Without mincing words, let’s start by saying that the San Diego Padres‘ projected rotation going into the 2013 season is unlikely to strike fear in most MLB opponents, not with the collection of middle-to-back-end pitchers that is fronted by a one-two punch of Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez.
Help is coming, though. And not just in the form of recovering pitchers Joe Wieland and Cory Luebke (who might immediately slot in as the team’s number-one pitcher upon return) either.
Those two will certainly help, but it’s Casey Kelly, the 69th-ranked prospect in MLB.com’s top 100 list headed into 2013, who could have the most immediate impact. Kelly will be given a chance to win a spot in the Padres’ rotation in Spring Training along with the likes of Jason Marquis, Freddy Garcia, and the incumbent number-five starter, Anthony Bass.
Though Bass will likely have the inside track, it’s a competition that looks to be wide open as far as talent is concerned, and Kelly’s upside could easily impress enough to win the job outright when the season begins.
That said, if he’d only pitched better in his first major league stint as a September call-up, perhaps we wouldn’t even be talking about there being competition. Kelly made a hell of a first impression in his first start in the bigs, giving up no runs on three hits, and striking out four batters in a six-inning outing, but struggled mightily after that – his stuff was simply far too hittable, and batters feasted on the righty’s offerings at a .315 clip as his ERA wound up to be an unsightly 6.21.
Even with the rough patch, though, there were positive signs that Kelly could be better in his second go, like the 8.07 K/9 and 2.60 K/BB over the six starts he made. He didn’t lose control even when his stuff was being hit, and his 3.86 xFIP suggests that the former shortstop could do much better if and when he is given another chance.
To get it out of Spring Training, Kelly will have to take that job from Bass, or it’s AAA that will await him at the start of the season. The former is certainly possible, but given that he’s only had 12 innings of experience at that level, the team can afford to give him some more seasoning there.
But, this is a pitcher that’s just about ready to contribute, and if he can avoid the elbow problems that hindered his progress in the minors last season, Kelly shouldn’t have a problem making his way back to the bigs – and sticking there – before the summer comes around.