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Fueled By Draft Spot, Chris Paddack Completes Rise To Majors

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Chris Paddack (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO — Chris Paddack has the number "236" tattooed in black type down the length of his right ribcage. That’s the number the Marlins selected him overall in the 2015 draft out of Cedar Park (Texas) High, a not so subtle reminder of how many players were taken before him.

Only 41 of those players reached the majors before Paddack. That number might’ve been even fewer if he didn’t miss more than a year recovering from Tommy John surgery.

That’s all theoretical. What’s real is Paddack is in the majors now and cementing himself as arguably the biggest steal of that 2015 draft.

Paddack, No. 68 on BA’s Top 100 Prospects list, pitched five innings with two hits and one run allowed, one walk and seven strikeouts in his major league debut on Sunday afternoon, taking a no-decision in the Padres' 3-1 win over the Giants.

The outing marked the climax of a meteoric rise over the last year for the 23-year-old righthander. At this time a year ago, he was in extended spring training finishing his rehab from Tommy John and had never pitched a game above low Class A.

He began his return at high Class A Lake Elsinore last May, rose to Double-A midway through the year and jumped straight over Triple-A and into the Padres' Opening Day rotation after a brilliant spring training.

All the while, he had the number 236 on his mind.

"Until the day I retire, I will always,” Paddack said. "That’s why I got it tattooed on my ribs. It’s just a reminder that there were 235 picks before me and teams underestimated me, whatever it was. Just a reminder.”

Paddack got Steven Duggar to pop up weakly to the left side on the first pitch of his big league career, setting the tone for his debut. He retired the first 10 batters he faced, six via strikeout, and didn’t allow a hit until his fifth and final inning.

He needed just 11 pitches to retire the side in order in the first and then struck out the side on 12 pitches in the second, making Brandon Belt his first career strikeout victim before getting Brandon Crawford and Gerardo Parra swinging over changeups.

He allowed a two-out RBI double to Pablo Sandoval in the fifth inning—on a curveball, Paddack’s decided third pitch—but he then retired Erik Kratz on a flyout to escape further damage and end his day on a high note.

The only real negative to Paddack’s debut came on the other side of the ball. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the second, Paddack made his first career plate appearance and hit a line drive into right field for what looked like an RBI single. But Parra quickly picked the ball up in right and threw Paddack out at first base, turning what could have been his first big league hit into a rather embarrassing out.

"If I would have hustled a little more out of the box I would have beat it,” Paddack said. "We’re not hitters, but the way I was raised I want to have effort in everything I do, whether it’s a ground ball to short or whether that’s a home run.”

Paddack responded by striking out three of his next four batters when he returned to the mound.

"Honestly, I was prepared to have to go out and talk to him at some point if he got a little rattled (from that) and started missing his spots, but that’s on me for underestimating Chris Paddack,” Padres catcher Austin Hedges said.

"He rises to the occasion. When he gets a little pissed off, he pitches even better.”

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In an alternate universe, the start could have come with the team that drafted him, but the Marlins traded Paddack to the Padres for Fernando Rodney in June 2016 as they sought to bolster a team that entered July a half-game out of a wild card spot. Rodney posted a 5.89 ERA with the Marlins as they finished 79-82, while Paddack has emerged as one of baseball’s most promising pitching prospects.

It’s the latest in a long line of trades this decade that look increasingly poor for the Marlins.

The list of big leaguers Miami has traded is well-known: Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto, not to mention Logan Morrison, Jake Marisnick and Sam Dyson and losing Brad Hand on waivers.

But less well known, and similarly dispiriting, are the players they traded away as prospects in that same time.

Along with Paddack, that list includes Andrew Heaney, Trevor Williams, Luis Castillo, Anthony DeSclafani, Domingo German, Austin Barnes, Kike Hernandez and Colin Moran, as well as leaving Mark Canha unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.

For reference, that’s a six-man rotation’s worth of starting pitchers, a starting catcher, and three position players who had a 105 OPS+ or better last year.

The latest Marlins’ loss looks like the Padres' gain. It’s only been one start, but Paddack’s outings have already been dubbed "Paddack Day” by locals, to the point fans arriving at Petco Park on Sunday greeted each other with "Happy Paddack Day” before he ever threw his first pitch.

If what transpired in his debut is any indication, "Paddack Day” is going to be a frustrating weekly event for all the teams that passed on him in the draft, and especially for the one that traded him away.

That’s exactly how Paddack wants it.

"I’m very grateful the Padres' organization gave me an opportunity to show them I belong,” he said. "It’s going to be a fun year.”

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