The San Diego Padres seem destined for a repeat last-place finish in the National League West, but good news came in the form of a late Tuesday tweet: Here comes Joe Wieland!
Weiland, whom ESPN Insider Keith Law rates as the No. 8 prospect in the Padres' organization, is a right-handed pitcher with terrific minor league numbers and a bright future, and his big league future appears slated to begin Saturday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers. His tweet said, "My dream has finally come true!!!" I assume he wasn't talking about gas prices in Tucson, Ariz., going down, or a pending appearance on "American Idol."
A control pitcher with enough strikeout potential to pique fantasy interest, Wieland will replace Dustin Moseley, who is older, less talented and dealing with major shoulder troubles. It's reasonable to think Wieland won't be pitching in the minor leagues again.
I'm generally cautious when it comes to young pitchers, and Wieland, a mere 22 years old, has all of 7 2/3 innings of Triple-A experience, and that came in the past week. Acquired in the Mike Adams deal last season, Wieland has the benefit of pitching half his games at Petco Park. You don't need to be Roy Halladay to shine there. Look what Aaron Harang and Tim Stauffer accomplished last season. Or look at Moseley: His ERA was 3.30. The journeyman's career ERA entering 2011 was 5.28.
Colleague Kevin Goldstein ranked Wieland 57th in his preseason Top 100 prospects for 2012 list, with one of the concerns being immediate opportunity. Well, it's not even tax day yet and Wieland is getting the call. I reacted quickly and added Wieland, not to be confused with ordinary Houston Astros right-hander Kyle Weiland, in a 16-team league in preparation for his big league debut. Those in ESPN standard mixed leagues can wait, but note that Padres pitchers posted a cumulative 3.02 ERA in 81 home games last season. The only teams that posted a better home ERA were the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. It's hard to pitch poorly over a long period of time at Petco Park. And Wieland doesn't figure to pitch poorly.
Of course, wins might be tough to come by for Wieland and his rotation friends, as the Padres are hitting just .183 as a team so far. But don't let that faze you one bit. I focus on pitchers who can help in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts more so than in wins, because you cannot predict that category. Anyway, it figures to be Wieland against Dodgers lefty Ted Lilly, who is coming off the DL for Saturday's start, and I'll be watching closely.
Meanwhile, this seems like a good opportunity to share my thoughts on Wieland's pending teammates in San Diego:
• I was able to see much of Edinson Volquez's start Tuesday, and while he started slowly, allowing a rocketed Paul Goldschmidt two-run double in the first inning, that was pretty much it. Volquez had far more control than in his first outing in which he hit his pitch count after five innings. On Tuesday, Volquez lasted seven innings, allowing only two hits in his final six innings. He fanned eight and walked three. Full disclosure, I've remained interested in Volquez for years. I mean, the right-hander did strike out 206 hitters in 2008. He has been a WHIP nightmare since, but he's healthy now, and his new home ballpark is Petco. Honestly, I think Volquez might strike out 200 hitters again this year.
• Only two Padres hitters made it into colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 125 hitters rankings this week. One is outfielder Cameron Maybin, who offers a nice power/speed package. The other is third baseman Chase Headley, an unlikely No. 3 hitter. Headley has 23 plate appearances this season (entering Wednesday), and in 13 of them he has either walked or struck out. He also has a double and a grand slam. Headley is a very patient hitter who lacks natural power, but he's underrated in fantasy because he also steals bases. He might lead the Padres in RBIs this season with 75 or so, but if they come with 12 home runs and 15 steals, he should remain popular. Don't drop Headley just because he's hitting .118 so far.
• I fear Jesus Guzman is running out of time to prove himself. He broke out in 2011, hitting .312 over 247 at-bats, with 29 extra-base hits. He actually hit .346 at home, with power and speed. But he can't afford a slow start, not with Carlos Quentin due back from knee surgery by early May. Plus, Kyle Blanks is looming. He has just one at-bat so far.
• Nothing against Mat Latos, but the Padres robbed the Cincinnati Reds this winter. Volquez will at least be trade bait; Bradley Boxberger is a future closer; Yonder Alonso is off to a slow start but will hit; and I think the best of the bunch will be Cuban catcher Yasmani Grandal. He's hitting for power and taking walks at Triple-A Tucson and shouldn't be there for long.
• I don't think the Chicago Cubs will regret their Anthony Rizzo trade for Andrew Cashner, despite them having a miserable bullpen, but Cashner has serious stuff. He was hitting triple digits with his hearty fastball over the weekend. Closer Huston Street is safe, at least until he's hurt and/or traded, but I think Cashner will be this year's David Robertson, providing strikeouts and a good WHIP and ERA. Relievers who don't get saves can still help fantasy owners. But in this case, I think Cashner will earn saves.