by Ben Davey

As I have referenced in almost all of my previous posts, the Portland Beaver’s pitching will be by far the toughest thing to accurately predict. There is a large crop of talent that will be battling for a few spots on the AAA rotation and pen. In a normal offseason, you might see a couple of the AAA main starters leave, a few be promoted to the San Diego Padres major league club, and only one or two remaining for a repeat tour of AAA. And to some extent that remains true for this offseason.

Last year the Beavers had 12 starters make at least 5 starts for the Beavers, and none of them made more than 20 starts (Leblanc). Of those 12, Josh Banks, Walter Silva, Michael O’Connor, Brian Lawrence, and Josh Geer will all definitely be gone. Sean Gallagher is out of options, and will be with the Padres, and Matt Buschmann will be out of the rotation and battling for a bullpen spot (if he’s not released). The sad thing is that already leaves the Beavers with 5 members from last years team (Poreda, Leblanc, Inman, Carrillo, Ramos), and thats not including players moving up from AA or a certain top prospect moving down from the majors.

Last year the Beavers ranked 10th (of 16) in ERA at 4.56, 13th in K (907), and 10th in WHIP (1.44). I will say that we should expect some improvement in this number as a lot of the “fat” (see above) has been cut, and of course the addition of a certain “no longer rookie” top pitching prospect will help too. So with that being said I will go through the starters and relievers, starting with the locks, and moving down to the “good luck” players. Note, I am assuming 12 pitchers (5 starters, 7 relievers on the roster).

One of the most interesting things about this staff is it could feature 3 pitchers who at one point were their teams #1 overall prospect (Latos, Poreda, Carrillo), another that was ranked in the top 100 overall prospects (Inman), plus another supplemental first (Ramos), an 2nd round (Leblanc) pick. On paper this rotation is crazy good…

Locks:

Mat Latos (22, RHP)- Last year Latos jumped from Low A to the Padres and is no longer a rookie (by 1 inning). He has a career minor league record of 12-8, 2.49 ERA, 184 IP, 216 K. Anyone reading this does not need me to tell you how great Latos is.  He has a Mid 90′s fastball, above average secondary pitches, and improved command and mechanics that he has shown in ST so far. He could easily end up being the Padres ace by seasons end, but with Gallagher and Stauffer both out of options, Latos is 95% sure to start the season in AAA to gain a bit more experience (only 47 IP in AA or AAA) before coming back to the bigs.

Aaron Poreda (23, LHP) Like Latos, he was at one point the White Sox top prospect. He is a big lefty, with a big time fastball. That alone will give him every chance possible to succeed. At the top end, his ceiling is probably a legit #2 starter. Now the likelihood of him reaching that potential… (hint this will be a reoccurring theme). He needs to be able to spot the fastball and work on his secondary pitches. He spent all of the off season working with the Padres staff, so we will see when the season starts if that makes a difference.

Wade Leblanc (25, LHP) Honestly, Leblanc has nothing left to prove in AAA. He has logged over 259 AAA innings, and will be starting his 3rd go around with the Beavers. What else is there to say? Best change-up in the organization, decent fastball and secondary pitches. He doesnt project nearly as high as Poreda or Latos, but could easily be a solid lefty #4 or 5 starter for a big league team…just waiting for his shot (again)

Battling it Out:

Cesar Carrillo (25, RHP) I was debating whether to put him in the locked category or not, but if I did that would be 4 locks for 5 spots so I thought #1 on the next list. Carrillo is a top prospect who was derailed by TJ surgery in 2007. Since then Carrillo has struggled to regain his form since then. His ceiling would be a solid #3 starter in the big leagues. At his best Carrillo can consistently hit 94 on the gun, has an above average curve used as a great K pitch, and a solid change. Well by the end of last season we saw the FB speed return, but the command was gone, the curve went from a hammer to a slow looper…but the change improved netting him more GB outs. Reports from ST are promising, the command is better and the curve looks sharper. If this carries over to the regular season we will see a lower ERA, more K, and a way better overall pitcher. I’m optimistic and he’s my sleeper pick so stay tuned on Carrillo.

Cesar Ramos (25, LHP) Ramos had some bad luck last season. After a disappointing 2008 season (9-11 5.29 ERA in 149 IP in Portland) Ramos seemed like a completely different pitcher in 2009, and due to injuries and bad pitching in SD it looked like Ramos would get to taste the big leagues early in 2009. Unfortunately after a great start on 5-23 (6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) he was injured in his next and final start for 3 months lasting only 1.1 IP (4 ER). When he returned he couldnt quite duplicate his earlier success. Ramos is another guy who has logged way too many AAA innings (226) and will begin his 3rd season with the Beavers. He is a back of the rotation starter without the ++ pitch like Leblanc’s change. His FB can get up to the low 90′s but he is mainly a 2 pitch pitcher as his slider is a big ?. Still he is on the 40 man roster, so that counts for something.

Will Inman (23, RHP) Pre-2007 ranked as the #91 prospect in all of baseball (BA). At 23 Inman is still considered young for AAA, but has spent the last 3 years between AA and AAA. His future went from incredibly bright to fading fast. In 2007 he was top 5 in all minor league pitchers with 180 K, but that number has steadily declined. Last year he was shelled in Portland going 1-4, 6.71 ERA, in 12 starts. And as such was not protected (added to the 40 man roster) for the Rule V draft. His greatest + and – is his delivery. It is incredibly deceptive, but is a mechanical nightmare. The Padres have done everything from tweaking the mechanics to changing the arm angle, and this offseason they taught him a new pitch…the cutter. We will see if it makes a difference, but it should be viewed as a slap in the face that not only was he not placed on the 40 man roster, but Inman was invited to big league camp. Inman can still turn into a solid big league starter, he just needs to get everything in order first…

Ernesto Frieri (24, RHP) Went 10-9 with a 3.59 ERA in AA last year, and was the Missions most consistent pitcher throughout the year. Frieri was 8th in the Texas League in ERA, 3rd in K (118), 3rd in BAA (.237), 3rd in runners stranded % (74.2), but was also 4th in BB allowed. He was added to the Padres 40 man roster and in 2 games last year did not allow a hit striking out 2 and walking 1. He consistently sits in the low 90′s with his fastball (topping out at 95), and has an improved curve. The change is still a WIP, and he needs to gain better control with the curve, but his ability to spot the FB with a good deceptive delivery makes him a nightmare to hit against. He has earned a chance to start in AAA but will it be given to him?

Steve Garrison (23, LHP) Well at least this will be slightly easy. He will start the season on the DL after injuring his knee on his very last pitch of the AFL (he got the out), his timeline is set for May. Garrison is another bad luck pitcher. Mechanically he is a dream for pitching coaches, everything is smooth and fluid. Despite this Garrison was the one to go down with the arm injury in 2008. Before that Garrison had yielded 1 run or fewer in 10 of his 24 starts in AA (2008), including a 7 inning no hitter in April. Garrisons best feature is his control. Throughout his career has averaged fewer than a BB every 4 IP (2.21 BB/9). Garrison can locate his FB (87-90 mph) with pinpoint control. He is also able to throw both the slider and curve with good control and movement. He has an improving change, and when used with the rest of his pitches is a good change of pace pitch. On occasion Garrison will miss with control, and when that happens he gets shelled. Garrison was added to the 40 man roster, and while he doesnt have the ceiling of any of the players above him, he is the closest to reaching that ceiling. Best case scenario he ends up being a great back of the rotation lefty starter. When he is on he can be successful at any level, when hes off well thats another story (think BLaw circa 2002 (210 IP, 3.69 ERA)). The Padres will give Garrison every chance to show his success, and will be given a spot come May.

Others of note that have a chance (barely) Corey Luebke, Matt Buschmann, Nathan Culp, Stephen Faris….and because I want to throw it out there CLAYTON RICHARD (haha). Thats 7 quality pitchers for 5 spots, and 1 coming off the DL in May.

My guess: Latos, Leblanc, Carrillo, Poreda, Inman (R/L/R/L/R).  I think Ramos starts in the pen, and Frieri could be moved to the AA pen or take the #5 spot away from Inman.

On Thursday I will look at the candidates for the 7 bullpen spots, Perdomo, Russel, Webb, Burke, DeMark, Gomes, Scribner, Worrel, Ellis, and of course the players listed above. Not only who will make the team but who will be the closer, 8th and 7th guys? Is there a chance Frieri becomes the closer? Does Burke keep the role, or does Scribner and the triple headed monster coming up from AA take over? On the bright side survival of the fittest should mean a better overall team, even if it means we let players go that end up having solid MLB career (or at least MLB careers).