The Padres announced last night that they’ve optioned left-hander Joey Lucchesi and outfielder/first baseman Josh Naylor to their alternate training site. The moves trim San Diego’s roster to the requisite 28 players that will serve as the maximum roster size from this point forth.
Every club made some moves to drop their roster to 28 players yesterday, but the Padres’ specific choices create a bit of intrigue. Lucchesi had been lined up to start today’s game against the D-backs, but that clearly won’t happen now. San Diego is, at least temporarily, left with a four-man rotation which has already led to speculation among fans about the potential promotion of MacKenzie Gore — ranked by many as the top pitching prospect in all off Major League Baseball.
The anticipation is understandable, but it’s also perhaps best to temper expectations. The Padres had an off day yesterday, so they could simply move everyone else in the rotation up a day. Zach Davies can start on normal rest today, followed by Chris Paddack on Saturday and Dinelson Lamet on Sunday.
San Diego also has other options on its current roster. In both of Lucchesi’s starts this season, he’s been followed up my a multi-inning relief appearance from righty Cal Quantrill. The Padres could turn the spot over to Quantrill to see how he fares in a start or two. Elsewhere on the roster, 20-year-old Luis Patino is considered one of the game’s better pitching prospects himself. The club has said he’ll begin in a bullpen role, and he’s not an option Friday after pitching two innings of relief Wednesday. However, if everyone is pushed up a day thanks to Thursday’s off-day, Patino could easily make a start this weekend or early next week.
All that said, it’s surely tempting to consider Gore. The Padres have lost four of their past five games, allowing an average of 6.2 runs per contest in that time. Their two prior wins to that were slugfests in which the pitching staff still yielded a combined 14 runs. Overall, San Diego ranks 21st in the Majors in ERA (4.70), 17th in FIP (4.23) and 18th in xFIP (4.30). The rotation, anchored by Paddack and Lamet, has been better than the bullpen to this point, but there’s still room for improvement. And in a short season where every win is magnified, the Padres currently sit in third place in the NL West behind the Dodgers and the surprising Rockies. Anyone promoted to the big leagues at this point would fall shy of a full year of MLB service. At the very least, the rotation now becomes an intriguing storyline to follow with a watchful eye.
As for Lucchesi himself, it’s a disappointing outcome after the 2016 fourth-rounder had held down a rotation spot for the two prior seasons. The now 27-year-old southpaw debuted early in 2018 and immediately impressed the club to the point that he stuck for a full year, ultimately making 26 starts with a 4.08 ERA and an average of 10 punchouts per nine innings. His 2019 season was similar: 163 2/3 frames of 4.18 ERA/4.17 FIP ball with solid control, plenty of grounders and nearly a strikeout per inning.
But Lucchesi also struggled to a 4.60 ERA in the second half of the 2019 season, and the Padres have generally been averse to letting him pitch to opposing lineups a third time. The reason for that is glaring; opponents have hit Lucchesi at a .233/.293/.397 clip the first time through the order, a near-identical .233/.288/.407 clip a second time — and a disastrous .312/.395/.548 pace once the lineup turns over a third time. Viewed through that lens, it’s not surprising that Lucchesi has averaged only five innings per start in the Majors (299 innings, 58 starts).
Looking to Naylor, opportunities for the 23-year-old have been limited. Trent Grisham, Wil Myers and Tommy Pham are all producing in the outfield, and Jake Cronenworth has hit well in lieu of injured first baseman Eric Hosmer, who’ll likely return this weekend. Naylor, the No. 12 overall pick by the Marlins back in 2015, has received just 14 plate appearances this year. He made a pair of early starts at DH, but the Friars have rotated several players through that spot rather than committing to a primary option at the newly created post.
Naylor tallied 279 trips to the dish in 2019 but didn’t force his way into a larger role with that showing. In all, he’s a career .248/.314/.402 through 293 PAs. Injuries or slumps in that outfield/first base/DH mix figure to get him another look later this season, but for now he’ll hone his approach at the team’s alternate site.