The Padres somewhat surprisingly sent their top pitching prospect Matt Wisler up to AAA a month into the season, where he initially struggled before coming on in the end. Jason Lane had a truly remarkable and different season at 37. The bullpen had quality arms in Jerry Sullivan and Dennis O’Grady.
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: Triple-A is made up of a mix of players on their way up, on their way down and just hanging on. At this level, many players are good enough to be in the major leagues but, thanks to roster configuration, organizational needs, and perceived or real shortcomings, they are just waiting for their shot. The Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Division features six of the most offense-inflating parks in affiliated ball, making it difficult to divine great meaning from many players’ stat lines on the circuit.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP/SP Matt Wisler 9-5 5.01 ERA
Wisler’s ERA was a full two points higher than it ever was in his career, but don’t let that fool you. He is still one of the top arms in the system and if there is an opening in the rotation in spring he will be given a chance to compete.
After a very rough first five starts, coming off of a dominant April in San Antonio with a 2.10 ERA in 30 innings, Wisler struggled with a 8.85 ERA. The good news is that he improved every month culminating in August where he was 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA in 35 innings. For the season he struck out 101 batters against 36 walks.
Runner-Up: LHP/SP Jason Lane 9-9 4.51 ERA
There should be a special category for what Jason Lane accomplished this year. He led the Chihuahuas in innings pitched with 149.2, tied with Wisler for the team lead in wins and hit .362/.444/.580 as a pitcher and occasional DH/1B. Coming off of the bench as a pinch-hitter, which many will tell you is one of the toughest jobs in baseball, he hit .350/.481/.550.
As a pitcher Lane is the quintessential crafty lefty relying on location and movement as opposed to velocity. In 19 of his 24 starts he threw six innings or more and only walked 26 batters while striking out 77.
In one of the better stories in all of baseball, Lane made his pitching debut in the major leagues seven years after his last appearance in the major leagues as a position player. He threw 4.1 scoreless innings in relief and got the call again on the road against Atlanta where he started and threw six innings, giving up only one run. After both big league stints he was designated for assignment and sent back to El Paso.
In a somewhat recurring theme with the Chihuahuas, I still had trouble figuring out why there was not a place for a rare two-way player like Lane on the big club.
Pitcher of the Year: LHP Jason Lane
He led the club in innings pitched, had the best WHIP among starters and had the best ERA among starters. Why wouldn’t he be the pitcher of the year? Not to mention the fact that he provided a veteran leadership in the clubhouse and pitched well twice in San Diego. Even when he was sent back down, he kept his head up and just went back to work.
There’s not much more you could ask for from a pitcher of the year, especially with what he did at the plate.
Runner-Up: RHP Matt Wisler
Wisler was our top prospect entering the year, but for the vast majority of the year he struggled. A lot of people point to the horrendous outing he had with the Padres in the final tune up game at USD, as something that threw him into a tail spin. Whatever it was, this was something of a lost year for Wisler.
He did manage to finish strong going 3-1 over his final month with a 3.60 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 35 innings. However hitters were still hitting .294 against him and in El Paso the number was a little higher at .312. Yes, those are not great stats, but the fact that Wisler is still the runner-up shows the state of the Chihuahuas’ pitching staff.
The bad year aside Wisler is still a great pitching prospect with serious potential. Hopefully an offseason to get his head on straight, and a preseason with Padres’ pitching coach Darren Balsley and manager Buddy Black should help. In the spring look for Wisler to be back trying to compete for a spot in the Padres’ rotation.
Others of Note: RHP Jerry Sullivan took over as the closer late in the season and was 12 for 12 in save opportunities with a 2.65 ERA. Sullivan, a third round selection in 2009 out of Oral Roberts, struck out 39 in 34 innings against only 10 walks and could be someone that the Padres and other teams should want. RHP/RP Dennis O’Grady was better than his 4.42 ERA as his 7-1 record attests. The five-foot-ten right-hander from Duke is a former college infielder and one of the more athletic pitchers in the system. He’s aggressive and can sometimes catch too much of the plate. RHP/RP Stephen Kohlscheen came over in the Chris Denorfia trade and could have a shot at the big league bullpen next year with a 35/8 strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio in 38.1 innings. Top prospect RHP Keyvius Sampson had a tough year bouncing between starting and going in relief with a 6.68 ERA as he struggled to find his command and confidence. RF/RHP Jeff Francoeur may have found himself another career. In eight games on the mound (7.1 IP) he allowed just three earned runs, while striking out five.
MadFriars’ 2014 PCL Pitchers of the Year: Matt Wisler and Jason Lane
Top Prospect: Matt Wisler is still easily the best pitching prospect for the Chihuahuas and possibly the organization. The Padres moved Wisler up to El Paso because they wanted to put him in the toughest possible environment after he had experienced uninterrupted success at every other level, and for awhile they succeeded as Wisler struggled for the first time in his career.
But he also showed the Padres what he was made of by improving every month as he learned to command his fastball down in the zone better. If his changeup has come around with the consistency that he believes, he could have a shot at being in a major league starting rotation at 22.