Lake Elsinore Year in Review Part II

<b>Pitchers</b><br>Several pitchers emerged this year at Lake Elsinore as potential Padres for the future. Lake Elsinore has proven to be a great place to hit, but also a very tough place to pitch and play defense. As much as hitters benefit from Lake Elsinore, pitchers suffer with ballooning earned run averages (ERA's) and shattered confidences. The Storm pitchers finished in the middle of the pack in the California League's overall pitching rankings.

The grass on the fields in the California League tends to be cut short which in the high dry heat of most of the stadiums creates an asphalt-like effect with the ball rocketing through the infield.

With Javier Martinez injured for much of the season, the starting pitching was spotty, especially after Justin Germano was promoted to Mobile. The bullpen, however, was much better with two very effective closers in Mike Wodnicki and Brad Baker.

Starting Pitchers - The Storm had three starters this past year who could be defined as prospects, Justin Germano, Javier Martinez and Gabe Ribas. Germano and Martinez have the biggest upsides, but Ribas has pitched well at every level before struggling at Lake Elsinore for part of the year.

Justin Germano (RHP) - Germano, 22, is a 6-3, 200 lb finesse pitcher with a high eighties to low nineties fastball, big curve, and good control. Justin is another of the Padres' growing contingent of high school pitchers who have consistently outperformed their collegiate counterparts within the Padres system. Sean Thomson, Javier Martinez, and David Pauley are the others.

Justin pitched well at Lake Elsinore, with a nice BB/K ratio, but struggled in Mobile with a 2-5 record. Germano is the type of pitcher who changes speeds well, but the ball is usually going to be put in play. In order for him to be effective, he really needs to have a competent defense behind him, which wasn't the case in 2003 in either Lake Elsinore or Mobile.

There are some questions if Germano has the "stuff" to become a big league pitcher. Some in the Padres organization have compared his progress to Jake Peavy's, who didn't really begin throwing in the mid-90's until he advanced to Mobile. Jake's increase in velocity could be attributed to an increased physical development and Darren Balsley, then the BayBears pitching coach, refining his delivery. This spring, Balsley is slated to work with Justin to try to increase his velocity, as he did a few years ago with Peavy. Germano has succeeded at every level of the Padres' organization and if he can throw a little harder could become a star.

He will go into the season as the number one pitcher on the BayBears staff.

Javier Martinez (RHP)- Martinez, 22, was ranked as the Padres #11 prospect going into the season by Baseball America. Martinez at 6'3" and 170 lbs is often thought off as a "right handed" version of Oliver Perez. Martinez battled some injuries this year but still put together the best season of any pitcher with the Storm. Javier went 6-3, with a 3.23 ERA, and an excellent BB/K ratio (23/70).

Martinez has a fastball in the mid nineties, a good curve and a big change-up. This year his velocity dropped slightly, and his curve wasn't as sharp, but he was also injured most of the year. His command has improved and he's still only 22. If Martinez can fully recover from the injuries that he had in 2003, he could become the bright star in Mobile for 2004. He should start the season as the number two starter behind Germano.

Gabe Ribas (RHP)- Ribas, 24, put together a great half season in Fort Wayne. Gabe went 13-3 with a 2.25 ERA, and an unbelievable BB/K ratio (26/116). To me, it was always kind of strange why Ribas wasn't promoted quicker to Lake Elsinore, especially considering his age and experience. Ribas is 6'4", 220 pounder out of Northwestern who throws in the upper eighties with a decent slider. At Lake Elsinore he struggled initially, but pitched well toward the end of the year going 4-5, with a 5.81 ERA. His numbers were much better his last six starts, than his first three.

Many analysts are also concerned if Ribas has the "stuff", enough velocity to develop into a true prospect. The most impressive part of Ribas' game is his ability to consistently throw strikes. He has been very successful in stints at Eugene and Fort Wayne. Lake Elsinore is the first time where he has stumbled. Ribas made the all-star team in the Northwest League as a relief pitcher, while in the Midwest League he did it as a starter. Gabe could end up at either Mobile or Lake Elsinore in 2004, but my pick would be Mobile. After Germano and Martinez, he is simply has more potential than the other players who he will be competing against.

Other Pitchers - Clay Hensley (RHP), Mike Thompson (RHP) and Chris Tierney (LHP) all pitched at Lake Elsinore in 2003 and should compete for rotation spots in 2004. Because of the Padres lack of lefthanders, Tierney might have the best opportunity of all three. Hensley and Thompson and Mobile holdover Duncan McAdoo should compete for the fifth slot.

Starting Pitching Summary - Martinez has the most upside, because of his velocity, age, loose frame and the assumption that he can still throw harder as his body develops. I've been a big fan of Gabe Ribas because of his versatility, ability to start or relieve, and success at every level. He is beginning to accumulate a few doubters. It will be interesting to see if he can make the transition to Mobile. Germano could develop into the best pitcher of all, but his velocity is going to have to increase to have a realistic shot. My guess is the rotation of Mobile will include Germano, Martinez and Ribas in 2004.

Relief Pitching - The Storm had two quality closers this year in Mike Wodnicki and Brad Baker. Throw in Jack Cassel, and the Storm easily had the best bullpen in the organization.

Mike Wodnicki (RHP) - Wodnicki, 23, is 6'3", 210 lbs out of Stanford University. Acquired from St. Louis in the Brett Tomko deal, he had much more success as a closer than as a starter later in the season. With the starting pitching that we will have at Mobile next year, Wodnicki should be back in the pen where he belongs. Mike put up a so-so BB/K ratio (20/53), but held batters to a .240 average against in a very strong hitter's league. Wodnicki has four pitches: fastball, curve, slider and change and could progress quickly up the ladder. Mike was one of four members of the Storm that made the all-star team this past year (Josh Barfield, JJ Furmaniak and Greg Sain were the others).

Brad Baker (RHP) - Another talented pitcher acquired in a trade, this time with Boston as part of the Alan Embree deal in 2002. Brad, 23, seemed on the verge of becoming a bust after a rough first half in Mobile, but seemed to find his niche as a closer in Lake Elsinore. At 6'2", 180 lbs he could develop into an effective relief pitcher for the Padres. The real cause of concern is can he get over the hump in the Southern League.

A real stat that does jump out at you with Baker is his BB/K ratio (14/69) in 44 innings, with California League batters hitting only .187 against him. Hopefully he has regained his confidence and will continue his success at Mobile. Baker's best pitch is a plus changeup, but his fastball which once was in the mid-90's, has fallen into the 86-89 mph range. If he is going to make it, it will be as a relief pitcher. Because he does not have a big fastball and relies on changing speeds, he could become another Jeremy Fikac, a relief pitcher who relied primarily on a changeup. Fikac performed well in the minors, but struggled at the major league level.

Jack Cassel (RHP) - Jack Cassel, 23, occupied the middle relief role, bridging the gap between Wodnicki and Baker at Lake Elsinore in 2003. Cassel held batters to a .252 average and posted a good BB/K ratio (18/52). Cassel, 6-2, 190, didn't get as much attention as Baker and Wodnicki, but appeared in more games than either and demonstrated an ability to get people out. He could be a sleeper.

Relief Pitching Summary - A very good bullpen, along with a potent offense propelled Lake Elsinore into the playoffs for 2003. Jim Callis of Baseball America liked both Baker and Wodnicki, but not enough to put them in his year-end top 40 prospects list. Baker seems much more suited to relief than starting and his numbers at Lake Elsinore were very impressive, especially the walk to strikeout ratio. The only real concern is the lack of velocity.

Potential MLB players this past year at Lake Elsinore - All six of the pitchers profiled could end up in the major leagues. If Baker continues to develop as a relief pitcher, we could see him the quickest. His lack of a dominant fastball, however, reminds me of too many Padres relief pitchers who found stardom in the minors, but problems in the big leagues. If Martinez can stay healthy, and that is a big if, he has the most upside to develop into a contender for an outside shot at a rotation spot in San Diego for 2005.

In the next report, we will summarize Mobile's past season.

John Conniff can be reached at

MadFriars Top Stories