<
>

No. 5 (and 4) starter watch: Padres

Looking for a sleeper starter in your fantasy draft next weekend? Spend a moment or two with the Padres' fifth starter ... or, to be precise, their presumed fifth starter ...

    The Padres announced their starting rotation Sunday -- well, most of it anyway.

    Manager Bud Black said that Jon Garland, a free-agent acquisition in the offseason, will start Opening Day in Arizona on April 5. He will be followed by Chris Young and Kevin Correia, who will also pitch in the season-opening series at Chase Field.

    --snip--

    Black wouldn't name the Nos. 4 and 5 starters for the rotation just yet. That information will come sometime this week as the organization continues to sort through what it will do about three pitchers in camp who are out of Minor League options.

    It's believed that left-handed pitcher Clayton Richard will be the No. 4 starter. Mat Latos, whom several scouts have said this spring is the Padres' best pitcher, figures to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

    --snip--

    If Joe Thatcher does start the season on the disabled list, the Padres then could keep all three of the pitchers in camp who are out of Minor League options -- Sean Gallagher, Edward Mujica and Tim Stauffer.

    Gallagher and Mujica have likely already earned spots on the team. Stauffer is a player who has attracted interest from other teams looking to add starting pitching in the final week of Spring Training. He's been good this spring, posting a 2.57 ERA in five games with an 11:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    Stauffer said Saturday that he's comfortable coming out of the bullpen, which might be the likely case if the Padres don't deal him.

I'm not wild about Clayton Richard. In 176 innings as a starter in the majors, he's got a 1.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and it's really hard to win that way. He did better in the minors, but was rushed by the White Sox and has just 128 innings in Double- and Triple-A combined (and was actually pretty unimpressive in Class A). Richard is 26 and doesn't need to be babied anymore. I just don't quite see the track record to make me think he's going to hold down a rotation slot for six months.

Stauffer's an odd one. The fourth pick in the draft seven years ago, he's been suffering from injuries and inconsistency ever since, in the process racking up 463 innings and a 4.62 ERA with Triple-A Portland. But he's become a somewhat different pitcher -- fewer low-90s fastballs, more curveballs and changeups -- and the results have been pretty good. At this late date, it's exceptionally unlikely that Stauffer will ever be the pitcher the Padres thought they were drafting, but I'm not sure he's less deserving than Richard of a place in the rotation.

Meanwhile, Latos is the real stuff. He throws hard, has impeccable minor-league credentials ... all he's missing is experience: just turned 22, 47 Double-A innings and zero Triple-A innings. He may take some lumps and the Padres probably won't let him throw 200 innings. But while he might not be the Padres' best pitcher right now, he's probably one of the four best and might as well take his place in the rotation.