2015 MadFriars' AZL Pitcher of the Year

At any level of the minors, stats can only tell you so much. That's especially true at the lowest level of the system, where most pitchers work few innings on irregular schedules. Nonetheless, here's what we've learned about the Padres' youngest arms.

Summary: The Padres were aggressive in selecting high-upside pitchers Austin Smith and Jacob Nix with their first two picks in the 2015 draft, but the two teenagers were on a protected throwing plan in the desert and combined to throw only 36.2 innings. With 2013 international bonus baby Mayky Perez also limited to only two innings, it was a strange summer for the AZL Padres.

Even excluding rehabbing pitchers, 32 different pitchers worked for the Padres, ranging from 18-year-old Jean Garcia to 25-year-old Cecil Tanner. Only four pitchers topped 30 innings in Peoria, making this exercise a bit unique.

Overview : 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 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 and high school draftees, though the organization had a number of college arms get some work in on the desert as well. The guys who pitched here this season will be competing for spots on the Fort Wayne staff next spring, though the younger players may be held back for a more gradual promotion plan that would send them to Tri-City in June.

David Jay

Pitcher of the Year: RHP Emmanuel Ramirez 8G, 41.2 IP, 1.51 ERA 37K/7BB

A 21-year-old making his stateside debut after two summers pitching in the Dominican, Ramirez began to put things together this year. In 2013, he walked 49 hitters in only 36.1 innings. He cut that to 10 in 25.2 last year, and then found his groove this season. We often talk about development not being a linear process because different things click for players at different times. They’ve definitely clicked for Ramirez, who was able to continue his success with a late-season promotion to the Northwest League. He’s put himself on the radar as a key arm to watch in 2015.

Runner-Up: LHP Will Headean 14G, 26 IP, 3.12 ERA, 34K/7BB

Headean was one of a trio of Midwest college pitchers who gave the rookie league club much-needed quality innings. Of the three, Headean worked the most and posted the best strikeout rates. The lefty out of Illinois State was a scouting pick in the 13th round, and his professional debut showed that he has the ability to succeed.

Ben Davey

Pitcher of the Year: Emmanuel Ramirez

The AZL is a hitter friendly league, and it was no surprise that the Padres staff had an ERA of north of five. So when one player, especially a starter, has an ERA of less than two it raises more than a few eyebrows. Ramirez was the no doubt choice for pitcher of the year. Even with the late season call up to Tri-City he still tied for the team lead in strikeouts. He had a sub 1 WHIP in a hitter friendly league, and finally found control averaging just 1.5 walks per 9 innings.

Runner-Up: Blake Rogers 14G, 21.1 IP, 2.53 ERA, 22K, 3BB

The runner-up was not as clear cut as the winner. Rogers gets the nod for having a great ERA (2.53) a sub 1 WHIP (0.98), great control (1.3 walks per nine), and more than a strikeout an inning (9.28 K/9). Rogers only appeared out of the bullpen, but still finished in the top 10 on the team in innings with 21.1. Rogers was called up to finish the year in Lake Elsinore and still performed well to the tune of a 3.87 ERA. Even as a 37th round pick, he has a shot at making the Fort Wayne bullpen next year.

Kevin Charity

Pitcher of the Year: Emmanuel Ramirez

Ramirez is the slam dunk, no-brainer choice for AZL pitcher of the year. Opposing batters hit just .185 against the 21-year-old. Like David mentioned, Ramirez cut his walk rate drastically, and has pitched well since a promotion to Tri-City. Ramirez could make the jump to Fort Wayne, just like country-mates Dinelson Lamet and Ernesto Montas did this season. Ramirez should be a guy to watch next season.

Runner-Up: Blake Rogers

Rogers was drafted in the 37th round, and was the lowest-drafted player to sign a professional contract with San Diego. Rogers, 21, is from Norman, Oklahoma, and he attended the University of Oklahoma. Rogers pitched out of the ‘pen for the AZL Friars, and pitched quite well. Rogers posted a 0.98 WHIP, and walked just three batters in 21.1 innings. Strangely, Rogers also hit three batters. He ended the season in Lake Elsinore, and held his own. A 37th rounder won’t be placed on any prospect lists, but Rogers outperformed several pitchers drafted much higher than he was.

John Conniff

Pitcher of the Year: Emmanuel Ramirez

Ramirez began the season in the Dominican Summer League and finished up with Tri-City in the Northwest League. That is always a good indicator of a strong year. Between three levels, the 21-year-old threw 73 innings with 71 strikeouts against only 20 walks. In the short-season leagues of limited innings, spring training conditions and “interesting” defenses, the best indicator of future pitching success is usually the ability to generate strikeouts. Ramirez pitched well after his promotion to Tri-City and should be in competition for the Fort Wayne staff in 2016.

Runner-Up: Will Headen

The West Lafayette, Indiana native is another pitcher who emerged from the desert scrum of the AZL with a chance to return close to home in Fort Wayne next year. As with Ramirez, he has the strikeout-per-inning metric and low number of walks we like to see. The left-hander started and relieved in his career at Illinois State where he struck out 86 in 94.2 innings for the Redbirds in his junior year.

Others of Note: A pair of other college arms stood out in the desert. Lefty Elliot Ashbeck, another pitcher from new scouting director Mark Conner’s old Midwest territory, posted a 3.51 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 25.2 innings at the back of the bullpen. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Nathan Foriest, a lefty from the 35th round, allowed only 12 runners in 16.1 innings of work, whiffing 16 in the process. Though giant righty Trey Wingenter didn’t get as much work, the Auburn product provides an interesting mix if he can find his command. The young arms on the club provide the most intrigue. Smith was uninspiring in his 17.2 innings of work, but such a small sample provides virtually no more information on him than we had when the Padres called his name out of a Florida high school three months ago. Nix was slightly more impressive, but again the results tell us little more. Fellow teenager Jordan Guerrero came out of junior college and was given a slightly bigger workload. With his massive frame and big velocity, he will be a key player to watch from this class, though he should get plenty of development time. Jaimito Lebron, an 18-year-old from the Dominican worked only six innings, but is a guy the organization will work with a lot.

MadFriars’ 2015 AZL Pitcher of the Year: Emmanuel Ramirez

Top Prospect: Jacob Nix

Though the stats mean little here, they aren't completely without information either. We give the slight nod at this point to Nix over Austin Smith, but wouldn't be at all surprised to have them ranked in the other order as soon as next spring. While Nix was limited to only 19.2 innings in seven outings, the big righty from the LA area showed what he offers as a full package. After his unfortunate experience with the Astros in 2014, he had many directions he could have gone, but he seemed genuinely excited to be underway this year. It will be interesting to see how his post-graduate experience at IMG’s Florida academy impacts his development.

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