We've heard since spring training that the Padres would look to be aggressive with promotions for their pitching prospects in mid-May. With many of their high-profile hurlers posting impressive results through the first seven weeks, the organization has begun to make their first flurry of moves.
Dinelson Lamet, the top pitcher in the Padres' upper minors heading into this year, joined the big league club with a splash last night. The club's 12th-rated prospect on our offseason list became the first pitcher to join the young position players who are already trying to establish their role in the club's big league future.
While his debut appropriately drew the biggest attention, a number of other top prospects are also on the move.
Over the last week, Ronald Bolanos, Mason Thompson and Reggie Lawson each made their full-season debuts in Fort Wayne.Bolanos, the old man of the trio at 20, is the first of five high-profile Cuban pitchers signed in the last year to reach an affiliate.
The Padres were able to tab the other pair out of high school in last year's draft because each was coming off of injuries. When we talked to Sam Geaney about them at the end of last year, it was obvious that the organization is excited about the projection both offer on the mound. With a goal of getting each approximately 100 innings of work this summer, the club held each back in extended spring training until now to hone their approaches in a departure from how they handled their high school pitchers last year.
Jesse Scholtens was the first of the TinCaps starters to move up a level, joining Lake Elsinore last week. Now the club has sent lefty Jerry Keel up to Double-A San Antonio, where he made three appearances last season. A ninth-round pick in 2015, the big lefty has flown under the radar in the organization, but after a 2.98 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in eight starts this year, the 23-year-old clearly has nothing left to prove in the Midwest League. Keel earned our nod as the TinCaps' player of the month in April.
Amid all the moves on the TinCaps staff, hard-throwing righty Hansel Rodriguez, the pitcher obtained from Toronto in exchange for Melvin Upton, Jr., was sent back to extended spring training. He had an up-and-down showing with the TinCaps and could return to the full-season club at some point, or join Tri-City when they open next month for his fourth year in short-season ball.
The name which hasn't been called yet for a move is Logan Allen, who can't be far behind the other promotions. The 20-year-old lefty was sent back to open the year in Fort Wayne because he missed two months last summer with arm soreness. However, he's dominated the Midwest League in his return, posting a 1.76 ERA to go with 51 strikeouts in 41 innings. He has an opportunity to rival Manuel Margot as the biggest prize from the Craig Kimbrell trade.
In addition to Scholtens, the biggest immediate boost for the Storm rotation - which is already one of the best in the minors - is getting Jake Nix off the disabled list. The Southern California native was ticketed to open the year in Elsinore after a strong showing in the Midwest League last year, but was slowed down by a groin injury which he'd dealt with last year again this spring. Now cleared to go, the guy we had conservatively as the #9 overall prospect in the offseason will add another strong arm to the mix and strengthen the club for when the inevitable promotions of lefties Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi, who rank first and third in the Cal League in ERA and have each struck out 55, happen.
While Lauer, who landed at number eight in our preseason rankings, and Lucchesi are likely to move up to San Antonio in relatively short order, they won't be the next pitchers to arrive after Keel. That honor will go to Chris Huffman, who returned to Lake Elsinore to open this year despite putting up strong numbers for the Storm in 2016. The 2014 14th-rounder doesn't rack up big strikeout counts, but he's managed to limit hard contact against him with a lively two-seam fastball so far in his career.
The opening with the Missions comes by way of a promotion to El Paso for Kyle Lloyd. We talked to the righty with the wipeout split-fingered fastball earlier this month about how he's changed his repertoire to be more effective this year. He joins a Chihuahuas club that currently has only four active starters on the roster because of Lamet's promotion and Zach Lee's trip to the disabled list.
The promotion of Lloyd likely leaves Michael Kelly in line as the next starter to jump to Triple-A. A supplemental first-rounder out of high school in 2011, Kelly shuttled between San Antonio and El Paso last summer, but seemed to fatigue as he worked past 100 innings for the first time in his career. He's been continuing to improve his fastball command this spring, and has a chance to provide value at the big league level for the Padres.
Even with all these moves, there are even more talented hurlers waiting in the wings. Lefty Adrian Morejon, the club's highest profile signing on the international market last year, has been working his way back from a shoulder issue in extended spring training. He was scheduled to face live hitters this weekend and appears to be on track to join a club sometime around the draft. Anderson Espinoza, who was put on the disabled list on opening day, is getting back on his throwing program, and will go through a progression before he's ready to be activated.
Henry Henry, Starlin Cordero, Michel Baez, Ramon Perez and Michel Miliano headline a group of almost 20 other pitchers who are currently working in Peoria and should be ready for an assignment when the short-season leagues open next month.