However, as always, there were some positives, namely the emergence of Brad Zunica, a monster at six-foot-six, 254 pounds, who the Padres got out in the 15th round. Outfielder Jhonatan Pena and SS Danny Bravo could also become something down the road.
Overview : We used a simple formula for the awards. A player is eligible with whichever team he appeared for the most. 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 Arizona League is the lowest level of the minor leagues in the states. Typically the players at this level are young Latin American players, high school draftees and second-tier college picks. If they play well, a few will get an opportunity to compete for a spot in Fort Wayne next spring. As opposed to 2013, when we saw a record number go from the AZL to the Midwest League, this year’s edition may only have Zunica and Bravo among position players making the jump.
Player of the Year: 1B Brad Zunica .271/.329/.496
There were other players who had slightly better rate statistics, but Zunica led the team in total bases, RBI and home runs - and yes, it is possible him being the best prospect may have leaked into my analysis. Zunica,19, hit all seven of his home runs in August when he hit .288/.350/.616 with eight doubles.
Runner-Up: OF Jhonatan Pena .304/.355/.500
The wiry Dominican product played both corner outfield spots and led Padres with at least 25 games in the AZL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Given the number of outfielders already moving up to Fort Wayne, Pena, 21, could begin next year in Extended Spring and make his trip to the Northwest League in the second half of the season.
Player of the Year: Brad Zunica
As John already mentioned, when you lead the team in most offensive categories, this award is a pretty much guarantee. While seven home runs do not seem like much, that total was third in the league and both players who hit more than him played in more games. That means there’s a good chance that if he had played in 50 games (as opposed to 35) he would have led the league. This was not a good year for the AZL especially not from an offensive standpoint, but when the AZL team was playing well, Zunica was their lead dog.
Runner-Up: OF Alan Garcia .264/.325/.330
Similar to Zunica, Garcia was a last minute signing. The 18-year-old 19th round pick was considered a tough sign, but the Padres were extremely happy when he passed up a scholarship to ASU to go to Peoria. Garcia immediately paid dividends, collecting six hits in his first two games. While his numbers do not seem overly impressive, what is impressive is that in 28 of his 30 games he either reached base or had an RBI. He had the longest hit streak of the year for the Padres at 11, and the games directly before and after the streak he still reached base safely as he was hit by a pitch and scored in both games.
Garcia has an outside shot at making the TinCaps out of Spring Training next year. More than likely he will start at extended and either go to Tri-City in June or head to Fort Wayne if/when there are injuries and the weather warms up.
Player of the Year: Brad Zunica
For me, this is always the hardest team to write about. No first-hand views, no coverage, just a bunch of Latin kids, sprinkled with late-round picks playing with nobody around. Like the guys above, I have to pick Brad Zunica. Zunica has had an interesting path to the Padres: struggled at Miami, played in junior college, then was slated to play at Division II power the University of Tampa.
Zunica hit homers in bunches, including a pair of multi-homer games. His seven home runs were third in the league. Zunica should start next year in Fort Wayne, and will be a guy to keep your eyes on.
Runner-Up: Jhonatan Pena
The AZL Padres didn’t have a lot to write about offensively, but Pena had a nice summer, as he paced the AZL in slugging percentage. He had a stretch where he went 7-for-7 over two games, and seems to have developing power. Admittedly, he is not a guy I know too much about, but his numbers looked impressive. My assumption is that he is playing in Pasco next summer.
Player of the Year: Jhonatan Pena
As impressive as Zunica’s homer total was, Pena had a better all-around season, reaching base more, posting a better slugging percentage, striking out less and providing value in the field most of the games he played. The 21-year-old was repeating after a rough trip through the league in 2014, but he put things together nicely this time around. Signed just before his 18th birthday out of the Dominican, Pena has put himself in position for a chance to make the jump to full-season ball next spring.
Runner-Up: Brad Zunica
The thunder in the bat is hard to ignore. After collecting half of his junior college club’s homers this spring, he had more than a third of the Arizona League team’s round-trippers in his professional debut. Obviously there were more strikeouts than you’d ideally like to see, but Zunica seems to fit in the mold of players the Texas Rangers preferred when A.J. Preller was with the organization.
Others of Note: Beyond the players already named, outfielders Josh Magee and Aldemar Burgos offer some interesting projection, but both 2015 draftees were physically overmatched at times. Shortstop Daniel Bravo didn’t get the attention he might have because of the teenagers playing above him in the system, but the 20-year-old had a solid year both at the plate and in the field. The youngest guy on the roster was (barely) 17-year-old Bryant Aragon, the Padres first international signing under the current regime. He arrived in spring training with a shoulder issue, but still earned regular playing time as a designated hitter this summer. A left-handed hitter with a fast bat, Aragon is a long way off, but will be an interesting guy to watch in coming years.
MadFriars’ 2015 AZL Player of the Year: Zunica
Top Prospect: Brad Zunica
Power plays, and Zunica has plenty of it. The left-handed slugger made a statement with his performance in August, but he’s going to have to keep doing it with the bat at every level because he won’t offer much other value. Because he graduated high school early, he’s still only 19 years old even though he has two years of collegiate ball under his belt. That gives him time to continue to make adjustments as he figures out how to keep his hands quick enough to the ball to make his power work against more advanced pitching.