You hear thing like "pitching wins ballgames" and "pitching is 80% of the game." Well, the Visalia Oaks finished third in the California League with a 4.14 ERA but seventh in overall record because they could not put runs on the board in a hitter-friendly environment. They finished last in team batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, and runs scored. They even finished last in doubles despite having the runner up for the league's lead in doubles on their squad.
One saving grace for the offense was that they were able to put the ball in play frequently, as they finished with the second fewest number of strikeouts among the 10 California League teams. There was more to like pitching-wise, since the team issued the second fewest free passes in the league, but they also allowed the second most home runs.
For individual awards, it came down to two players on offense, although Evan Frey would have certainly thrown his baseball cap into the mix had he been promoted from South Bend earlier. The pitching provides us with a smorgasbord of choices, but we think we've found one pitcher who stands above the rest.
Position Player of the Year - LF Peter Clifford
Pedro Ciriaco made some incredible strides this season. He let the Oaks with a .310 batting average and 85 runs scored and led the entire organization with 40 steals in 49 tries (82%). This came after a season in which he batted .251 and stole 20 bases in 31 attempts (65%). His defense improved even more; Ciriaco turned 32 errors in 2007 into 23 errors in 2008 while learning and excelling at a new defensive position in second base (.985 fielding percentage and 30 double plays in 38 games).
But Ciriaco's improvement came while repeating the same level. There was one member of the Oaks that had a similar impact on the team's offense after skipping two levels of play. That man's name is Peter Clifford.
Clifford hit very well at Missoula last year, as you might expect from a 23-year old playing in Rookie Ball. What you might not have figured is that he would play just as well at Hi-A Visalia after skipping both Short Season Yakima and Low-A South Bend. Clifford led the Oaks in SLG (.458) OPS (.843), doubles (41), RBI (75) and walks (75). He finished second on the team in OBP (.385), home runs (11), hits (134) and runs scored (81).
Taking it even further, his 11 homers, 75 RBI, and 81 runs translates into 155 runs produced, meaning that Clifford was involved in a remarkable 25% of the Oaks' modest 623 runs scored. Those 41 doubles were the most by any player in the Diamondbacks farm system.
If you wanted to nitpick, you would note that Clifford batted just .263 after the All-Star break and only .235 in August, wearing down a bit in his first full season of play. He finished on the upswing, however, hitting safely in eight of his final nine games with six doubles, good for a .382 batting average.
Pitcher of the Year - RHP Barry Enright
Josh Ellis (2.40 7 SV), Kyler Newby (2.69 16 SV), and Scott Maine (3.19 5 SV) each pitched well out of the bullpen for the Visalia Oaks. Bryan Augenstein (2-4 3.89), Chad Beck (6-5 3.98), and Evan Scribner (2-2 2.45) each threw very well after getting promoted from South Bend in mid-season. Cesar Valdez dominated in 15 starts (10-3 2.53) before moving up to Mobile. But no pitcher did more for the Oaks over the course of the entire season than did Barry Enright.
Enright led the Oaks with 12 wins and led the entire California League with 29 games started, 164.1 innings, and 143 strikeouts. 16 of his final 22 starts on the season were quality starts, and Enright put up a 3.52 ERA in that span.
The workhorse struggled in the April, perhaps due to high expectations after allowing no earned runs in 2007, perhaps due to an adjustment period in returning to the rotation. But even when Enright struggled, he didn't walk batters, instead finishing the season allowing only one walk per 4.7 innings pitched, one of the best rates in the organization. He never walked more than three batters in one start.
Ultimately, Enright is a guy who just knows how to pitch. He doesn't overpower every hitter that he faces, but can obviously miss bats when he needs to. He can also succeed by inducing the ground ball, which he perhaps relied upon too heavily in the first half of the season. More than anything, he is a workhorse with impeccable control who doesn't back down from hitters, which makes him a great fit with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
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