Scouting Report: Chris Oxspring

While many consider Justin Germano to be the top pitcher in the San Diego Padres minor league system, a little known Aussie to keep an eye on is Chris Oxspring. He is turning more heads than anyone and has seen his stock rise so high -- everyone from the bottom to the top is taking notice.

"The guy off of this (Mobile) team who is a pitcher that really Padres fans should be excited about for the future is Chris Oxspring," Mobile BayBears announcer Tom Nichols agreed.

"Oxspring was a great surprise," Mobile Manager Craig Colbert said. "His development as a starter after spending the last three years in the bullpen was great. He might have become our best pitcher on the team."

Baseball America rated him the Pads' 28th best prospect coming into the 2003 season. Who can blame them? Splitting time between Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne, Oxspring put up unimpressive numbers.

After a hot start in Lake Elsinore to open his career, Oxspring struggled with the Wizards in 2001. He posted a 4.18 ERA in 56 innings, allowing 66 hits and 25 walks while striking out 54. That was good for a WHIP of 1.63 and things did not look very promising for the Australian.

"He is also a little bit older," says Nichols. "He is 26 and from Australia so he got a real late start. He has only been pitching for three years."

Oxspring started the 2002 season with the Storm and lowered his WHIP to 1.22, but his ERA went up to 4.78 in limited work. Opportunity knocked and he was promoted to Mobile.

Since his ascension to Mobile in 2002, Oxspring has been dominant. In 46 appearances, spanning 150 innings, he has a 2.76 ERA and has given up just six home runs -- this from a pitcher who is striking out a hitter per inning during that span.

"He has four above average pitches – fastball, curveball, slider, change, and his best pitch is his slider," said Nichols. "It is hard for a Double A hitter to handle a real good slider and Chris has one of those. That was a pitch that not many hitters in the league could do much with."

Oxspring began the 2003 season in the BayBears' bullpen but when he was given the opportunity to start he made the most of it. He finished the year with a 10-6 record, starting 18 games but appearing in 40 games. His 2.92 earned-run average was fifth-best in the league. He had one complete game and struck out 129 batters in 135 innings.

"If he was a 26 year old guy that was drafted out of high school -- it would be a different story. But he came over here to the US from Australia at the age of 24 and he has really progressed well," said Nichols. "You will really like him.

"He began the year out of the bullpen and had his share of good outings and also had some bad outings," said Nichols. "In Mid-May they put him in the starting rotation and he was just tremendous the rest of the way until his very last start when I think he gave up like six or seven earned runs. Up until that point, his ERA as a starter was under 2.00. That was over a three month period. He really threw the ball well. I think he is a guy that will make his mark at the big league level at some point."

The 6', 183 pound right-hander had perhaps his most impressive game late in the season. At a time when his arm might have been failing from his increased workload, he threw a gem in Chattanooga. Oxspring allowed only one runner past first base on the night. Guye Senjem hit a solo homerun in the bottom of the seventh inning accounting for the lone run for the Lookouts. Oxspring gave up just three hits and struck out seven while not issuing a walk.

That prompted Nichols to call Oxspring, "Our most consistent pitcher this year."

That effort prompted many more to take notice and call Oxspring a prospect. At his advanced age, he has the mental makeup to succeed at a higher level.

"Another pitcher to keep your eye who could come fast is Chris Oxspring who finished the year very strong in Double-A Mobile," said Padres General Manager Kevin Towers.

Expect Oxspring to begin next year in Portland, and a big league call up is not far away and as Nichols thinks, it is just a formality:

"You will enjoy seeing Chris at the big league level when he gets there."

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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