Editor’s note: Ben is back with his annual preview of the San Diego Padres minor league affiliates. We’re always glad to read more of his work.

Last year the Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps had some dominant pitching, led by top prospect Keyvius Sampson.  This year should be no different.  The interesting thing about the Fort Wayne rotation is that it shows off the two different types of top drafted pitchers.  Do you go for the polished college pitcher with a high floor and low ceiling (Andriese, Hebner, and Pope), or do you go after the high schooler with tremendous, but raw, ability (Portillo, Barbato, Ross, Kelly)?

The other question is who is going to fill the giant void left by Kevin Quackenbush?  The ace closer will be pitching up I-15, leaving Fort Wayne searching for their closer de jour.  Eugene had eight different pitchers close out at least one game, and a majority of the saves came over the last few weeks of the year showing that there was not an odds on favorite for closer in Fort Wayne.   Conundrum or not the college arms taken in the 2011 draft should provide a solid bullpen for the Tin Caps, something the 2010 team was sorely missing.

Starting Rotation:

Matt Andriese: 3rd round draft pick from the 2011 draft, and the first college pitcher taken by the Padres.  Andriese signed immediately and dominated from the beginning in Eugene.  He went 5-1, with a 1.51 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and averaged over a K/IP.  Andriese has good size and mechanics that should enable him to stay with the TinCaps.  He doesn’t have tremendous stuff as his fastball tops out around 93-94, but he has good movement and a solid slider that he uses as his strikeout pitch.  He needs to improve on his slider and change if he wants to succeed at the upper levels but he has a high floor which should lead him to dominate at Fort Wayne.

Cody Hebner: Hebner doesn’t have the size that most hope for, but he gets every bit out of his 5’11” frame and is a true student of the game.  Hebner is the first in the video room and the last to leave.  Hebner uses his FB as his bread and butter pitch.  He doesn’t nibble but sometimes his pitches will move be too much and lead to walks.  This led to the 15 walks in 37.2 IP.   He has a good 12-6 curve, with late action, that can be close to 20 mph slower than his FB.  At this point he doesn’t have a true change-up or slider, but both have already improved since joining the Padres.  Hebner is another pitcher with a high floor.  His ceiling is as a back of the rotation starter, but that shouldn’t stop him from excelling in Fort Wayne.

Adys Portillo:  Not much needs to be said about Portillo.  Tremendous stuff, but the results haven’t followed yet.  Another year in Fort Wayne and hopefully this time yields better results for Portillo.  He has received rave reviews during instructs, and as he continues to hit 98 on the gun, should finally be able to dominate.

John Barbato: Speaking of pitchers with high upside…  Barbato has arguably the highest upside of any pitcher in the system not named Portillo or Sampson.  Barbato has a plus fastball and slider, both of which have the ability to be absolutely filthy.  Like most young pitchers his change is a work in progress, but as he develops it also has the change to really make him an ace pitcher.  While everyone loves movement, Barbato suffered this past season from too much movement.  He often struggled finding home plate with his fastball which led to 31 BB in just 57 IP.  Ace potential but needs to locate his pitches better.

Joe Ross: 1st round selection by the Padres in the past draft.  Ross was given a huge bonus to not attend UCLA so I would guess he jumps Eugene in favor or Fort Wayne.  For being a pitcher a few months removed from high school, Ross has already displayed two plus MLB pitches in his fastball and curve.  He can already hit 95 on the gun which should go up a few mph as he gains more muscle.  Ross could find himself on the fast track to San Diego, but he needs to gain experience.  Ross has a very high ceiling, but like most high school draftees also has a very low floor.

Mark Pope: Pope might end up in the pen as the #5 starter, but chances are he gets a chance to start at least to begin the year.  Pope is not afraid and pounds the zone with his fastball (around 90).  He has a solid slider and curve and is not afraid to throw any pitch in any count.  Similar to Hebner and Andriese, Pope has a high floor with a low ceiling.  He will probably wind up in the pen, but he is a veteran enough pitcher (and was given over slot money) that he should do well in Fort Wayne.

Other CandidatesMichael Kelly could crack the starting rotation, but after missing the entire 2010 season by not signing until the deadline, Kelly needs time working on his delivery.  Kelly might have better “stuff” then Ross or Barbato but his delivery has been inconsistent and he needs to get his delivery ironed out before facing pro hitters.  Other candidates include James Needy, Juan Herrera, Colin Rea, Chris Wilkes, and William Scott.

Bullpen:

With Quackenbush more than likely ending up in Lake Elsinore, there is not a clear cut favorite for who will be the closer in Fort Wayne.  When Quack was promoted to Fort Wayne last year Eugene had seven different people record a save.  No one really showed the dominance to become the everyday closer.  With all that being said the favorite might be Rafael Arias if he can come back from surgery and show off his mid 90’s fastball.   Other candidates include Chris Wilkes (5-1, 3.28 ERA, 35.2 IP, 46K/18 BB), Matt Stites (4-0, 1.93 ERA, 32.2 IP, 36 K/8 BB), or Greg Gonzalez (4-1, 3.99 ERA, 29.1 IP, 33 K/12 BB).  James Jones was the closer in Peoria before a late season call up to Eugene.

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