Best of the System: The Top 5 Lefty Starters

Most minor league baseball systems are happy if they have one legit lefty starter. The Padres are no different, and that's a good thing, because left handed starting pitching is not the deepest of pools down on the farm. Not for not trying though, in the last three drafts the Padres have selected 13 left handed pitchers, seven in 2002 alone.

Problem is, the draft is not an exact science, as evidenced by the Padres 2nd round pick in 2003, lefty Daniel Moore. Coming out of North Carolina Moore was about as sure a bet as you get in the draft. He threw three pitches for strikes, had a fastball in the low nineties, and had never experienced a major injury.

 

Given a bigger signing bonus than the Padres first round pick Tim Stauffer, Moore has struggled since joining the Padres. A rotator cuff problem popped up after just six starts last year, and even when healthy he's averaged just 4.1 innings per start. Calling a 22 year old left hander a bust might be a little premature, but since the injury questions have come up about his dedication, and if those questions become realities that is an $800,000 signing bonus and a second round pick down the drain.

#4) The reason Chris Tierney looks like he's so close to reaching his ceiling is that he's 6'6", the reason the Padres love him is that along with being that tall, he's that young too. Just 19 when the Royals traded him to the Padres for Rondell White in 2003 Tierney has loads of potential, and now two years later he seems to be harnessing it. Not the most athletically gifted player, he's all elbows and knees, Tierney might be a case of size over substance, as every baseball organization on earth is looking for the next Randy Johnson.

 

Tierney will never be that. His fastball has picked up velocity as Tierney grows into his body, but still is only in the low 90s consistently. He has a curveball that has shown significant improvement, and a change up that still needs a lot of work, but the Padres knew they were trading for the future when they picked him up. He was having the best season of his career at Lo-A Fort Wayne in 2003 when he earned a promotion, and a balloon in his ERA, by going to Lake Elsinore.

 

Though not being Randy Johnson does not mean Tierney can not eventually be an effective Major League lefty. His fastball has picked up velocity, and the Padres expect it will continue to do so. Even if it doesn't the long frame and unorthodox delivery allow the ball to jump on hitters, and when he pitches inside and mixes the curveball in he has been effective. That was not the case in the second half of 2004 at Lake Elsinore. Tierney pitched scared, and a never-that-impressive-to-begin-with strikeout to walk ratio dropped to a frightening 1:1, that won't get the job done, and the Padres know it, but they will return Tierney to the Storm this season to see if he can remember how to pitch inside and keep the ball down.

 

#3) Fabian Jimenez was signed by the Padres back in 2002. He wasn't really on anybody's radar then, and his ‘Q' factor stayed that way all the way through his time in the Instructional League in 2004, his first season in pro ball. He was inconsistent at best and seemed to be a forgotten man.

 

That is until somebody remembered that at just 18 years old, Jimenez could be four years away and still be one of the youngest players in the Majors. A good, solid fastball has been Jimenez's calling card, and will continue to be, but the Padres are working with the youngster to mix in his solid slider and a changeup, and are being very careful not to rush Jimenez, he's got time, and they are giving it to him.

 

Still, he'll start the 2005 season at Lo-A Fort Wayne. The Padres will not pay that much attention to Jimenez's numbers this year, that is unless they are really good. The biggest goal of the 2005 campaign for Jimenez is to pitch in a full season of pro ball without getting hurt. The Padres want Jimenez to work on the off speed pitches and pitching inside, but most of all they want Jimenez to throw strikes, stay healthy, and at best be pitching at Lake Elsinore by the end of 2005.

 

#2) Rusty Tucker begins the year with Mobile, the Double-A affiliate of the Padres. Tucker spent most of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery but has one of the more explosive fastballs in the system.

On the fast track to the Majors, Tucker was derailed by the surgery that often takes a year and a half to see velocity returned. He is throwing the ball in the low-to-mid nineties again, but he once reached 99 on the radar gun.

Tucker was, and perhaps still is, considered the closer of the future for the Friars. He got banged around when he came back late last year but had barely reached 90 miles per hour with his fastball at that time.

A healthy return of Tucker could put him atop this list again at the end of the year.

#1) Sean Thompson will be starting the season at Hi-A Lake Elsinore, and that comes as a shock to many in the organization. Thompson started the Spring as one of the brightest prospects in the Padres organization, and he left there the same way, but many scouts and coaches were surprised he wasn't moved to Double-A Mobile.

 

Thompson carries a low 90s fastball and sharp curve to the mound. As the fifth round selection of the Padres back in 2002 Thompson carried a reputation as a fiery competitor who would sometimes let his emotions get the better of him. He still carries the emotions to the mound, but has managed to focus them into pitching, rather than throwing, which got him in trouble early in his career. His strikeout to walk ratio has improved each of the last three seasons, culminating in a very solid 2.75:1 last season with Lo-A Fort Wayne.

 

The stint at Lake Elsinore might be a test of those emotions. The notoriously hitter friendly California League regularly raises ERAs and Thompson will have to show the Padres he can handle it when a hitter hits a ball off the end of the bat that ends up in the left field bleachers. If Thompson continues to throw strikes and adds a tad more endurance to his repertoire (he has failed to average six innings pitched per start in his three seasons in the Padres organization), he could earn himself a quick promotion to Double-A Mobile, and profiles as a legit #3 starter in the big leagues.


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