ERA and allowed nearly 50% of all inherited runners to score. After seeing the difference Aki, Bell, Linebrink and Hoffman have made on a team (turning games into 6 inning games), the Padres seem on a mission to build a strong bullpen from within, and one of the biggest ways was to load up on pitchers with high potential (not just “strike throwers” who throw in the mid 80′s) At least at one aspect of the minor leagues the Padres are near the top. That is in the bullpen. As a result, they had some of the best pens in the minors (check out Fort Wayne’s pen).
Here are a few names to keep an eye out on during the 2009 season:
Michael Demark (08′- Elsinore/San Antonio)
In 2007 Demark went 2-1, 3.74 ERA; in 44 G in Lake Elsinore, in 53 IP, he struck out 70 hitters. But because he also walked 30, the front office thought it best to have him repeat LE in 08′. Well how does a 2.17 ERA sound in 49.2 IPto go along with 53 K, 19 BB, 35 H? With pitchers that had 40+ IP in the hitter friendly Cal League, Demark was top 10 in almost every category, including being 2nd best in stranding 83% of inherited base runners on base. If that wasn’t enough he got promoted to Tex in June and in 23.2 IP, gave up a measly 2 ER (0.76 ERA) 24 K, 5 BB. He stranded an insane 91.3% of inherited runners. (To put it in perspective, I believe the MLB average is about 65% and the Padres were just under 50% last year).
Demark is not what Padres fans are used to. He throws anywhere from 90-94 and can top out at 96 mph. He also has an above average slider that bites at the ankles (around 85-87 mph). He has an unorthodox windup, that people call a “butterfly windup” (reaches for the sky), it is used to align himself, but also adds deception. He was tied for 2nd in the Padres system in Holds (Heath Bell was #1, and Demark was tied with Oland for 2nd with 17). He is working on his changeup (which is a work in progress) but as is is one of the best 8th inning guys in all of the minors. He will be in either AA (maybe AAA) next year as the setup man (a role he loves BTW). He is a competitive, and is very similar to Heath Bell (except for the weight).
Bryan Oland (Fort Wayne)
Speaking of top 8th inning guys, Bryan Oland was drafted last year by the Padres and in 07′ put up bad numbers in Peoria (6.30 ERA, in 16 games, 6 BB, 13 K in 20 IP). So much so that the Padres didn’t even put him in Fort Wayne to begin the season (left him in Peoria for extended ST). He finally got up to Fort Wayne and WOW. 44 G, 51 IP, 33 H, 8 BB, 64 K (yes a 6:1 K:BB ratio) – he went 4-1 with a 0.88 ERA. A sub 1 WHIP, held batters to a 1.79ERA.
Again, not the normal Padre prospect. Oland throws around 93-94 tops out around 95 mph on an above average fastball. He also has an amazing split-finger pitch that sits in the 80′s. He is basically a 2 pitch pitcher but is working on a slider and change (doesn’t throw them as a reliever with two really good pitches…). He is another guy that loves the 8th inning role, though has closer mentality whenever he takes the field. It will be a big move going to the deserts of the Cal League, but will be interesting.
Jackson Quezada (Fort Wayne)
Due to how long he has been in the Padres system, he was added to the 40 man roster even though he spent all of last year in Fort Wanye (signed from the DR in 03′). Led the Padres minor league in saves this year with 27. In 59 G posted a 2.12 ERA, 63.2 IP, 42 H, 19 BB, 79 K, .180 BAA. He also only gave up 1 HR the entire year. In fact, aside from April (where he still only had a 3.75 ERA) his ERA went 1.76 (May), 1.42 (June), 1.93 (July), 2.25 (August). That is pretty fantastic.
Jackson has an above average sinking fastball that sits in the low 90′s. The Padres also expect him to gain a few mph as his body fills out (only 22). The biggest difference between last year (fringe prospect) and this year (top 30 Padre prospect on some peoples list) is the drastic improvement of his secondary pitches that he had been taught the previous 2 years (slider and change). Look for his to continue to climb the ladder and big LE closer next year.
Greg Burke (San Antonio)
Sticking with closers, let’s go to the one with the most IP (84.1). Interesting fact: not only was Burke undrafted, he was actually signed via a Padre tryout camp in 2006. He tried to be a starter in Fort Wayne in 06′ then was moved to the pen in 07′. Neither year put up any numbers to brag about. Finally in 08′ he made it to San Antonio and his stock shot up. In 59 G he had a 2.24 ERA, 23 Saves, 17 BB, 92 K. For most of the year he had a sub 1 ERA, until a bad July curtailed that (all 3 of his BS). Still managed to post great numbers (aside from the 2-7 record, but a lot of the losses came from unearned runs). Also went 1-1, 2.51 ERA with a save in the AFL.
Burke started the year throwing in the upper 80′s, but by the end of the year was throwing 91-94. I will let you figure that one out, but the coach said it was due to intense workouts and conditioning. Also throws a splitfinger and a slider. His biggest problem is that he doesn’t really have an out pitch against lefties (who hit him reasonably well compared to righties). His slider moves more like a cutter, and doesn’t have the dip that most pitchers use as their out pitch against LHB. He will be the closer in Portland, so it will be interesting to see if this year was a fluke or if he has got the real deal.
Gabe Dehoyos (San Antonio)
Sticking with the Missions, let’s get to Gabe. In 60 games last year he struck out an insane 110 batters (83 IP). Went on to lead the team in holds with 15 while posting a 2.69 ERA.
Loves to throw up in the zone, and has a Chris Young esque fastball (it looks great and very hitable and yet he had 110 K off it). Also like CY throws in the upper 80′s touching 90-91. Best pitch is his cutter that he loves to throw. However the difference this year is the huge strides that Bill Masse made with his breaking ball that became better than average. Great downward movement on the hammer (12-6 breaking ball). He was a free agent at the end of last season and I believe the Padres resigned him (not sure, though). I also believe he was signed as a minor league FA last year (I know he was with the Royals in 07′). Biggest problem is age as Dehoyos was 28 last year. If he was resigned he will at the very least be knocking on the door to San Diego.
Evan Scribner (Lake Elsinore)
Speaking of players who were not in the Padres system in 07′, Scribner was acquired from the D*Backs for old man river err… Tony Clark. For the Padres system this year he went 2-1, 2.70 ERA, 20 G, 1 SV, 23.1 IP, 14 H, 3 BB, 31 K (yes a 10:1 K:BB). Overall, between two High A organizations and AA (23 G) he went 4-5, 2.00 ERA, 10 SV, 67.1 IP, 42 H, 13 BB, 93 K.
Why were the walk numbers so low? Because he does what many of the Padres wish someone like Thatcher would do…come after a hitter. Scribner has the mentality that he can come after a hitter and get outs. So he does…no nibbling, strike one, strike 2, strike 3. He has a slightly above average fastball that sits in the low 90s (90-92) with pretty good movement. He’s got an outstanding breaking ball that he uses as an out pitch If he gets two strikes on a hitter, BOOM.. Of course, his biggest weakness is well, he comes right at people and is only a two pitch pitcher. But looking at the numbers and his makeup that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have two MLB quality pitches, and as a reliever we’ve seen you can get by with one (Trevor). Look for him to hold games in San Antonio next year.
We also have a #1 pick coming off injury. I believe his name is Matt Bush. Provided that his rehab went well this is another guy who can turn up the heat as his fastball can hit 98 mph.
Honorable mention: Brandon Gomes, Mike Ekstrom and Aaron Breit (both did great after being moved to the pen), Robert Woodard, Wilton Lopes, Hampson/Thatcher/Cameron (though we already know who they are, and sadly KCam is gone), and Dylan Axelrod (I am sure I am forgetting someone).
*Just as a note I didn’t include anyone in SS Ball because a lot of the better relievers (ie Musgrave, Bass, etc..) will probably be starters in Fort Wayne next year and I wanted to just stick with relievers. Also, players like Frieri who transitioned from the pen to the rotation was left off.