Clayton Richard, Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc, Jon Garland and Kevin Correia have been baseball's most dependable rotation and, arguably, its best. So far in 2010, those five pitchers have combined to start all but two of the Padres' 117 games and the group is second in the majors with a 3.46 ERA (the Cardinals' 3.35 mark is best of all). Looking ahead to next year, here's a closer look at the team's 2011 rotation.
The youngsters - Latos, Richard and LeBlanc - will be back and they'll be cheap, since they are not even arbitration-eligible. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Padres offer Latos an extension before the 2011 season, but he'll be around regardless as long as he's healthy. Latos, Richard and LeBlanc should comprise three fifths of the team's rotation in 2011.
We can't assume that the rest of the rotation will return, though. Correia is a free agent and Garland will also hit the open market unless he and the Padres exercise his $6.75MM mutual option. The Padres have an $8.5MM option for Chris Young's services, but there are probably more prudent ways of committing that kind of money.
The Padres could attempt to fill the rotation out with some of their minor league depth. Former Oriole Radhames Liz is striking out nearly a batter per inning at Triple A Portland, where he has a 4.87 ERA. Will Inman, a 23-year-old right-hander, has pitched well in 11 Triple A starts and Cesar Ramos and Cesar Carrillo also provide organizational depth at Portland. Jeremy Hefner, 24, is pitching well at AA. Before the season, Baseball America suggested that Hefner could become a back-of-the-rotation starter.
And then there are the top prospects. Simon Castro, a 22-year-old right-hander, has made a successful leap to AA this year, posting a 2.83 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 21 starts. Baseball America ranked Castro second among Padres prospects before the season, explaining that he "has the stuff and durability to profile at least as a No. 3 starter." Castro has pitched well this year, so he could be ready for the majors at some point in 2011.
Cory Luebke, another highly-touted prospect, has strikingly similar numbers to the ones Castro has posted. In 100 innings, Luebke, a lefty, has posted a 3.06 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. Before the season, Baseball America ranked Luebke sixth among Padres prospects and said his "stuff and size give him a ceiling as a No. 3 starter." Luebke's strong 2010 campaign suggests that, like Castro, he could start for the Padres at some point soon.
Castro and Luebke are highly-regarded prospects and both seem likely to succeed in the big leagues. But the Padres, who have plenty of payroll flexibility in 2011, will probably not count on that duo right away, so it would be a surprise if GM Jed Hoyer did not pursue free agent pitchers.
Garland, who pitched 7.0 more scoreless innings tonight, has had an excellent season for San Diego and the club could look to bring back some combination of Garland, Correia and Young. Whether the Padres pursue those pitchers or others, they seem likely to spend on free agent arms this winter. The organization has a number of promising minor league starters who will likely contribute in 2011, but the Padres just don't seem likely to rely on such an inexperienced group to start the season.