Jeff Nycz

Midwest League Player of the Year

This week we look at the Padres' first full-season affiliate, the Fort Wayne TinCaps. We begin with the top position players in the Summit City this summer.

Summary: The TinCaps again fielded a very young team and faded in the second half as many of the top players from the first half, Michael Gettys, Walker Lockett and Phil Maton left for Lake Elsinore and beyond.

Still it was an interesting year in the Summit City as Fort Wayne fans again saw Michael Gettys, who may have as much upside as any prospect in the Padres organization, a catcher who stayed in Low-A longer than he should have, and an assortment of teenagers who could develop into big league regulars.

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 Midwest League is the first full season league and one of the more challenging to hitters because of the early cold weather. At this level, batters are still adjusting to wood bats and learning how to cover the plate. Pitchers with so-so “stuff” can succeed as long as they have decent fastball command and the ability to throw a second pitch.

John Conniff

Player of the Year: CF Michael Gettys .304/.369/.414, 24 SB

I gave it to Gettys by an eyelash over Allen because I liked his all-around game a little more.  Only 20, he repeated the level before being promoted after a solid first half that saw him increase his on-base percentage by over 101 points from last season. He led the team in on-base percentage, was second only to Allen in slugging percentage and easily led the team with 24 steals in 34 attempts despite playing just half the season.  Finally, Gettys’ speed and plus arm are some of the reasons that he is always considered one of the top defensive outfielders in whatever league he is in.

Runner-up: C Austin Allen  .320/.364/.425  174 TB

The only reason the left-handed hitting Allen stayed in Fort Wayne for the full year was to further refine his receiving skills, which by all accounts improved significantly from last season.  Allen finished sixth in the Midwest League in batting average, led the TinCaps in total bases and was second to Gettys in on-base percentage. At six-foot-four and 235 lbs., he is a large man to stay behind the plate, but his bat also could make first base an option.

Ben Davey

Player of the Year: C Austin Allen

No one in baseball had a better first month than Austin Allen.  Allen hit .460/.539/.603 in April leading all of minor league ball in hits, average, on base percentage, OPS, and runs.  He fell off at the end of April and into May but rebounded to be the most consistent player on the TinCaps.  He hit at least .290 in each month between June and August, and finished the year sixth in the league in batting.  By contrast the next best hitting catcher in the MWL finished with a ,283 batting average and .744 OPS, nearly 50 points behind Allen.  Allen was a midseason all-star, postseason all-star, player of the week and player of the month.  

Runner-up: CF Michael Gettys

Normally the player of the year goes to someone who spent a vast majority of the year with one team. Gettys moved to Lake Elsinore halfway through the year, and actually finished the year with just 10 more plate appearances in Fort Wayne than Lake Elsinore.  However, Gettys gets the nod here for two reasons.  First, he deserves it; midseason all-star, great defense, strong arm, hit over .300, was leading the league in steals and triples when he was promoted. Second, and possibly more importantly, outside of Gettys and Allen, any offense was hard to come by.  Gettys and Allen both hit over .300, but no other TinCap even hit .250 and only one, Ty France, had an OPS over .700.  

Kevin Charity

Player of the Year: C Austin Allen

Allen is an easy and obvious choice for player of the year for Fort Wayne. Allen opened the first month of the season by hitting .460/.539/.603 and followed that up with a miserable May. The May dragged down his solid numbers, as he hit at least .295 in every other full month. Allen finished sixth in the Midwest League with a .320 average and the backstop only struck out 69 times in over 400 at-bats. Allen hit just seven homers for the TinCaps but he should be aided by the hitter-friendly conditions in Lake Elsinore next season.

Runner-up: CF Michael Gettys

Gettys played slightly more games for Fort Wayne, so he is listed here. I was tempted to give this spot to powerful Brad Zunica but Gettys wins out. The centerfielder hit over .300 and earned a spot in the Midwest League All-Star team. He had 24 stolen bases, five triples and cut back significantly on his strikeouts. His power stroke didn’t break out until his promotion to Lake Elsinore but one could make the argument that he was the MVP of Midwest League before his promotion.

David Jay

Player of the Year: C Austin Allen

From April through September, Austin Allen was the key cog in the TinCaps’ offense. He paced the team in slugging percentage and batting average, and was just a few points of on-base percentage behind Gettys in 164 more plate appearances. While the overall numbers were fueled by his ridiculous April which was clearly not sustainable (he had an average north of .600 on balls in play over 20-plus games), the offensive profile matches what was expected from the big man when the Padres called his name in the fourth round. Another winter of conditioning work should unlock more of his raw power against in-game pitching, and he’ll continue to get an opportunity to work on his defensive work behind the plate.

Runner-up: C Michael Gettys

The transformation of Michael Gettys this year may have been the biggest positive in the system. When the Padres took him at the top of the second round in 2014, there were many who questioned whether the muscular athlete would ever be able to make enough contact that his stellar raw tools would matter. This year, a vastly improved physical and mental approach began to hint that maybe he will. He still struck out too often, and would occasionally let one bad at-bat carry over for a while, but he hit the ball hard to all fields at both levels, and provided value in every facet of the game. Had he remained in Fort Wayne for another month, he would have been the clear choice for the TinCaps player of the year, though I’m sure he’ll gladly forego that honor in exchange for the time in spent in Elsinore.

Others of Note: Corner infielder Ty France had one of the more bizarre slash lines you’ll see in Fort Wayne, hitting .237/.400/.342. The big man earned the low average and slugging percentage with an über-passive approach that led to 44 walks and a ridiculous 16 hit-by-pitches in 281 trips to the plate. The big man out of San Diego State began hunting for his pitch much more often in the second half with the Storm, leading to a .304/.373/.496 line in the Cal League. If he can keep the hitter’s mindset going forward, he could position himself as a viable option at third base going forward. Big Brad Zunica paced the club with 14 homers, but also struck out a distressing 156 times - well north of a third of his plate appearances. While he made progress in conditioning, the massive left-handed hitter is going to have to find a way to get his front foot down earlier and move his hands through the zone much faster going forward. With Josh Naylor now ahead of him on the depth charts, opening next year in Elsinore is not a given. Ruddy Giron was expected to be one of the key contributors to the TinCaps offensively and at shortstop this year, but the season was a major letdown for the talented Dominican teenager. Through the first half, he hit an anemic .180/.245/.237, but he continued to put in his work and rebounded with a solid though not spectacular .707 OPS before a late-season promotion that was meant to reward him for fighting through his struggles rather than phoning it in. He’s still probably not destined to stay at shortstop long-term, but he made strides defensively as well. In the Fort Wayne press box, Carlos Belen was jokingly called “the most dangerous [whatever-he’s-hitting] hitter in the league.” For a while in July it looked like he was finally going to post a strong enough average that he might play himself out of that label, but a frigid August meant that he finished the year with a .222 average and just enough in-game power to worry opposing pitchers. While he certainly made strides this year, shaving his strikeout rate from nearly 40 percent to “only” 28, he’ll need to take another step forward next year if his plus raw power and soft hands at third base are going to matter long-term.

MadFriars’ 2016 Fort Wayne TinCaps Players of the Year: Austin Allen

Top Prospect: Michael Gettys

Michael Gettys is the prototypical five-tool talent. Even though he was a bit leaner this year than last, he still looks like he’d be as comfortable at outside linebacker as he is in center field. He put his combination of strength and speed together effectively all year, reflected in a BABIP that remained over .400 because of hard contact and the ability to beat out grounders. He still showed an alarming tendency to strike out, whiffing in more than 28 percent of his plate appearances once he joined Lake Elsinore, but now that he’s more fluid at the plate, he could bring that number down at higher levels much the way Hunter Renfroe has. Defensively, Gettys has the skill to remain at center, though he still takes curious routes on occasion. While he’s already had more than 1,300 professional plate appearances, he’ll likely benefit from at least 1,000 more, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Padres elected to send him back to open the 2017 season in Elsinore.

Tomorrow we take a look at some of the top arms in the Midwest League for San Diego this past year.

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