Level: Triple-A is a combination of development and a taxi squad for major league teams. At this level, many players are good enough to be in the major leagues but, thanks to roster configuration, organizational need, and perceived or real shortcomings, they are just waiting for their shot.
The Pacific Coast League features some of the more offense-inflating parks in affiliated ball, making it difficult to divine great meaning from many players’ stat lines on the circuit. While El Paso uses a humidor to moderate results, it is still very much a park where offense is served.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Chris Smith 3.60 ERA in 127.2 IP, 22 Starts, 121K/42BB
Originally a fourth-round pick by the Red Sox when Jason McLeod was their scouting director, Smith worked as a full-time starter for the first time since 2006 this year. The 34-year-old from Riverside made the most of it, striking out 121 batters in 127.2 innings and posting a 3.60 ERA that was good for a fifth-place tie among qualifiers in the hitter-friendly PCL. He’s going to have to get a break if he’s going to make it back the majors for the first time since 2010, but his effort has earned him fans throughout the organization.
Runner-Up: RHP Daniel McCutchen 3.60 ERA in 132.1 IP, 32 G (22 Starts), 86K/28BB
Once a co-headliner with Jose Tabata of the trade that sent Xavier Nady from the Pirates to the Yankees, the 33-year-old righty matched Smith’s ERA in a few extra innings of work despite having less-impressive strikeout totals. But the four-time draftee, as he always has, minimized the damage against him by issuing only 28 walks in a season when he topped 100 innings for the first time since 2009.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Chris Smith
Smith led the team in strikeouts despite being old enough to be Ruddy Giron’s father. The fact that the pitcher of the year had all of five wins, shows the state of the Chihuahuas pitchings staff, but that should take nothing away from Smith doing a remarkable job in a very hitter-friendly league. Unfortunately for Chris, he is a three-pitch pitcher with not one pitch graded as above-average.
Runner-Up: RHP Leonel Campos 2.90 ERA with 68K/21BB in 49.2 innings
After Smith there is no clear choice for runner up. Jay Jackson, Daniel McCutchen and Campos all put up similarly valuable numbers. Campos led the team in strikeouts per inning, and also had the best WHIP of anyone who threw at least 40 innings. Campos still has plus stuff and showed a significant decrease in walks. He still has a ways to go (five walks in eight big league innings), but 2015 showed his potential.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Chris Smith
Chris Smith has been in professional baseball since 2002, and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2010, yet he continues to pitch effectively. Smith rarely hits 90MPH on the radar gun, but he put up a solid 3.60 ERA in 22 starts. Despite the lackluster stuff, Smith still nearly averaged a strikeout per inning and was the closest thing to an ace that El Paso had in 2015.
Runner-Up: RHP Jay Jackson 2.54 ERA with 70K/17BB in 63.2IP
Jackson transitioned to a full-time bullpen role in 2015, and it ultimately led to an end-of-year promotion to San Diego. Jackson saved 14 games for the Chihuahuas and struck out 70 batters in 63.2 innings. He struggled a bit down the stretch, but he was a key cog in what turned out to be a tremendous El Paso bullpen in 2015.
Pitcher of the Year: Chris Smith
I’m not sure Smith will ever get back to the major leagues but it’s hard not respect a 34-year old guy with only three pitches, all thrown under 90 MPH, who finds a way to compete and succeed in the Thunderdomes of the PCL. He finished second on the team in innings pitched and third in starts. Key statistic: Smith averaged nearly a strikeout per inning and slightly under two walks per start.
Runner-Up: Jay Jackson
A converted starter who came over from the Milwaukee Brewers’ system, after previous stops with the Pirates, Marlins and Cubs, Jackson had one of the better years of relievers in the system. He hit the two big metrics one looks for in a bullpen arms; he allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and more strikeouts than innings pitched. In 2016 he should be a strong candidate for spot in the back of the pen.
Others of Note:
Lefty Robbie Erlin was thought to be in the mix for a job in the big league rotation at the start of spring training, and after getting sent out to minor league camp early, he never really found his footing. The 25-year-old didn’t post a monthly ERA below 4.50 all year and saw his once-stellar command falter enough to walk 37 hitters in 125.1 innings. He reminded everyone what he’s capable of with his seven innings of two-hit ball against the Diamondbacks in his cameo start in late September, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough to get another look next year. Minor league free agent Marcos Mateo was another key element of the Chihuahua’s strong bullpen. The 31-year-old righty posted a 1.69 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 32 innings while shuttling back-and-forth to the big league club. Jason Lane’s remarkable on-field career may have come to an end following his 5.71 ERA this year, but the 38-year-old deserves credit not just for taking the ball every five days and finishing second in the league with 164 innings pitched, but for his leadership in the organization. If he does decide to hang up the spikes this winter, it’s hard to imagine he’ll have to wait very long for his first coaching gig.
MadFriars’ 2015 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year: Chris Smith
Top Prospect: Jon Edwards
Though Edwards appeared in only five games for El Paso after the Padres acquired him from the Rangers for soon-to-be-free agent Will Venable, the hard-throwing righty gets the nod here. Originally drafted as an outfielder, the 27-year-old converted to a reliever in 2012 and has struck out 11.4 hitters per nine innings pitched since. His strength and weakness were reflected in his 10.2 inning cameo for the Padres, when he struck out 16 but issued eight free passes. Obviously, he’ll need to find a way to hold onto the improvements he made to his control in Triple-A Round Rock if he’s going to be a reliable big leaguer.