Isaac Barajas

Northwest League Player of the Year

We move up one level to the Northwest League, home of the Padres' short-season affiliate the Tri-City Dust Devils to look at some of the top position prospects that were in Eastern Washington this summer.

Summary: While the Dust Devils didn’t experience the same success they had in their inaugural season with the Padres, four of the first 50 selections from this year’s draft still suited up for them. Cal Quantrill, Hudson Potts, Eric Lauer and Buddy Reed, spent all or part of their time in southern Washington.

On the field they were led by a strong pitching staff, but a few late round picks made their marks offensively, namely shortstop Chris Baker, a seventeenth round pick out of the University of Washington.

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 take 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, the Dust Devils’ home stadium in Pasco, Washington, is considered the best pitchers’ park in the league and it takes an absolute cannon shot to drive it out of the park.

John Conniff

Player of the Year: SS Chris Baker  .303/.389/.388

Baker had a breakthrough junior year as a Husky and it carried over into his debut as a pro. Of the regulars who played at least 40 games, he led the team in batting average, on-base and slugging percentage, and was second in stolen bases with 14 in 18 attempts.  Defensively, Baker has the ability to stick at shortstop but will also see time at second and third base, where he played in college.

Runner-Up:   2B Nate Easley  .261/.385/.340

After playing outfield throughout high school and his first two years of college, Easley made the successful transition to second base and for much of the year was among the leaders in the Northwest League in on-base percentage.  He tailed off towards the end of the year and will have to battle for a regular spot in Fort Wayne infield next season with Baker, Hudson Potts and Fernando Tatis Jr. coming up from the AZL.

Ben Davey

Player of the Year: SS Chris Baker

While the Padres have multiple players who could easily be the player of the year at other levels, the Dust Devils really had just one obvious choice in shortstop Chris Baker.  Baker led the team in most offensive categories, including those already listed by John.  He was also second in RBI, runs, doubles, and, sadly, home runs with two.

Runner-Up: 1B GK Young .209/.292/.322

Nate Easley is probably the obvious choice here from a statistical perspective.  Buddy Reed could get second based on pure upside and how he ended the year.  However after Baker, no regular had an OPS over .725 which to me isn’t a big enough separator.  While Young’s numbers only stand out because he led the team in home runs (in fact, he had as many as the second and third place guys combined), he joined the team at a point in time when they were desperate for offense.  The Dust Devils were on a streak of averaging below two runs a game, and while Young didn’t put up the numbers that some might expect from the College World Series MVP, he did give the team a spark that helped break them out of their slump.  The runner up in this case goes as much to what Young provided as a catalyst for the team as for his individual successes.  

Kevin Charity

Player of the Year: SS Chris Baker

Baker is the obvious choice here, as no other Dust Devil even approached his production. Baker, a 17th-round pick in June’s draft made the Northwest League All-Star team and led the Dust Devils in batting average, RBI and on-base percentage. He does have some pop in his bat, although Paul Bunyan would struggle to hit homers in Gesa Stadium. He hit well in Fort Wayne and should be a name to watch next season.

Runner-Up: CF Buddy Reed .254/.326/.337

Reed, the Padres’ second-rounder made his professional debut with the Dust Devils and showed gobs of potential. After a slow start, the athletic outfielder hit a solid .279/.354/.403 in the second half, with eight doubles and four triples. Reed also added 15 steals for the season and made several highlight reel catches while patrolling the outfield. Reed is still looking for his first professional homer, but his hit tool looked better than expected.

David Jay

Player of the Year: SS Chris Baker

What’s left to say? Baker was simply, by every measure, the most productive position player on the Dust Devils roster.

Runner-Up: CF Buddy Reed

Reed arrived in Tri-City after a disappointing run by his Gators in the College World Series, and started off with some of the same bad contact that defined his career at Florida. But, the one-time prep school hockey and soccer standout put in work to improve his timing, and the payoff was pretty immediate as he started hitting the ball more, hitting it harder, and drawing more walks. Even when his hitting was rough in the early going, he was the best defender in the league and he picked up six outfield assists in just 50 games.

Others of Note: Boomer White, the Padres’ 10th-round pick, came out of Texas A&M with a reputation for his hitting ability, but struggled mightily in his professional debut, hitting just .213/.282/.270. The one positive he can take from the year was a solid 13 percent K rate. Luis Asuncion was the rare international signee to make his stateside debut in the Northwest League. The 19-year-old outfielder is a physical specimen and profiles as a true rightfielder. He only hit .241 on the year and struggled to bring his solid raw power into games, but showed a solid approach overall. Outfielder Taylor Kohlwey staggered out of the gate, but the 21st-round pick rebounded over the last month as he made quick jumps to both Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore. A pair of top 10 round high school bats from the 2015 draft really struggled for the Dust Devils. Both Josh Magee and Aldemar Burgos posted OPS totals below .500 as they were often overmatched, though both will get more looks when they come to camp just after their 20th birthdays next spring.

MadFriars’ 2016 Tri-City Dust Devils Player of the Year: Chris Baker

Because the Padres went heavily after pitching in the draft and were aggressive with full-season assignments for a few position players who otherwise might have spent the year in the Pacific Northwest, it was definitely a thin year for position players in Pasco. The one clear exception to that from day one was Baker, whose name dots many Northwest League leaderboards. His late-season promotion to Fort Wayne was well deserved, and there’s little the 21-year-old could have done to improve on his professional debut season.

Top Prospect: Buddy Reed (Jay, Davey)

As much as Baker had a very nice season in the Northwest League, Reed is simply far more likely to be a big leaguer. His defense and speed are already differentiators and pretty much guarantee that he’ll continue to move up even if his bat-to-ball skills don’t come around. The tools and raw ability are there to be much more, but at the very least, Reed will get big league time and turn in highlight reel plays in the outfield.

Top Prospect:  Chris Baker (Conniff, Charity)

Because of his all-around game, I like Baker’s chances going forward a bit more than Reed’s.  While I agree that Reed has a more exciting tools package and did improve at the plate as the season progressed, I also like to see a little more production as opposed to just projection.  Baker has a demonstrated ability to play several positions well defensively in the infield, speed and some burgeoning power that he discovered as a pro. He should return next year to Fort Wayne where he should see action at second, third and shortstop.

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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