Summary: The TinCaps were again among the youngest teams in the Midwest League, especially on the pitching side. More than a third of their innings were worked by pitchers who were 20 or younger. With more of a focus on easing the young arms into full-season ball than maximizing victories, the team played just above .500 ball through the first half, then limped home with a league-worst 26-44 record after the break.
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 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, some 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. Like many teams, the Padres relied on a “piggyback” rotation configuration early to get more arms into the rotation and limit innings totals for their young pitchers in the first year of full-season ball.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP J.C. Cosme 3.22 ERA, 94K, 23BB, 112H in 106.1 innings
On a staff that many higher-profile arms at various times in the year, the rail-thin righty provided quality innings all year long. Acquired from the Orioles in exchange for Odrisamer Despagne (who Baltimore waived before the end of the season), the 20-year-old Puerto Rican was impressive in his first look at full-season ball. Despite his slight frame, he can hit 94 with his fastball, but works more consistently - and still effectively - right around 90. While his overall numbers were quite good, Cosme was most impressive when he was working on normal rest in the rotation rather than limited appearances in April and July meant to protect him as he nearly doubled his innings total from 2015. He posted a 2.91 ERA in his 18 starts, averaging just under five innings per start.
Runner-Up: RHP Jacob Nix 3.93 ERA 90 K 20 BB 115 H in 105.1 innings
While he labored through some outings in June and July, Nix also consistently showed the best stuff among the starters in Fort Wayne. Another year removed from the Astros’ brutal mishandling of him as a 2014 draftee, Nix was the only TinCaps pitcher to stay in the rotation from start to finish this season and ended one inning behind Cosme for the team lead. While he sometimes struggled with pitch sequencing, which cost him strikeouts, he also showed strong control of all three of his pitches, walking only 20 in 105.1 innings. When he was on, his heavy, mid-90s fastball ate Midwest League hitters up, generating a ton of poorly-hit grounders.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP J.C. Cosme
Cosme was the TinCaps’ most dependable starter all year. The righty has an outstanding curveball and a low 90’s heater that could gain velocity as he bulks up. He had a 2.91 ERA as a starter and his ERA is inflated by a rough July (7.62 ERA in 13 innings). Cosme is still just 20, but should certainly be mentioned with all of the good young arms San Diego has in the lower levels of their system.
Runner-Up: LHP Jerry Keel 2.97 ERA, 62 K, 21 BB, 79 H in 75.2 innings
Jacob Nix and Logan Allen are better prospects, but they weren’t as good as Jerry Keel was in 2016. Keel started the year in the bullpen for Fort Wayne, but injuries pressed him into the rotation. Keel doesn’t possess big-time velocity but he is smart and knows how to pitch. He had a 3.03 ERA in seven second-half starts before being promoted to Lake Elsinore. Fellow lefties hit just .186 off of the former CSU Northridge hurler in Fort Wayne in 2016. If you are versatile, left-handed and can actually get lefties out, there is a path to the big leagues for you.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP J.C. Cosme
Cosme led the team in most pitching categories including wins, innings, strikeouts and games. He was a midseason all-star, and finished with a 3.22 ERA. Cosme sits in the low 90s with good movement on his fastball, and unlike some of the other top prospects on the team, he was able to throw his fastball consistently for a strike. Cosme also takes the award for being one of the few starters on the team to stay healthy, and stay in Fort Wayne (as quite a few of the other starters were promoted during the season).
Runner-Up: LHP Jerry Keel
Jerry Keel did not start the season in the rotation, nor was he seen by most as a prospect. But Keel wound up being the most consistent starter in the rotation, and one of the few pitchers on the team to exceed expectations. Keel generally sits in the upper 80’s with decent movement. His tall six-foot-six frame can help his pitches look faster than they actually are, as did Chris Young years ago for the Padres, but it also leads to some mechanical issues and losing the feel for his pitches (increased walks). Still, his 2.97 ERA was the best on the team among qualifying pitchers.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP JC Cosme
An indication of how deep the Padres’ rotations will be at the A-ball levels next season is that Cosme was the best pitcher in Fort Wayne this season and he may not even start in 2017. The guys did a good job of covering the reasons why he was the best pitcher in 2016 and he was better on the road, 2.86 ERA, than at home with a 3.62 ERA. At six-foot-two, and 155 pounds - and yes, that is generous upward listing - he will need to put on muscle if he wants to stay in the rotation. Either way, a great job by A.J. Preller in identifying an asset for a superfluous major league player.
Runner-Up: LHP Jerry Keel
The rise of Jerry Keel, 23, into a legitimate starter was one of the better stories in the organization this season. The tall lefty is a sinkerballer who when he is on can get more of a downward angle on his pitches than pitcher of normal height. He should be in the Double-A rotation next season but is also versatile enough to come out of the bullpen.
Others of Note:
Lefty Logan Allen battled injuries for much of the year, but when he was healthy showed a unique ability to mix three pitches effectively for someone that was only 19. Before going down with Tommy John surgery, Chris Paddack was a true comet with a 0.64 ERA in three starts and fourteen innings. The big righty from Texas relies upon a changeup as his out pitch and sits in the low 90s. He’ll be sidelined until the 2018 season. Lefty Jose Castillo has struggled to stay on the field since coming over in the Wil Myers trade from Tampa, but when he was healthy, he punished the opposition with a 35:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23.2 innings. The organization decision-makers are split on whether to give him another shot at starting in 2018, or to fast-track him as a hard-throwing, late inning reliever. Emmanuel Ramirez was a Northwest League All-Star before being promoted to the Summit City. He posted a 2.62 ERA for the Dust Devils but wore down with the TinCaps. RHP Austin Smith, the Padres’ top draft pick in 2015, had an up-and-down season. He struggled with his command with a 5.92 ERA in the first half, but improved a bit in the second at 4.91. His biggest goal will be to clean up his mechanics and cut down on walking 46 batters in 90.2 innings against 63 strikeouts. Two good arms in the bullpen this summer were RHP Gerardo Reyes and RHP Corey Kimber. Kimber particularly stood out with his ability to sit in the high-90s and throw multiple innings.
MadFriars’ 2016 Midwest League Pitcher of the Year: J.C. Cosme
Top Pitching Prospect: RHP Anderson Espinoza 4.73 ERA 28 K 8 BB 38 H in 32.1 innings
When the Padres put Drew Pomeranz on the trade block, their goal was to get long-term impact talent back. In hard-throwing 18-year-old righty Espinoza, they got exactly that. The six-foot Venezuelan has three pitches in his fastball, change and curve, that already flash well above-average and could be plus at the big-league level. His velocity is top-shelf, though he’ll need to continue to work to hone his ability to throw it to the bottom of the zone. While his results in Fort Wayne were behind the component pieces, he also was the youngest pitcher on the circuit by a wide margin. He’ll turn 19 in Peoria next spring, and should be one of many reasons to make the drive to watch the Storm.
Tomorrow we interview Mike Monaco, one of the three TinCaps' broadcasters this season.