Tool Time: Best ground ball pitchers

Pitching to contact is one of the favorite sayings around the water cooler at San Diego Padres Spring Training. They promote three pitches or less to a hitter and believe defense can win games, especially if there is a ground ball hurler toeing the rubber. These prospects have hitters spitting dirt.

1. Jack Cassel

This is the same kid who went two years without allowing a home run in the Midwest and California Leagues over 170 innings.

Cassel has an impressive sinker that causes hitters to drive the ball into the dirt with regularity. He had a nearly 4-to-1 ground-to-fly ball ratio this past season.

2. John Madden

His arm angle and natural tilt on the ball keeps the ball down near the dirt and the late movement on his pitches forces batters to top the ball – if they even hit it.

Madden has a 3-to-1 ground-to-fly ball ratio and is especially mean against right-handed hitters who never seem to get good wood on his pitches.

3. Cesar Ramos

They always said Ramos would get better as he moved up the chain and the reasoning is simple – he induces tons of grounders.

The lefty led the Padres' minors in double play grounders with 19 and uses his cutter and its dipping action to splinter wood and force the infield to do the work.

4. Jonathan Ellis

Ellis keeps the ball down, using a sinker/slider combination that is deadly to hitters and its late movement doesn't allow them to generate any lift.

Just eight of the 45 hits he surrendered went for extra bases and just one left the yard, as most hits were seeing-eye grounders that made it through the holes.

5. Mike Ekstrom

Given his ability to command the strike zone and work in the bottom half, the right-hander induces ground balls at a solid clip.

He has a lot of sink to his pitches, particularly a changeup that dips down in the zone and is the bearer of many a ground out. Only when he tires does the ball flatten out.

Also in consideration (alphabetical):

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