Summary: In their first year as a Padres affiliate, the Chihuahuas finished with a winning record. In the second, they made the playoffs; this year, they won the PCL title, finishing one game short of the overall Triple-A championship.
They got there thanks to a league-best offense. Meanwhile, they relied on a patchwork pitching staff for most of the year. No pitcher made more than three starts for the club and finished with even a league-average ERA, and three members of the opening day rotation were released mid-year. Yet, even with all the problems, there were a few bright spots on the staff.
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 Triple-A level 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’s park is not as bad a place to pitch as others in the PCL, notably Las Vegas and Colorado Springs, it is still very much a park where offense is served.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Eric Yardley 2.85 ERA 58H 37K/13BB in 53.2 IP
The sidewinding righty looks like a good gust of wind could knock him off the mound, but the undrafted free agent just keeps getting outs. His ERA for the season - which mirrors his career mark - was most of a run better than anyone else on the staff, and his frisbee slider gets a ton of weak contact to offset his relative lack of strikeouts. While he was one of 15 different Chihuahuas to pick up a save this year, he ultimately profiles as a situational reliever in the big leagues.
Runner-Up: LHP Frank Garces 4.41 ERA, 129 H, 98K/39BB in 114.1 IP
After two seasons working exclusively as a reliever, the lefty was pushed into service again as a reliever by June of this year. While his overall numbers aren’t that impressive, he provided impact innings through August and the playoffs, notching a 3.40 ERA over his last seven regular season games. Because he re-signed as a minor league free agent last December, Garces and the organization will have a choice to make about another reunion this winter.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Eric Yardley
As good as the offense was for El Paso, the Chihuahuas didn’t have any legitimate prospects on the mound until promotions in late August and early September. But Yardley was the a bright spot for a staff that struggled and he filled a variety of roles including a few starts. His strikeout numbers weren’t huge, but Yardley was superb down the stretch, allowing just one earned run in his last 17 innings pitched. The former Pecos League pitcher just continues to get outs.
Runner-Up: LHP Daniel Moskos, 5-2, 3.39 ERA, 53 G, 61 IP, 47 K, 22 BB.
There isn’t another obvious choice to go with here. I gave Derek Eitel and Frank Garces some consideration but decided to go with Moskos. Moskos, 30, was the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft, although he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2012. He spent last year pitching in the Atlantic League.
The lefty led El Paso in holds and allowed only two homers in 61 innings -- which is mighty impressive for a guy who pitches at elevation. He also had a 2.00 ERA at home which was the best mark on the club. Moskos can leave during free agency but he definitely did enough to find a job somewhere in 2017.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Carlos Pimentel 5.65 ERA, 174 H, 121 K/61 BB in 145 IP
After being the 2015 PCL pitcher of the year with the Iowa Cubs (12-6, 2.95 ERA), Pimentel didn't have the same success in El Paso. In roughly the same innings as last year Pimentel actually had more strikeouts, by three, fewer walks, by seven, and the same number of wins, 12. The biggest difference is a staggering 50 more hits during that time. However, Pimentel gets my vote because on a team that saw 18 different pitchers start at least one game, he made every one of his starts and was the one stable force on an incredibly unstable pitching staff.
Pementel led the team in most pitching categories mainly because he pitched by far the most innings. This is a player of the year spot given more for staying healthy than for having a great season.
Runner-Up: RHP Eric Yardley
Yardley did it all this season. He began the year by dominating at Double-A San Antonio before being promoted to El Paso. He pitched mainly out of the bullpen earning three saves, five holds, and had one of the best walk rates on the team. Yardley also made two emergency starts. His sidewinding motion makes the ball difficult to pick up, allowing him to perform well above his ability. Yardley is the type of pitcher who could come on and do well over a short period of time as we saw with Cla Meredith years ago.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Derek Eitel 3.67 ERA 68.2 IP 55 H 71K/40BB
Like Seth Simmons at San Antonio, Eitel is another refugee from the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, by way of independent ball. He was able to provide valuable innings coming out of the pen for the Chihuahuas in his first season in the organization. He had the most innings of anyone out of the El Paso bullpen and had the strikeout ratio that you look for in a reliever, although his walks were high. At six-foot-four he has size and was a former four-year starter as a Division III quarterback at Rose-Hulman in Indiana, where he was their first athlete ever to be drafted in a professional sport.
Runner-Up: Eric Yardley
As the guys have mentioned Yardley is truly a great story. For anyone who signed out of the Pecos League to even get a sniff of Triple-A is a tremendous accomplishment. Yardley’s ability to compete at the next level will be dictated by his ability to continue to get movement on his slider within the strike zone and finding a way to get left-handed hitters out.
Others of Note: RHP Daniel McCutchen ate the second most innings on the team with 134.2, but unlike the 3.60 ERA he posted in 2015 for the Chihuahuas it rose to 6.40 before he was sent down to Double-A. RHP Bryan Rodriguez was brought up midway through the season and was up and down, but the six-foot-five Dominican did show some promise, especially late in the year. Most of the best pitchers who appeared at El Paso - Dinelson Lamet, Walker Lockett and Phil Maton - spent the majority of their time somewhere else in 2016.
MadFriars’ 2016 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year: Eric Yardley
Top Pitching Prospect: Michael Kelly 4.89 ERA 50H 41K/23BB in 49.2 IP
Kelly threw an equal 49.2 innings for both Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso, so under our rules that qualifies him for both levels. We wrote about the strong year he had in Double-A last week and while his numbers were less inspiring in Triple-A, the Pacific Coast League is also a much harder level to pitch at. The former first round pick from West Boca Raton High School has always had all the physical characteristics of a top flight pitcher. but a combination of good health and a stronger belief in process over results enabled him to begin to tap into his immense talent.
He should begin the year in El Paso’s rotation next year, and if he can repeat what he did this season we should see him with the Padres sometime in 2017.
Tomorrow we chat with Felix Chavez of the El Paso Times on the top prospects in El Paso this summer.