Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spring Training Battle: Left-Handed Specialist

The San Diego Padres have position battles raging this spring, but one of the most interesting is the bullpen slot for a second left-handed reliever after new acquisition Alex Torres. The top candidates are minor league signing Tony Sipp and offseason acquisition Patrick Schuster (who I had the pleasure of interviewing), but veteran Eric Stults is also a dark horse candidate for the job.
Patrick Schuster

Patrick Schuster, 23, has a 3.00 ERA in three innings of spring play, but he has also allowed six hits and only struck out one in that time. While playing in the California League (A+) last season, he posted a 1.83 ERA in 45 innings as a reliever. The young southpaw was drafted first overall in the Rule V draft and traded to San Diego in exchange for right-handed pitcher Anthony Bass. His Rule V status gives him a slight advantage over Sipp. If Schuster wins the job, it will allow San Diego to keep both Sipp and Schuster, while they would lose Schuster (he would have to be offered back to the Diamondbacks) if Sipp won the job.
Tony Sipp
Tony Sipp, 30, has a career 3.84 ERA in five seasons with the Diamondbacks and Indians. Sipp signed a minor league deal with two opt out clauses (March 26th and June 1st) and an invitation to spring training late this offseason. At one point (prior to the signing) it occurred to me that Sipp could be a fit for San Diego, but I changed my mind after viewing his splits:

vs RHB
vs LHB

Sipp has only been marginally better against left-handed hitters than against right handed hitters. Sipp may have had the better spring training so far (four innings and no earned runs) but he still has proven to be a slightly below average bullpen arm in his career, while Schuster has potential to be an above average left-handed specialist. 

Another interesting scenario would be if Burch Smith won the fifth spot in the rotation. In that situation, Eric Stults (who is out of options) would be displaced and possibly compete for a spot in the bullpen. San Diego seems to value Stults highly, and he would be an intriguing addition to a bullpen battle that is already very competitive. Stults would provide Bud Black with another option (Tim Stauffer) out of the bullpen for long relief in the case of a meltdown or injury. 

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