Padres' 2011 Texas League Player of the Year

Summary: The Missions won their second Texas League championship since becoming affiliated with San Diego this year. The last one came in 2008 when the team featured future Padres Chase Headley, Nick Hundley and Will Venable.

This year's version was truly a special team, winning 100 games despite losing some of its best talent, including James Darnell, Anthony Bass and Brad Brach, to big league call-ups.

The core of the team, including the starting outfield of Jaff Decker, Blake Tekotte and Dan Robertson, also won the 2009 Midwest League championship for Fort Wayne under manager Doug Dascenzo, who left the organization at the end of the year to take a position with the Atlanta Braves.

Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we took into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.

Level: Double-A baseball is where the rubber meets the road and you find out who can really play. Anyone who makes it to this level has the talent to play in the major leagues; it's more of a question of how often they can replicate their top performances to keep on advancing.

As is noted often in any discussion of the San Antonio club, Nelson Wolff Stadium's swirling winds make it one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in professional baseball.

John Conniff

Player of the Year: CF Blake Tekotte .285/.393/.498

Despite four short stints with the big club, Tekotte, 24, still found time to play in 106 regular season games in San Antonio and six Texas League playoffs games, where he hit .320. Arguably the best defensive center fielder in the Padres' organization, he had 48 extra-base hits, including 19 that went over the wall. Away from the Wolff, he hit .315/.414/.553 and stole 36 bases in 48 attempts.

Runner-up: 2B/1B Vince Belnome .333/.432/.603

If Belnome, 23, hadn't missed about six weeks of the season from mid-July through August, he would have had my vote for team MVP. Still, as the numbers indicate, Vince put up the best line of his professional career, particularly in regard to power numbers where he had 19 doubles and 17 home runs in 75 games along with 62 RBIs.

Belnome, who was a college teammate of 3B Jedd Gyorko, is kind of a left-handed hitting version of him. Both players are extremely disciplined hitters who take their walks and extra-base hits. For someone who put up a .603 slugging percentage he had an amazing 47/59 BB/K ratio.

Ben Davey

Player of the Year: 2B Vince Belnome

Even with missing six weeks in the middle of the season, Belnome was the team MVP. While most people need some transition time to get back in the feel for the league, Belnome came back and reached base safely in all seven games, hit in six of them and had multiple hits in five of the games. He also had three home runs, eight runs scored and nine RBIs with a fantastic 1.600 OPS after he came back from injury.

Runner-up: 3B James Darnell .333/434/.604

At the time of his promotion, James Darnell, 24, was the team MVP. By the all-star break, he had already compiled 43 extra-base hits, 62 runs scored and 62 RBIs, with more base-on-balls (52) than strikeouts (48). It took until mid- August for Jaff Decker and Blake Tekotte to pass him in home runs. He finished with a 1.038 OPS, just higher than Belnome's.

David Jay

Player of the Year: 3B James Darnell

After a very disappointing 2010, which included mechanical tweaks and injuries, Darnell returned to San Antonio to open the year. It quickly became apparent things were going to be very different. In April, the 24-year-old posted an absurd .410/.520/.705 line.

By the time he was finally promoted in July, he was pacing the club in essentially every offensive category. While his defense remains a question mark, Darnell reestablished himself as one of the system's top offensive prospects this year, and is positioned for a role with the big league club next year once he recovers from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.

Runner-up: 2B Vince Belnome

In 29 fewer plate appearances, Belnome put up nearly identical numbers to Darnell's. They both hit .333 for the Missions, while Belnome's 1.035 OPS was just three points behind Darnell. His strikeout rate was slightly higher and his walk rate was slightly lower, but both numbers were quite impressive overall. Aside from the time lost to injury, it's hard to consider 2011 anything other than a brilliant success for the Mountaineer.

2011 MadFriars' San Antonio Missions Player of the Year: Vince Belnome

Others of note: OF Jaff Decker had an amazing April but struggled to find consistency the rest of the season. Even in a "bad" year, he ended up with 29 doubles, 103 walks, 19 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .373 on-base percentage at 21 years of age. Cody Decker spent considerable time on the disabled list after he hit 10 home runs in April but was still able to come back and earn the Texas League Playoffs MVP award with three home runs. OF Dan Robertson,25, continued to do what he does best, help his team win. Robertson stole 20 bases, hit .283/.370/.393 and was another Mission who had more walks (55) than strikeouts (51) to go along with great outfield defense. OF/1B Sawyer Carroll,25, repeated the level and put up nice bounce-back numbers, hitting .267/.352/.463 with 18 home runs. SS Beemer Weems,23, had a great April/May (.300/.400/.500) in his first season after abandoning switch hitting. He struggled in June before spending the rest of the year on the disabled list after being hit just below the eye with a fastball. According to the Padres he will be back next year. As has been reported before at MadFriars, he is easily the best defensive infielder in the system.

Top Prospect: Jaff Decker (Unanimous)

While the year was a severe disappointment for the 21-year-old outfielder, he still owns one of the best bats in the system. Often, Jaff was too passive at the plate, trying to get a perfect pitch to hit, instead of simply a good pitch to hit. This got him into too many pitchers' counts and set him up for trouble. But Decker is a very smart player who had never failed before.

As he heads to the Arizona Fall League, expect him to consolidate some of the lessons learned and position himself for a huge 2012. Blog commentators who blather about his weight should be disregarded as he has re-sculpted his body since the draft and shown above average athleticism on the field. He will have both the glove and bat to be a high quality corner outfielder, and should be ready for the big leagues by the start of the 2013 season.

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