Second baseman Fernando Perez, who was expected to be a mainstay of the Storm offense, had an off year. First baseman Marcus Davis was more like the 2013 version than the guy who carried the Emeralds in 2014. Returner Gabriel Quintana struggled throughout the season. Meanwhile, shortstop Jose Rondon, center fielder Auston Bousfield and catcher Ryan Miller had seasons that showed some promise.
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: The San Diego Padres’ High-A affiliate in the California League is mainly comprised of second- and third-year players. While Lake Elsinore is a pitcher’s park by Cal League standards, that’s more a reflection of how many stadiums on the circuit are more similar to an X-box game than typical ballparks. For the Storm’s offense this year, though, the venue didn’t seem to matter very much as they finished in the bottom three in the league for virtually every statistical category.
Player of the Year: SS Jose Rondon .300/.360/.414
Rondon was the reason some pundits believed Trea Turner could be expendable, and while he did have a good enough year with the Storm, he struggled mightily in Double-A San Antonio before getting hurt.
Among players with at least 50 games for the squad, he was either first or second in batting average, on-base and slugging percentage. In addition he stole 17 bases in 23 attempts. Defensively there are some questions about his lateral quickness and if he is better suited to second base going forward.
Runner-up: CF Auston Bousfield .273/.361/.335
Bousfield had a good season playing in his first full year of professional baseball but wore down as the season progressed. In the first half he hit .300/.395/.373 but slumped to .239/.317/.289 in the second. He can play all three outfield positions, but his bat is best suited to center. At the plate, he has a very short repeatable stroke. Auston stole 22 bases and walked 50 times but only had 17 extra-base hits in 450 plate appearances, which is low for the Cal League.
Player of the Year: SS Jose Rondon
There is a reason why the Storm finished with, by far, their worst record in franchise history. At the time of Rondon’s promotion, he was Top Ten in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, runs and stolen bases. Of course he hit a wall in Double-A and then was injured, but that shouldn’t take anything away from his performance in Elsinore.
Runner-up: 3B Gabriel Quintana .245/.270/.395
That’s right, my runner-up player of the year had an on-base percentage of .270 and an OPS below .700. While Quintana has never learned how to take a pitch (16 walks in 117 games), he led the team in doubles, home runs, extra-base hits, was second in RBI and third in runs. This was before he spent the last two weeks of the year in Double-A. While this year was a step back for Quintana, his strikeout rate actually improved to 23.2% from 27.3%
Player of the Year: OF Auston Bousfield
.As we mentioned, the Storm were pretty brutal all season but Bousfield had a solid campaign on the whole. Bousfield could have easily made the Cal League All-Star team, after hitting .300 in the season’s first half. As the season progressed, Bousfield looked a bit sluggish, and manager Michael Collins even stated that he probably needed additional rest. Still, Bousfield swiped 22 bags, and may have been the best prospect on this club. I omitted Rondon because he only played 57 games with the Storm.
Runner-up: OF Nick Schulz .238/.340/.384
The numbers look a little ugly, but former undrafted free agent Nick Schulz did some positive things in 2015. Schulz led the California League in walks with 67, and tied for the team lead in home runs with 12. Schulz may be more of an organizational guy than a true prospect, but his ability to work the count intrigues me. His .724 OPS was second on the team to Rondon.
Player of the Year: Jose Rondon
Rondon takes this award by default, not because his performance was particularly impressive. Although his batting average was solid enough at .300, his torrid two-week streak just prior to his promotion accounted for much of his offensive value in a Storm uniform. Ultimately, he’ll be dogged with questions about his ability to hit the ball with enough authority against better stuff until he shows he can do it with even a little consistency.
Runner-up: Auston Bousfield
Had the organizational need in Double-A been a center fielder instead of a shortstop, chances are Bousfield would have taken the top spot on this list. The 22-year-old from Ole Miss was a real threat at the top of the order through the first half of the season, but wore down and wasn’t able to adjust as fast as opposing pitchers as the season wore on. He’ll need to spend the winter putting on extra muscle to have success in San Antonio in 2016.
Others of note: We really thought this might be the year Fernando Perez put it all together, but instead he took a big step backward. The 21-year-old, who grew up on both sides of the California-Mexico border, hit just .224 with an underwhelming .352 slugging percentage and struck out more than once a game. Catcher Ryan Miller had a .301/.323/.516 line through an injury-interrupted first half, but faded badly in the heat of the summer. The 22-year-old Hemet native does show some tools to work with on both sides of the game. The club faces an interesting decision with Donavan Tate, who finally stayed healthy and eligible for a full season, but posted a .624 OPS along the way. It’s still easy to see the innate physical abilities he possesses, but the 30 percent strikeout rate makes it hard to see where he might fit in 2016. Kyle Gaedele is one of the most impressive physical specimens in the system, and when he makes contact he is a true force at the plate as his .249 isolated power mark shows. But the big outfielder struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances in Elsinore, and things only went downhill when he moved up to San Antonio. If he could improve his pitch recognition, he could be a guy to watch.
2015 MadFriars’ Lake Elsinore Storm Player of the Year: Jose Rondon
Top Prospect: Auston Bousfield
It’s telling that the most promising of the Storm hitters most likely profiles as a fourth outfielder at the highest level. Like Rondon, Bousfield needs to hit the ball with more authority if he is going to reach that ceiling, but must be careful not to let that effort reduce his contact skills. With enough glove and arm to play any outfield position and good baserunning skill to pair with his speed, he’s got a higher floor than most guys after just one full professional season.