Largely on the back of a pitching staff that gave up fewer runs than all but one team on the circuit, the Dust Devils earned a spot in the playoffs by clinching the first-half division title and took Hillsboro to a decisive game in the championship series.
Led by a strong starting rotation and a dominant bullpen, the Dust Devils staff was in the top two of the league in nearly every statistical category. Nine different pitchers tossed at least 20 innings and finished with an ERA at or below 3.00, and as a club, they posted nearly three times as many strikeouts as walks. That’s a recipe for success at any level.
Overview : We use 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.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Walker Lockett 2.83 ERA 47K, 10BB in 57.1 IP
Ever since he was selected in the fourth round as the “other” high school arm in the Padres’ class of 2012, the big question on Lockett was whether he’d ever get healthy enough to let his talent shine through on the mound. This year, it finally came together for him, and he was the ace of the staff for eight weeks, posting an ERA that was third in the league to that point. So the obvious question is, what happened that led to his demotion back to Peoria at that point. We don’t know anything on that front aside from a generic comment on “personal reasons” the club provided to explain the weird move. You have to hope that the 21-year-old from Florida will grow from the experience and come back next year ready to build on what was an encouraging on-field performance.
Runner-Up: RHP Phil Maton 1.38 ERA 58K, 5BB, 0HR in 32.2 IP
The last time the Padres had a reliever put up these sorts of video game numbers in the lower minors was when Kevin Quackenbush came into the system. With a three-pitch arsenal developed as a collegiate starter, Maton simply dominated hitters in the Northwest League, striking out 46% of the hitters who came to the plate against him this year. The Illinois native is much more than a thrower, managing the strike zone efficiently all year and walking only five batters. It will be interesting to see where the organization places him to open the 2016 season.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Phil Maton
Maton is going to get quite a few comparisons to Quack for his incredible numbers in short season. However his stuff is also remarkably similar to the current Padres’ reliever. Neither pitcher has dominating stuff that you would typically see from a reliever putting up huge numbers. What they both do have is a bulldog mentality, low 90s fastball, and solid secondary pitches. Quackenbush breezed through the minors, so it will be interesting to see if Maton can maintain a similar trajectory.
Runner-Up: LHP Elvin Liriano 2.23 ERA, 54 K, 16 BB, in 36.1 IP
If it wasn’t for Maton, people would be going on about how dominating of a season Liriano had. Liriano was second on the team in wins (with four), and was third on the team in appearances (21). Liriano did have issues with command at times, but he was able to consistently pitch out of jams, and pitched well in any situation. It will be interesting to see if the Padres keep him in the bullpen or give him a shot at the rotation next year in Fort Wayne.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Phil Maton
Maton was unhittable in the Northwest League, and was an easy selection for pitcher of the year. Maton averaged an absolutely absurd 16 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Not bad for a 20th round pick. Maton could follow a path similar to Ryan Butler, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him open up next season in Lake Elsinore. Maton should be a starter next season, but if he stays in the bullpen, he can shoot up the ladder much more quickly.
Runner-Up: RHP Brett Kennedy 0-2, 2.70 ERA, 30IP, 11BB, 38K in 30IP
I gave some consideration to Walker Lockett, but his strange demotion to the Arizona League took him out for me. Kennedy, 21, was the Padres’ 11th round pick in June, out of Fordham University. Kennedy was limited to 3-4 innings a start, but he held opposing hitters to a .173 average. Kennedy would have a sub-2 ERA, if not for one poor outing. He averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and added seven shutout innings in the Northwest League playoffs. Kennedy could establish himself as the ace of the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2016.
Pitcher of the Year: Phil Maton I like what Lockett did, but the biggest reason to select him is that he threw more quality innings than his teammates - always a good reason - because most of them were on pitch limits. It’s a valid point, but in my opinion the better metrics are that Maton had more strikeouts in nearly half the innings that Locket threw, a better ERA and held the opposition to a .192 batting average as compared to Lockett’s at .230. It’s close, but the 58 strikeouts in 32.2 innings against only five walks are the numbers that carried the day for him.
Runner-Up: Walker Lockett
As I wrote above it was close. Regardless of what the innings limitation was for his teammates, the only starter that came remotely close to equalling his value was Brett Kennedy; and Lockett threw nearly double the innings of Kennedy despite missing the last three weeks of the season. He has great size at six-foot-five and 225 pounds and should be a big part of either Fort Wayne or Lake Elsinore staff going into 2016.
Others of Note: This staff was deep with interesting and promising arms. Among the starters not mentioned above, Jose Castillo and Adrian De Horta have the biggest upside. Castillo, the lefty Venezuelan included in the Wil Myers trade, is still just 19 years old and three years removed from being one of the highest-profile international free agent signees. After missing much of 2014, he was solid, but not spectacular in his first season with the Padres, giving up 54 hits and 16 walks in 52.1 innings, while recording 35 strikeouts. De Horta, 20, missed the first half of the year, and then returned to action with a step backward to repeat the Northwest League. He struggled with his command, walking 20 in 38.2 innings, but was otherwise impressive as he posted a 3.26 ERA. Big righty Trevor Megill, a seventh-round pick out of Loyola Marymount this summer, had 27 strikeouts in 20 innings of heavily controlled work out of the bullpen. Rubber-armed Australian Sam Holland had a rough first half in the Cal League, but came back with a dominant stretch for the Dust Devils, posting a 1.59 ERA as he allowed only 14 hits in 28.1 innings. Massive lefty Jerry Keel was never a big strikeout guy in the Big West Conference for Northridge, but he had a solid ratio of 28 strikeouts to just eight walks in 33 innings in his pro debut. Righty Corey Kimber, now two years removed from Tommy John Surgery, had an ERA in the low-twos before an awful final outing of the year pushed his ERA up to 3.65. Yet another 2012 high school pick, the 21-year-old North Carolinian has plenty of stuff when he’s healthy, but needs to hold his concentration to avoid occasional mechanical meltdowns.
MadFriars’ 2015 Tri-City Dust Devils Pitcher of the Year: Phil Maton
Top Prospect: Walker Lockett
This is a tough call because each of the obvious candidates must answer at least one big question. If Walker Lockett and the organization get beyond whatever happened this summer, he’s got an opportunity to be special. If Phil Maton moves back to the rotation, he has a huge upside. If Jose Castillo harnesses his immense talent, he could be a star. If one of the guys who was so stellar in limited action has actually developed some new offering, this could be the turning point. Ultimately, we went with Lockett, whose draft pedigree and on-field performance this summer speak to the highest potential. But there are going to be a ton of questions for him to answer when he gets to Peoria next spring.
Tomorrow we talk with Padres director of player development Sam Geaney about the Tri-City club.