Level: The Arizona League is the lowest level of the minor leagues in the states. In addition to young international players making their stateside debuts, the AZL features high school draftees from the last two years and second-tier college picks making their professional debuts.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP T.J. Weir 2-0 0.42 ERA
Weir, 22, was by far the best starter of the bunch with the lowest ERA by three full points of anyone that made at least four starts. In 21.2 innings appearances and six starts he held the opposition to a .151 batting average with a 24/6 strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio. The 2014 seventeenth round pick out of Ball State is not the biggest guy in the world at six feet, 205 lbs. and was a two-way player (shortstop) in his four years with the Cardinals hitting .284/.344/.438 in his junior year. The Kokomo, Indiana native should find a way onto the TinCaps’ pitching staff for 2015.
Runner-Up: LHP/RP Kyle McGrath 1-1 0.79 ERA
McGrath, 21, is another late round college pick from the University of Louisville that also may have a chance. In 22.2 innings he struck out 22 batters against only six walks as the opposition could only post a .110 batting average against him. McGrath also averaged a strikeout per inning for the Cardinals this year in college with 40 in 40.1 innings against only 14 walks.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP T.J. Weir
Weir was one of the lone bright spots on the Peoria pitching staff. John already gave his numbers, but I will give one more: 117. It represents the number of strikeouts Weir had his senior season at Ball State, that was good enough for ninth in the country. Of course with so many strikeouts also came a lot of innings, which is why the Padres held Weir to only a few innings per start. It will be interesting to see what he can do in Fort Wayne next year without an innings restriction.
Runner-Up: RHP Tyler Wood 0-0 1.66 ERA
Speaking of late round college picks, Tyler Wood was drafted in the 37th round. What makes him the runner up for player of the year was his control. Similar to Kelich last year, he dominated the AZL by being able to spot every one of his pitches (0 walks, 22 strikeouts in 22 innings). He is a bigger pitcher at 6’3” 225 lbs., but doesn’t overpower hitters with his fastball. Hopefully he can have a better full season A ball than Kelich this past year.
Others of Note: There are two other lefties that should draw some interest in spring. LHP Taylor Cox, 20, a fourteenth round draft pick from the University of Tennessee-Martin, had a 3.71 ERA and a 2-1 record in four starts and should have an outside shot of making the Fort Wayne rotation and Elvin Liriano, 21, pitched multiple innings out of the pen and put up good numbers out of the pen with 34 strikeouts in 33.2 innings against only 15 walks for a 1-1 record and 1.34 ERA. He held the opposition to a .139 batting average and was surprisingly much tougher on righties (.102) than against lefties (.259). LHP Taylor Aikenhead, a 32nd round pick out of Cal-State Bakersfield, was 4-0 in 22.2 innings and a pair of starts with 30 strikeouts against only four walks. LHP Alex Costanza, 19, was second on the team in innings pitched with 36 has a big arm and had some good outings with a 4.75 ERA and 29 strikeouts against 14 walks; but is probably a year away from the Midwest League.
MadFriars’ 2014 AZL Pitcher of the Year: T.J. Weir
Top Prospect: T.J. Weir There are obviously many more bigger and younger arms than Weir on the squad but he may be a better athlete than any of them too. An all-conference performer in three sports in high school and a two-way player in college he has the athletic ability to repeat his delivery and throw for multiple innings. He should be able to make next year’s TinCaps’ roster as a starter or a swingman coming out of the bullpen with a chance to move up fast.
Some of the bigger younger arms like Costanza have much more upside but at this point in their careers it’s very hard to get an accurate gauge on what they may or may not be capable off based on complex leagues.