Paddack 'on a mission' to win job in first camp

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's the first big league camp for Chris Paddack. The 23-year-old right-hander threw just 90 innings last season and didn't pitch at all in 2017 while he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He's made only 33 starts in the Minor Leagues -- seven of which have come above Class A.

Conventional baseball wisdom says Paddack shouldn't have much of a chance at making a big league roster this spring. But the Padres aren't all that concerned with conventional wisdom when it comes to filling out their rotation.

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Paddack, the No. 34 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is certainly a longshot. But he will still have every opportunity to win a roster spot in a Padres rotation race that's littered with question marks.

"He's on a mission," said Padres manager Andy Green. "He's on a mission to win with us, and he's on a mission to do something special."

No one doubts Paddack's stuff. It's elite. In his 90 innings last season, he struck out 120 hitters and walked only eight. He notched a 2.10 ERA with a 0.82 WHIP.

Paddack's first chance to test that stuff against big league hitters will come on Feb. 26, in Phoenix against the Brewers. He threw his first bullpen session in big league camp on Thursday.

"I felt like I was in a game with the adrenaline and the nerves," said Paddack, who raved about his first chance to work with catcher Austin Hedges.

Paddack is still looking to add a curveball to his fastball/changeup mix, which he calls his "bread and butter." His changeup is considered by many as the best in the Minor Leagues. That combo is so devastating, the Padres feel as though he can get by with, in essence, 2 1/2 pitches.

The stuff isn't the question. The workload is. Last year, Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer moved quickly to the Majors, but they had a full-season's worth of experience in the Minors. Paddack, coming off Tommy John surgery and having been shut down early last season, is a different case.

"There's going to be a definite desire to control his workload," Green said. "Those parameters might change based on how he feels. … We know where we'd like him to end up, and that will factor into everything we do with him throughout the course of the year. When he's pitching, he'll be pitching to win baseball games."

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Even if Paddack forces his way onto the Opening Day roster, he'll be closely monitored. Chances are, he'd be shuffled back and forth to the Minors to better control his innings.

The Padres could think outside the box, too, using Paddack and perhaps left-hander Matt Strahm in something of a three-inning piggyback tandem (Paddack's pitch mix might play better if the Padres limit his trips through the lineup).

Indeed, the Padres might get creative, but right now, that's of no concern to the former Marlins prospect who arrived in the 2016 Fernando Rodney trade. Paddack is merely soaking up his first big league camp. When his days end, he FaceTimes with his family, and he says they ask for every detail -- "How was it? Which big leaguers did you talk to today? What did you have for lunch?"

They aren't any more wide-eyed than Paddack is. He's consciously trying to absorb as many big league resources as possible.

"I'm a 23-year-old kid," Paddack said. "Some of these guys have pitched for 10 years in the big leagues. There's a lot I can learn. There's a lot I can ask."

With a big spring, he might soon be joining them in San Diego.

Notes from camp
• Righty prospect Anderson Espinoza (ranked No. 12 in the Padres' organization by MLB Pipeline) threw his first bullpen session of the spring, as he continues his comeback from 2017 Tommy John surgery. Espinoza has yet to face live hitters since he sustained the injury, but he built up to bullpen sessions last September before he was shut down for the winter.

The Padres envision a path that's similar to the one Paddack took. Outside the organization, many have wondered whether Espinoza is best suited for the 'pen, but the Padres still believe he's a starter. They'll monitor his workload closely in 2019.

• Friday marked the true first workout day for the Friars' pitchers and catchers after rain forced a cancellation of fielding drills on Thursday. Among the prominent pitchers to throw bullpen sessions were righties Robert Stock and Kirby Yates and lefties Strahm and Lucchesi (who unveiled a newfound cutter).

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