2014 MadFriars’ NWL Pitcher of the Year

Summary :This year the Emeralds’ pitching staff was characterized by some nice rebound performances by Michael Kelly and Bryan Verbitsky along with impressive debuts by 2014 draftees Zech Lemond and Seth Lucio. Overall the pitching was more down than up, as Eugene finished second to last in overall ERA in the league.

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 : The Northwest League has existed in various forms since 1901. It features a mix of college talent acquired in the current draft, as well as high school and Latin American prospects who worked their way up from rookie ball. Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters in this circuit since the batters must transition from metal bats to wood. Players rarely go straight from the high school ranks to this level, with most having some experience in either the Arizona League or in college.

John Conniff

Player of the Year: RHP Michael Kelly 7-5 4.05 ERA

It’s kind of taken awhile for the former 2011 supplemental first round pick but he finally put together a solid season. He still had his share of bad outings, in four of his 14 starts he gave up five or more earned runs but the good news is in nine of his other starts he allowed one run or less. Kelly, 21, led the Ems in innings pitched at 73.1 and recorded 71 strikeouts to 25 walks. He held the opposition to the second lowest batting average of any starter in the NWL at .224.

Runner-Up: RHP/RP Bryan Verbitsky 2-2 1.67 ERA Verbitsky, 22, a third round draft pick out of Hofstra in 2013, returned to Eugene after brief stops in Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne to find success as the Ems’ closer with a devastating strikeout rate of 42 in just 27 innings. He only gave up 10 walks and 13 hits as he held the opposition to a .144 batting average and was 10 for 11 in save opportunities which was good enough for fourth in the league on a team that had the second worst record in the league. Look for him to occupy the same role for the TinCaps next season.

Ben Davey

Player of the Year: RHP Michael Kelly

It was slim pickings for the Ems’ top pitcher, as Kelly was one of only two Eugene pitchers to have more than eight starts. He led the team in every pitching category as he had nearly double the innings (73.1) as the next closest pitcher; Sam Holland at 40.2. What really made him the pitcher of the year, is for the first time, we saw the domination the Padres saw when they drafted him. As John pointed out, he had nine fantastic starts that nearly made up for his four awful ones.

Runner-Up: RHP Colby Blueberg 2-0, 0.55 ERA

Blueberg was a 24th round pick out of this year’s draft. He is a hard throwing right hander who set the University of Nevada record for lowest ERA in a season at 1.22. In 18 games for the Ems he allowed all of two runs. He had a sub-1 WHIP, and a 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. While he is a right-handed pitcher he held lefties to a .121. batting average, allowing only seven of the 35 lefties he faced to reach base.

Others of Note :RHP/RP Seth Lucio, 21, was very effective coming out of the bullpen as the diminutive righty out of Tennessee Tech had 46 strikeouts against 20 walks in 27.1 innings. If he develops something else to go along with his four-seam fastball those ratios will rise. RHP/SP Adrian De Horta came back from some early season struggles in Fort Wayne, where his control was an issue. He had a few bad outings which blew his ERA up to 5.40 but pitched well enough in the rest to make the organization optimistic for a pitcher that is only 19. RHP/SP Zech Lemond, 21, was a third round pick out of Rice who the team was unsure at first whether he would start or relieve. The organization opted to make him a starter where he shined in eight starts with a 3.41 ERA and a 28/3 strikeout to base-on-balls ratio (Lemond posted a 7.36 ERA in three brief appearances in relief after he just signed).

MadFriars’ 2014 Eugene Emeralds Player of the Year: Michael Kelly

Top Prospect: Zech Lemond. While Kelly had a great year, Lemond is already close to being a finished product. At the end of the year the organization sent the native Houstonian up to AA San Antonio to fill in with the call up of Jesse Hahn to San Diego and he shined in his only appearance throwing four innings of scoreless ball. He has three plus offerings in his two-seamer, spike curve and change-up.

The Padres have said that they will give him a chance to make the opening day rotation in Lake Elsinore and he could move up fast. There is a good chance he will be in AA San Antonio before the end of 2015.

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