The TinCaps are in the beginning stages of what could be some pretty significant roster turnover in the coming weeks as the Padres' 2021 draft picks start to cycle into the club's farm system, creating opportunities for others to get promoted. In the last couple of days, Fort Wayne has seen several changes to its bullpen, even before the draft picks have arrived. Here is a look at how the relief corps has changed.
Michell Miliano traded: Miliano was a strikeout machine at Low-A Lake Elsinore for most of the season, whiffing 52 in 25 2/3 innings before being promoted to Fort Wayne a few weeks ago. He struggled with his command at Lake Elsinore and both the swing-and-miss stuff and the command problems followed him to the higher level: in four appearances with the TinCaps, he struck out seven and walked four in 4 1/3 innings, giving up three runs along the way for a 6.23 ERA in a small sample size. Despite the plethora of bases on balls he issued, the Pirates liked his potential enough that Miliano was dealt to Pittsburgh as part of the trade that brought All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier to San Diego. Former TinCaps Tucupita Marcano (who made his major-league debut this season after playing for Fort Wayne in 2019) and Jack Suwinski (a TinCap for all of 2017 and '18 who was raking to the tune of 15 home runs and a .949 OPS in Double-A this season) were also part of the deal.
Connor Lehmann promoted: Lehmann is a 6-foot-7 right-hander, making him the tallest player on Fort Wayne's roster now that he's arrived. Like Miliano, he had an extremely impressive strikeout rate (though not quite as ridiculous) and a too-high walk rate (though not quite as concerning) at Low-A Lake Elsinore. Lehmann has a relatively average repertoire, with a fastball around 92 mph, plus a curve and change. The velocity plays up somewhat because he's so tall and his release point is therefore closer to the plate and his high strikeout rates mean something is working for him. His ERA was an inflated 6.45 at Low-A, in large part as the result of an extremely unlucky .436 opponent batting average on balls in play (league average is usually around .300). He gave up a .247 BABIP in rookie ball in 2019, so it's not as though he's getting entirely knocked around.
What's more interesting with Lehmann is where he slots in to Fort Wayne's roster. He was a reliever for most of the season at Lake Elsinore, but the Storm built him up in recent weeks and three of the last four appearances he made with them were starts, including a five-inning appearance in which he struck out 10 on July 22. Fort Wayne currently has a TBD listed for its starter Friday, which would ordinarily be left-hander Erik Sabrowski's position. Sabrowski has a 1.86 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 29 innings with Fort Wayne, so it's possible he's up for a promotion in the coming days. That's something to keep an eye on this week and if Sabrowski is promoted, Lehmann makes sense in that rotation slot. It's also possible that Gabe Mosser, who is currently on the Injured List, could return and take the spot if Sabrowski is promoted, or Sabrowski could move back to the bullpen to make room for Mosser. There are a lot of options in front of the Padres and Fort Wayne.
Carter Loewen out for season: Loewen was Fort Wayne's closer for much of the season and he was tied for the league lead in saves when he went on the Injured List a week ago. He had been one of the team's hottest pitchers when he was shut down, tossing 8 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings over seven appearances and striking out 16 in that span, utilizing his mid-90s fastball and plus slider to blow hitters away. This afternoon, however, Loewen announced on Twitter that he will have Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season and all of 2022. The surgery was necessitated following an MRI for some elbow pain that revealed his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) was 95% torn.
"I'm damn proud of the way I pitched and went about my business leading up to and during my first year of pro ball," Loewen wrote on Twitter. "I could not be more excited to get back out there and show what I can do on the bump. I know that the Padres ... have my back and that gives me incredible confidence that I'm going to come back stronger. The future is bright."
Jose Geraldo on 60-Day IL: For a portion of the season in June, Geraldo effectively replaced Loewen as the closer, moving Loewen into an eighth-inning role. Geraldo was originally placed on the 7-Day IL after an appearance July 11, but he was recently upgraded to the 60-Day IL, more than likely ending his season. He could theoretically pitch in the last few games in September (he would be eligible to return Sept. 9 and the season ends Sept. 19), but the Padres will probably shut him down for the rest of the campaign rather than try ramping him up again for only a few appearances. Geraldo had four saves in nine appearances with the TinCaps, posting a 2.79 ERA with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Losing Geraldo and Loewen at the same time was tough and Fort Wayne has gone mostly closer-by-committee ever since.