Approach: We use a simple formula for the awards. A player is eligible with whichever team he appeared for the most. For the top prospect, we take into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
Level: The San Diego Padres High-A affiliate in the California League is mainly comprised of second and third year players. While Lake Elsinore is a pitcher’s park by Cal League standards, that’s more a reflection of how many stadiums on the circuit are more similar to an X-box game than typical ballparks.
Player of the Year: RF Hunter Renfroe .295/.370/.565
Hunter played in 69 games with the Storm and 60 with the AA San Antonio Missions, but was much more productive in Lake Elsinore and made impressive strides in his first full year of professional baseball. After a relatively slow start in April, that was punctuated by 40 strikeouts in 114 plate appearances, Renfroe, 22, cut down on his strikeouts and posted an OPS of 1,019 in May and .909 in June before being called up. He had 40 extra-base hits in 69 games and by most accounts has the potential to be a solid corner outfielder who has the ability to fill in at center field.
Runner-up: CF Mallex Smith .327/.414/.475
Technically Mallex played 10 more games in Fort Wayne this year but we are going to include him in Lake Elsinore where he should have been to start the year. First, the easy statistic; he led the entire minor leagues in stolen bases with 88 in 124 attempts. The left-handed hitting outfielder finished off the season with a .310/.403/.432 slash line overall, played a solid center field and had the arm to play in right. Smith, 21, has a very good understanding of what he can and can’t do and might be the best leadoff hitter in the system.
Player of the Year: RF Hunter Renfroe
At the time of his promotion Renfroe was second in the entire minor leagues in extra-base hits behind only the Cubs’ Kris Bryant. Renfroe hit for average, power and on a team that really struggled in the first half to find anything offensively. Renfroe gave the Storm a much needed boost.
Runner-up: SS Diego Goris .324/.347/.514
The “free” Diego Goris campaign seemed to go on throughout most of June and July until he was finally promoted to AA San Antonio. At the time of his promotion Goris, 23, was leading the team in batting average at .324, second on the team in home runs with 13 and leading in doubles at 27 while playing an above-average shortstop defensively.
He didn’t have the same success in AA, and it will be interesting to see what they do with Goris with Jose Rondon more than likely starting at shortstop next year in AA.
Others of note: The player that will start at shortstop next year for the Missions, and regarded by many as the best prospect in the Huston Street deal, is Jose Rondon, 20, who hit .301/.371/.390 and showed some impressive range on defense. C Dane Phillips, 23, had an impressive bounce-back year hitting .279/.343/.494 with 30 extra-base hits in 68 games. If he continues to improve defensively, the left-handed hitting catcher is going to have an opportunity at higher levels because of his bat. There is a good chance he could also see more time at first base next year. OF Alberth Martiniez, 23, is an intriguing prospect, capable of doing a great many things on the field, but still struggles with consistency as he hit .268/.322/.397 for the season in an up-and-down year. OF Jeremy Baltz, 23, struggled, but had a good August at .276/.356/.514 and should be in the running for the last outfield spot in San Antonio in 2015.
2014 MadFriars’ Lake Elsinore Storm Player of the Year: Hunter Renfroe
Top Prospect: Hunter Renfroe. The player that Renfroe resembles most in the Padres’ system is Rymer Liriano, a player with immense tools and talent but raw skills, which were somewhat exposed in his first go-around in AA. The initial plan was to leave him in High-A for a full season but he exceeded expectations and was sent to San Antonio where he hit .299/.360/.481 in July before running out of gas in August.
As with Liriano, Renfroe has a chance to develop into the type of athletic power hitting outfielder that Padres’ fans have been craving. The key for Hunter will be the continued development of his ability to improve his plate discipline and almost as important; just keep playing in more games. As a freshman at Mississippi State Renfroe only played in 14 games and left college with only 570 plate appearances, which is a season for some players.
Still for Padres’ fans the though the future could be bright with an outfield of Liriano and Renfroe possibly only a year or two away.