The Situation: With a piecemeal starting rotation and an overtaxed bullpen, the Padres are in desperate need of arms at the big-league level. Erlin, whom Baseball Prospectus ranked as San Diego’s sixth-best prospect in January, is likely slated for a long relief role in the short term, as long men Thad Weber and Anthony Bass were forced to throw a combined 7.2 innings over the previous two nights. Weber was optioned to Triple-A, clearing the roster space for Erlin’s call-up.
Background: Selected by Texas in the third round of the 2009 draft, the California high school product tore through the lower levels and reached Double-A in May 2011. Erlin was dealt to the Padres at the deadline later that summer, going to San Diego with RHP Joe Wieland in exchange for setup man RHP Mike Adams. Although Erlin pitched well in 11 starts for Double-A San Antonio last season, he was sidelined due to inflammation and tendonitis in his elbow. The injury didn’t require surgery, and he finished with a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to Wednesday’s call-up, Erlin had made three starts for Triple-A Tucson, yielding seven runs in 13.1 innings.
Scouting Report: A high-floor prospect with a no. 4 starter projection, Erlin has garnered comparisons to veteran lefty Ted Lilly. The 22-year-old prospect won’t overpower hitters on pure velocity––his fastball sits between 88-91 mph, touching 92––but he brings a highly cerebral approach with a smooth, repeatable delivery and a plus command/control profile. Erlin also features a deceptive changeup that flashes plus in addition to an average low-to-mid-70s curveball and occasional slider. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound hurler can become home run-prone when he leaves his fastball up, causing it to flatten and lose plane at his height. Petco Park should help him in that regard. But his feel for pitching is elite, and that enables the solid-average stuff to play up a notch. San Diego’s currently shaky situation on the mound may be forcing Erlin up a little earlier than the organization had hoped, but he’s not far from being a viable back-end rotation option.
Immediate Big-League Future: In all likelihood, Erlin will be providing depth for the Padres’ scuffling pitching staff. The club’s starters have averaged fewer than five innings pitched this season (h/t Corey Brock of MLB.com), and in turn, the bullpen has been stretched thin. While Erlin may be up just temporarily this time around, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him carve out a more permanent role as a starting pitcher later this season.
Video: During the final week of spring training, I caught up with Erlin for an in-depth interview about his 2011 trade to San Diego, the development of his arsenal, and his approach to pitching. The video also includes game footage from a late-March Triple-A spring training game against the Dodgers. —Jason Cole
Robbie Erlin, LHP, San Diego Padres from Jason Cole on Vimeo.
Fantasy Impact: Erlin is going to be a pretty good fantasy starter at some point, potentially as soon as the second half of this season, but it doesn't look like that stage of his career will start now. It looks like the best-case scenario for Erlin in the short term is that he has Drew Smyly-type fantasy value, in that he sticks and works multiple-inning relief stints with the possibility for wins and good ratios. However, with arms like Jason Marquis and Eric Stults (along with constant injury risk Andrew Cashner) ahead of him, the odds of an opportunity presenting itself in the medium term are pretty good. And that's even with some competition with a returning Cory Luebke and Anthony Bass.
Right now, Erlin is safe to ignore in mixed-league redraft formats until a better situation presents itself. However, in NL-only leagues, he makes for an interesting speculation play for around $2-3 (of a $100 FAAB budget), especially if you can send him to the minors if he's demoted without burning a reserve spot. If Erlin were to get 15 starts at some point this season, and his lack of control in Triple-A so far is an aberration, he could supply solid ratios (including an above-average WHIP) and around 65-70 strikeouts given 100 innings. In mixed keeper/dynasty formats of 14 or more teams, he’s a good stash if you have a bench spot to spare. Anything shallower than that, and he's just a guy to watch. —Bret Sayre
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