Level: A league that hat existed in various forms since 1901, it features a mix of college talent acquired in the subsequent draft and high school and Latin American prospects that worked their way up from rookie ball. The Eugene Emeralds were no exception in this mix. Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters in this circuit since the batters must transition from aluminum bats to wood.
Pitcher of the Year:
6-3, 2.97 ERA
A sure thing each time out, Branham was the stopper every fifth day, stringing together quality starts. Armed with a low-90s fastball and quality secondary pitches, he worked in the zone and forced the opposition to put the ball in play. He struggled with left-handed hitters but also allowed one run or less in six of his final eight outings. The first inning was a bugaboo, as 11 of the 20 earned runs he gave up came during that frame. The deeper he went, the stronger he was.
0-2, 1.53 ERA, four saves
Marona was the go to guy in the late innings for Eugene. The 22-year-old began the year by allowing runs in three straight before giving up one run over his final 12.2 innings before moving up to Fort Wayne. He struck out 13.2 batters per nine innings while issuing just three walks during his tenure with the Ems. Marona also stranded five of the six runners he inherited while limiting righties to a .140 average against.
Pitcher of the Year:
This season, the Padres put out one of their best short-season staff in a long time with Keyvius Sampson, Matt Lollis and Adys Portillo, but Branham put up the best numbers over a full season. In 14 starts, he allowed less than two runs a game to go along with a 56-to-15 K-to-BB ratio. As Denis noted above, he struggled against left-handed hitters, who had a .330 batting average against him, but he found a way to minimize the damage only giving up a single home run in 60.2 innings pitched.
3-3, 3.56 ERA
Sampson, 19, was the most dominant pitcher with the Emeralds before arm troubles in August marred his last two starts. In the first two months he struck out 53 batters in 27.2 innings pitched, allowing only 12 earned runs in eight starts as batters hit .200 against him in June and .198 in July. Sampson has outstanding command of both his four- and two-seam fastballs to go along with a developing changeup and solid curveball. His arm injury, which was two years in the making, could cloud his future a bit and potentially compromise his ability to pitch in 2011.
Others of Note: Aaron Everett was the man Eugene went to in tight games. He produced with a 5-2 record and 2.76 ERA. Chris Franklin can dial it up to 94 mph but caught a little too much of the plate. He is a reliever to keep an eye on, especially as his changeup improves. Dexter Carter seemed to find a rhythm late in the year, as his constant battle with mechanics continues. Pedro Martinez has a wealth of talent but needs to find location - he is destined for surgery and left Arizona after being sent down. Adys Portillo turned a corner late in the season but still needs to throw strikes more consistently.
Manager's Comments: "The stuff got better – he has command with three pitches. He was our most consistent pitcher in the second half." – manager Greg Riddoch on Matt Branham.
Top Prospect (Denis): Adys Portillo.
The right-hander out of Venezuela has the pedigree to be a top end starter. The focus continues to be on ironing out his mechanics. There are times when he is too deliberate and slow in his motion, lacking rhythm and refined location. Portillo has a mid-90s fastball with improving secondary pitches. He could make a Simon Castro type jump in the coming year.
Top Prospect (John): Keyvius Sampson.
When Sampson is healthy, he is everyone you want to see in a starting pitcher, he pounds the zone, strikes batters out and doesn't allow runs. He was one of three high profile Padres' draft picks in 2009 along with Donavan Tate and Everett Williams and easily had the best year of all of them. Sampson is not the biggest pitcher in the world at 6-foot, 185-pounds, but he generates tremendous arm speed and deception to go along with a fastball that sits in the low-90s. The key to his future, as with most pitchers, is going to be the health of his arm.
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