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 Cal League is a hitters’ paradise, featuring plenty of venues with hot, dry air, friendly wind patterns, and elevation. While many pitchers from warm-weather climates in the U.S. and internationally arrive at High-A thankful not to spend another April in the cold of the midwest, the primarily second- and third-year professionals do often hit a wall in the dog-days, which start somewhere around mid-June in Lancaster and Adelanto.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Ronald Herrera 18G, 102IP, 3.88 ERA, 69K/28BB
Herrera’s not a big guy. He doesn’t have a ton of projection. His velocity isn’t eye-popping. He doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts. But the Dominican righty, who didn’t turn 20 until May, sure does get outs, and he’s put his club in a position to win most of his starts since the Padres acquired him from Oakland as part of the Kyle Blanks trade early in the 2014 season. Until his promotion in August, Herrera was the most reliable pitcher in the Storm rotation, which is more than enough to get this recognition.
Runner-Up: RHP Ryan Butler 12G, 46.2IP, 3.66 ERA, 31K/14BB
Yes, it’s tough to call out a guy who threw fewer than 50 innings, seemed a lock to be ineligible when he was promoted out of Elsinore in May, and scuffled when he returned from injury in August. But Butler was so dominant in his seven weeks as a starter for the Storm that I’m giving him the nod here. The big righty, who can push triple-digits with his fastball and has good feel for both his slider and change, had a 1.96 ERA over 41.1 innings through seven starts, earning him the first promotion in the system. After shoulder fatigue shut him down for two months in the summer, he returned to the Storm as a reliever working on an every-third-day rehab program, a stint which pushed his overall ERA up significantly. Given the rest of the club this year, April and May were enough to get my vote here.
Pitcher of the Year: Ryan Butler
As David pointed out, I normally would not give the pitcher of the year to a player that was only on the team for two months. But considering how dominant Butler was, and how awful the rest of the team was, it was an easy decision to make. Butler just made hitters look silly with his pitches. He would blow hitters away with a fastball that sat in the upper 90s, and on the off-chance they started to catch up to it, he would then mix it up with a much improved slider and change. Butler scuffled a bit in San Antonio before going down with injury, but that doesn’t change just how good he was in Lake Elsinore.
Runner-Up: Ronald Herrera
On multiple occasions over the first few months, Butler’s change was faster than Herrera’s fastball. Despite that, the teenaged Herrera just gets outs. He has plus movement and commands the strike zone, which at least at a lower level, is able to make up for his lack of velocity. His ERA was the best on the team, and after Butler and Morris left, he really was the only Storm starter who consistently gave them a chance to win. Herrera will slide in at the end of a top 30 list, but if he can continue to produce has a chance to be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.
Pitcher of the Year: Ronald Herrera
Like the rest of our team mentioned, Herrera just continues to perform, and has to be considered a prospect at this point. He was the ace of the Storm staff, despite being three-to-four years younger than his peers. Herrera didn’t have enough innings to qualify for the California League ERA title, but if he did, his 3.88 mark would have ranked fifth. Unlike many who started for the Storm this year, Herrera actually gave the team a chance to win. Herrera is still only 20, and will be an interesting name to watch in 2016.
Runner-Up: Kyle Lloyd 31 G 4.72 ERA 137.1 IP 139 K 41 BB
I am a big Kyle Lloyd fan. While he will be 25 by the start of next season, he has the talent to advance through the system. He’s big, he misses bats, and his splitter might be one of the best pitchers any Padres farmhand possesses. Lloyd finished third in the Cal League with 139 strikeouts, and for the second straight season, he averaged more than a strikeout an inning. While I think most of us are in agreement that Lloyd projects better as a reliever, he had a 6.35 ERA in 11 relief appearances, while pitching to a 4.34 as a member of the rotation.
Pitcher of the Year: Ronald Herrera
When we select the player of the year for these levels it’s about performance as opposed to projection. Herrera simply threw more quality innings than anyone else on the Storm staff. As David pointed out above, I’m not sure how much major league projection there is for a 5’11” 180-pound starter, but I do know that his 3.88 ERA was better than any other member of the Storm staff that threw over 100 innings.
Runner-Up: Kyle Lloyd
Lloyd, who led the organization in strikeouts last year as well as this season, was miscast as a starter and should be much more effective coming in as a middle relief pitcher with a solid two pitch mix of a fastball and forkball. He has great size at six-foot-four and 235 pounds and once again showed the durability to eat a lot of innings. Having a better defense behind him and only having to go through a lineup once should greatly improve his overall numbers.
Others of Note:
Coming out of last summer’s draft, third-rounder Zech Lemond was a popular pick to click in his first professional season. It never happened for the 22-year-old Texan. The righthander had a strong May, but didn’t post an ERA below five in any other month and had pitched his way out of the rotation by August. He didn’t trust his fastball enough early in the year, and seemed to lose feel for his breaking stuff as well. … Rafael DePaula is a player whose total winds up being less than the sum of his parts. The 24-year-old righty came over from the Yankees in the Chase Headley trade, and despite a big fastball has struggled to find consistent success. Though he ultimately profiles in the bullpen, the club will probably continue to get him innings as a starter since he lost early-career development time after visa issues earlier in his career. … Massive lefty Brad Wieck joined the organization in June as the player to be named in the Alex Torres deal. In his first full professional year, the Amarillo native had some strong outings, and some when things just didn’t come together. Obviously a guy with his size and velocity will get many chances to put his mechanics together. … Closer Eric Yardley’s 2.77 ERA over 59.2 innings was, by a wide margin, the best on the team. The 25-year-old’s submarine delivery made him a brutal matchup for righties, but lefties hit .330 against the Storm’s lone All-Star representative, and he’ll need to develop a pitch that doesn’t run into their sweet spot to advance.
MadFriars’ 2015 Cal League Pitcher of the Year: Ronald Herrera
Top Prospect: Ryan Butler
Butler had a circuitous journey to the professional ranks thanks to Tommy John surgery and a few transfers in his college career. But the hard-throwing righty has the skillset to be a solid big league starter if he can stay healthy, with a fallback option as a shut-down reliever. Butler will get a chance to make up innings in the Arizona Fall League starting next month, which will give him a chance to showcase against some of the game’s elite hitting prospects and establish where he opens the 2016 season.