Arizona League Pitcher of the Year

Determining the best pitcher on the mound in Tempe was not quite as easy as the hitter of the year. The top two qualifiers for the Arizona League ERA title both had spots in the Angels' starting rotation. There's only one year of age difference between them and they were both clutch down the stretch. But in the end, the peripheral numbers clinched it.

Vladimir Veras (his real first name is Nicolas, but he prefers the more alliterative middle name) missed all of the 2005 season after a solid debut in the Dominican Summer League as an 18-year-old in 2004. Because of the long layoff and minimal game exposure, Angels officials weren't sure what they were going to get.

Tim Schoeninger was also something of an unknown. He spent two years at the University of Nebraska, transferred and sat out a year before putting up uninspiring numbers for the University of Nevada. But the big righty was healthy and in command of his mechanics by the time he got to Arizona, rewarding the Angels for selecting him in the 23rd round of this year's draft.

Veras proved he is back, leading the Arizona League with a ridiculous 1.35 ERA while posting a league-best eight victories. Schoeninger was just off that pace, posting a 1.79 mark and finishing third with six wins while holding his opponents without an earned run in seven of his 13 starts. That's a nice one-two punch no matter how you look at it.

Veras, however, claims the pitcher of the year title from FutureHalos because he brings more of a complete package. Although Schoeninger has the polish of a four-year college pitcher – he allowed just four walks on the year – and was a bulldog who finished second in the league in innings pitched, Veras was nearly unhittable for several stretches this year.

Opponents hit.210 against the Dominican native, managing no home runs and just nine extra-base hits in 60 innings. Impressively, he gave up just a .138 mark after the third inning all year, an indicator that he could actually improve next year if he can get loose and comfortable faster to start his outings.

Although he lacks the polish of Schoeninger – Veras walked 13 and uncorked seven wild pitches – he also was able to put the ball past more hitters with his four-seam fastball and slider, striking out 58. The slightly-built Veras (who is generously listed at six feet) absolutely hammered left-handed opponents, notching far more strikeouts (17) than hits allowed (10) and forcing them to pound the ball into the ground with nearly a four-to-one ground ball ratio. These all portend good things as he moves up the system.

At 20 years old, Veras is not as young as many Dominican players in the Arizona League, but he is one year behind Schoeninger. Both will likely get a shot at the Midwest League to open 2007, but will have to earn a spot along-side the talented starters who were in Orem this season.

Among the other pitchers who spent the majority of the year in the desert, Warner Madrigal is the most interesting. The big righty began his career as a right fielder. After failing to get out of Low-A for three-plus seasons in the States, the Angels decided to move him to the mound. The experiment showed some promise as he regularly hit 96 or better on the radar guns. However, several people in the organization question whether the same lack of commitment that kept him from converting his ability at the plate will hurt him on the mound as well.

He'll be 23 before the season starts next year and will have to prove he deserves a chance to return to Cedar Rapids in the back of the bullpen, but if he does the work that's necessary, he could skyrocket.

Perhaps the biggest wildcard in the deck is former Cal State Fullerton righty Dustin Miller, who signed as an undrafted free agent late in the summer. While he is already 23 years old and collected only 16.1 innings of work mostly out of the bullpen, he struck out 25 hitters against just two walks. Having missed three full years of his college career because of arm problems, Miller must be considered a long shot at this point, but the Diamond Bar native will have many people in the system pulling for him when he reports to Tempe this spring.

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