Balsley says rotation could be team's best ever

Longest-tenured Padres coach still evaluating his talented core

Balsley says rotation could be team's best ever

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As the longest-tenured member of the Padres coaching staff, Darren Balsley might be the perfect guy to peg for an answer when it comes to picking the club's top rotation in recent memory.

But as the team's pitching coach since 2003, Balsley admits to having an affinity for all of them, which is not exactly a strong case for an unbiased opinion.

"We have had a lot of good rotations," Balsley said. "… And I'll usually say that one was my favorite after each year. So looking at this one, it's incomplete right now."

Incomplete, but with the potential to be the best of all, he said.

"There's no reason this can't be our best staff since I've been here," Balsley said of the rotation. "I think that on paper, this may be our best."

Balsley, regarded as one of the top pitching coaches in the game, figures to have one of the top starting rotations in the National League to work with in 2015, especially after the recent addition of free agent James Shields, who signed a four-year deal.

Shields joins Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy to form a dynamic first four in the rotation, with only the final spot left to be determined during Spring Training, with Brandon Morrow, Odrisamer Despaigne and Robbie Erlin as the main contenders.

"This could be one of the best, especially if guys like Cashner and Ross keep improving," Balsley said. "And what I like is most of them have one specialty pitch other than their fastball."

The last time the Padres had a winning record (2010), they had three starters make 30 or more starts -- Clayton Richard (33), Jon Garland (33) and Mat Latos (31) -- and two others make 25 or more starts. That team won 90 games and missed the postseason by one victory.

Manager Bud Black thinks this starting cast has the qualities -- beyond pure stuff -- to accomplish some very big things.

"They have the talent, the stuff, they have the pitches and they have the makeup," he said. "And they have the intangibles, work ethic, mental toughness and those qualities that front-end of the rotation guys have."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.