2015 MadFriars' NWL Player of the Year

Summary: In their first year as a Padres affiliate, and without any high draft picks, the Tri-City Dust Devils shocked everyone by posting their best record since 2011 to advance all the way to the Northwest League finals before losing to the Hillsboro Hops.

On the field they were led by a strong pitching staff but a few late round picks, namely shortstop Peter Van Gansen and third baseman SDSU’s Ty France, made their mark.

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 on 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.

Gesa Stadium in Pasco, Washington, the home of the Dust Devils, is considered a pitcher’s park.

John Conniff

Player of the Year: SS Peter Van Gansen .267/.352/.352

Van Gansen, 21, was the lone Dust Devil position player originally named to the Northwest League All-Star team, and he was the glue that held the team’s tight infield defense together with only five errors in 67 games. He was tied for the team lead in total bases, had 15 extra-base hits in 304 plate appearances and was six for seven in stolen base attempts.

Runner-Up: 1B/3B Ty France .294/.425/.391

When you are a 34th-round draft pick, the future is not exactly wide open. But Ty France, 20, turned it into an opportunity with a very good season in the Northwest League and put himself on the organization’s radar. France was second in the league in on-base percentage and finished in the top ten with his .294 batting average.

Ben Davey

Player of the Year: SS Peter Van Ganesn

While statistics are the first thing an outsider looks at when evaluating a player, Van Gansen was so much more. He was the consistent top-a of-the-order threat, and constantly came up with the big hit in the clutch. He struggled down the stretch hitting just .224 in the second half, but his .309/.386/.412 numbers in the first half propelled the team to the first half title and when he slumped, so did the rest of the team.

Runner-Up: RF Jose Carlos Urena .258/.390/.409

Urena finished in the Top 10 in the league in home runs (7), third in the league in RBI (45), and led the league with 47 walks. While Urena did struggle at times with making contact (59 strikeouts in 63 games), the difference from last year to this was staggering. Urena improved in every stat category, including nearly tripling his walk rate from last year in Eugene, while lowering his strikeout rate; increasing his extra base hits, his line drive percentage, and nearly doubling his average. Pretty much name the numeber and Urena either led the team, or drastically improved from last year.

Kevin Charity

Player of the Year: 1B Ty France

France was the best player all year for the Dust Devils, and should have garnered a few votes for league MVP. France had a solid career at SDSU, but I doubt anyone thought that a 34th round pick would amount to much in the professional ranks. France was second in the league in on-base percentage, fourth in batting average and was third in the league in doubles. France only hit one homer, but the former Aztec showed an ability to get on-base, and even had a 38-game on-base streak for the Dust Devils.

Runner-Up: SS Peter Van Gansen

Van Gansen, this year’s 12th rounder was the glue for the Dust Devils offense. He slumped a bit in the second half, but still produced solid numbers overall. Van Gansen is good defensively, and can work the count. He led the team with four triples, and finished with a solid on-base percentage.

David Jay

Player of the Year: Ty France

France had the best average and on-base percentage on the club, and was second on the team with a .391 slugging percentage. He also performed while making the adjustment to a new position at first base. While he’ll need to hit the ball with more authority at higher levels to force pitchers away from the zone, the natural bat-to-ball skill and ability to work the zone made France an important part of the Dust Devil lineup all year.

Runner-Up: Jose Urena

While Van Gansen’s defensive value and contributions at the top of the lineup made a difference, I give the nod here to Urena, who was the engine in the middle of the Dust Devil lineup. The 20-year old repeated the league after a disappointing showing in 2014, and his power in the cleanup spot all year was a difference-maker for the team. The big right-handed slugger also showed he is more than a one-dimensional player, swiping eight bases in 10 attempts.

Others of Note: Heading into the season, Carlos Belen was seen as a potential break-out player. And while good things happened when the 19-year-old hit the ball, he simply missed way too often. Belen struck out in 40% of his plate appearances, so despite having a healthy ISO power mark of .165, he simply wasn’t able to provide significant value at the plate. Austin Allen was the top position player the Padres took in the draft this year, valued more for his bat than his defense behind the plate. The 21-year-old out of Division II Florida Tech really struggled in his first month of professional ball, hitting only .196 with only a few extra-base hits. But the Missouri native rebounded with a strong .287/.352/.426 line in the second half. Rod Boykin remains an exciting but raw talent. The 20-year-old outfielder, drafted as a very young high school pick in 2013, has great speed and some pop in his bat, but doesn’t often get to the power because of severe contact issues. He whiffed in 30 percent of his plate appearances which pushed him to the bottom of the Devils lineup, but he still shared the team lead with 19 stolen bases. Catcher A.J. Kennedy, a 30th-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton, was a quiet team leader for Tri-City, posting a .276 average in 24 games. Outfielder Justin Pacchioli showed formidible on-base skills, leading the team in on-base percentage at .385, but only posted a batting average of .245 and had four extra-base hits in 244 plate appearances.

MadFriars’ 2015 Tri-City Dust Devils Player of the Year: Ty France

Top Prospect: Jose Urena

While he’s still a work in progress, Urena has a carrying tool in his powerful bat, and he profiles easily as a corner outfielder at higher levels. He’ll need to find a way to make more consistent contact without sacrificing his in-game power, but he cut his K rate almost in half this year and has shown an ability to respond to coaching. Urena is a guy who has a chance to click.

Tomorrow we take a look at some of the top arms for San Diego in the Northwest League this past season.

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