Summary: Having loaded up on pitching in the early rounds of the June draft, the Padres expected their Tri-City staff to impress. And the arms in Pasco did not disappoint. The Dust Devils were second in the league in most key statistics, featuring two first-rounders and five pitchers from the first nine rounds as well as an interesting group of organization holdovers.
The strong showings from this staff and Arizona are going to make sorting out the rosters in Single-A next spring a difficult - but exciting - job for the Padres’ minor league staff.
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 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.
Pitcher of the Year: LHP Joey Lucchesi 1.35 ERA 53K, 2BB, 27H in 40 Innings
Professional baseball isn’t supposed to be this easy. After leading the NCAA in strikeouts as a senior at Southeast Missouri State, the lefty came in and overwhelmed Northwest League hitters for two months. As good as his overall numbers were, he was even better in August when he allowed one earned run, with a ridiculous 29:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 innings. While his crazy delivery is part of his success, he relies on velocity as much as deception, a recipe that should play well as he advances.
Runner-Up: LHP Eric Lauer 1.44 ERA 28K, 7BB, 17H in 25 Innings
Following a quick pit-stop in the AZL after he signed as the 25th overall pick in the draft, Lauer showed exactly why he earned the early selection. Relying on four pitches he can throw to all quadrants of the plate, Lauer separated himself in college this year because of an increase in velocity so that he now sits easily in the low-90s. Young professional hitters had no more success against him than NCAA batters did this season and he didn’t allow a run in his first 14 innings of work for the Dust Devils.
Pitcher of the Year: LHP Joey Lucchesi
Lucchesi is really the obvious choice here. The 2016 fourth-round pick pitched to a sparkling 1.35 ERA in 40 innings. Lucchesi didn’t allow a homer and walked only two batters, while striking out 50. The funky lefty looked far too advanced for the Northwest League and only failed to win a game because of a 60-pitch limit that was implemented for each of his starts. Lucchesi only allowed two earned runs over his last 31 innings in Pasco, walking one in that same span. The 23-year-old may have been the best pitcher to suit up in the Northwest League in 2016.
Runner-Up: RHP Eric Lauer
The 25th overall pick in June’s draft showed the polish and command that was expected from him. Lauer didn’t allow a run in five of his seven Northwest League starts and pitched to a stellar 1.44 ERA for the Dust Devils. Lauer was simply too advanced for the Northwest League with his four-pitch arsenal.
Pitcher of the Year: LHP Joey Lucchesi
Don’t let the 0-2 record fool you. From a numbers standpoint, Lucchesi was the best pitcher on the Dust Devils. All of us will mention the fact that Lucchesi led the NCAA in strikeouts, and continued his dominance in Tri-Cities. Lucchesi takes the POY for two simple reasons 26.5 K:BB and 0.73 WHIP. By comparison Clayton Kershaw’s K:BB ratio in his career is “only” 4:1, and has been a ridiculous 8:1 in each of his Cy Young seasons.
Runner-Up: RHP Jesse Scholtens 1.65 ERA, 36 K, 6 BB, 26 H in 27.1 innings.
It's not often that a reliever will get votes for POY, but considering the 2016 Dust Devils roster was full of players only tossing a few innings then moving on (only one person had more than 50 innings), Scholtens was arguably the best of the bunch. He did not allow a home run or hit a batter all year while striking out 36 and walking just six. The ninth-round pick out of Wright State will try to crack the rotation next year in Fort Wayne, but might face a tough task with so many candidates in the mix.
Pitcher of the Year: LHP Joey Lucchesi
The only negative about Lucchesi is that he is relatively “old” for the league at 23, but also should begin next year at High-A Lake Elsinore and could be one of the first pushed forward to the next level if he performs. As my colleagues above noted, he has some definite funk to his delivery but can also produce a wide array of pitches complemented by a solid low-90s fastball.
Runner-Up: LHP Eric Lauer
If it hadn’t been for Lucchesi’s video game statistics, Lauer would have been it. As with Lucchesi, he was on a pitch limit but still held the league to a .191 batting average and he didn’t give up a run until his fourth outing. As a pro he relied upon more of a fastball/slider mix as opposed to a fastball/curve mix at Kent State. The Padres will try to get him to incorporate both his slider and curve along with a requisite changeup next year in his first full season.
Others of Note: Righty Cal Quantrill, the Padres’ top draft pick and eighth overall selection, spent his first month in the AZL getting reacquainted with the mound after nearly 16 months away due to Tommy John surgery. With 28 strikeouts in 18.2 innings and a 1.93 ERA against only a pair of walks and 15 hits, he looked like he was ready for his next challenge. Lefty Will Headean struggled at times with a 4.32 ERA, but still led the team in innings pitched, 73.2, and strikeouts at 77. He flashed enough of his big fastball to keep him in the mix for a rotation slot in Fort Wayne next season. At six-five, 260 pounds, righty Jordan Guerrero is another one of the Padres organization’s very large pitchers. Only 19, he flashed some quality, but inconsistent stuff, with 4.34 ERA and a bad 23:22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 37.1 innings. Righty Hansel Rodriguez,19, came over in the Melvin Upton, Jr. trade, and after an impressive debut where he threw five shutout innings, struggled in his next five outings finishing with a 6.97 ERA. Reliever Will Stillman, a sixth round pick this year, performed well in limited outings with 17 strikeouts in 14.2 innings against only six walks before running into some problems in Fort Wayne in August. Finally, righty Mark Zimmerman, a 33rd-round pick, shined when given an opportunity to compete, posting 31 strikeouts against only four walks in 21 innings to go with a 0.86 ERA. While much of our attention has been focused on the rotations at both Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne, the bullpens should be nearly as strong.
MadFriars’ 2016 Northwest League Pitcher of the Year: Joey Lucchesi
Top Pitching Prospect: RHP Cal Quantrill
Quantrill has the talent, draft pedigree and bloodlines to make him a strong prospect as a front-end starting pitcher. On the mound this summer he relied heavily on very good fastball. Despite coming off of surgery, he showed very good command with a 46:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio across three levels.
He has a very good changeup, and the organization will prioritize him using it more in his repertoire going forward. Next spring, he’ll be two years removed from his Tommy John Surgery and should have full clearance to go 100-plus innings for the year.
Tomorrow we interview Dustin Brennan of the Tri-City Herald who covered the Dust Devils all year.null