Mobile BayBears 2003: Pitching Prospects

<b>Year in Review Summary</b><br><br> The Mobile BayBears entered the season with the potential to be the best San Diego Padres minor league team, but finished with the second worst record of all their teams. Going into 2003 Mobile expected to have seven of the top ten Padres prospects in the organization as ranked by Baseball America. As one Padres scout said, "If you can play baseball in the Southern League, you can play in the major leagues."

Four of the top seven prospects were pitchers who had a slightly better year than their hitting counterparts.

Cory Stewart (#10) and Rusty Tucker (#9) had very good years, the other two Mike Nicolas (#8) and Mark Phillips (#3) never made it. Phillips was traded before the season as a way for the Padres to move Bubba Trammel's contract. At the time it could have been a horrible trade, but in hindsight the Yankees ended up taking a very expensive flyer on a player that never panned out. Phillips is the type of player that Baseball America will consistently overate, a ton of talent, but the inability to put together any type of successful season at any minor league level. Phillips continued this trend in the Yankees organization, and will probably spend his third straight season in high A. Nicolas was even more of an enigma. Nicolas was cut from the Padres for a variety of on and off the field issues, and later released from Boston's organization. He is currently trying to rebuild his career with Montreal. Nicolas has a very good fastball, but little control.

A few players emerged from Mobile in 2003. Cory Stewart had a good year, but ended up being traded to Pittsburgh in the Brian Giles trade. Rusty Tucker also had a nice year, but is undergoing Tommy John surgery and will be out for all of 2004.

"If you look at the games most were very close, but the pitching couldn't carry us the whole year," Director of Player Development Tye Waller said of the Mobile team. "We're trying to change that this year and placing more emphasis on plate discipline, getting your pitch to hit, not the pitchers. We need to get the most out of every position player this year."

If anyone read the last reviews, I will repeat the section on what determines a "prospect". If you are already familiar with the process, skip down to the section that begins to analyze the position players. When doing these types of analysis, as rudimentary as they are, if you are only looking at statistics as opposed to actually scouting the players in person, one is looking for a separation, something that indicates the player will have the capacity to develop into a major league player. The three main criteria that form the basis of this analysis usually look for the following indicators:

(1) Tools - This can loosely be defined for position players as the ability to run, field, throw, hit and hit with power. Typically for position players, someone needs to be a plus player in at least one category to make it in the major leagues. For pitchers it can be a variety of components, velocity, control, ERA, strikeouts; something that indicates the pitcher is able to dominate the competition. Control is important but velocity tends to get greater weight. If a pitcher can harness outstanding velocity, he may have a chance at a major league career. Very few pitchers can advance without a decent fastball.

(2) Performance - The easiest one to evaluate. How well the player actually performed in their league. Someone can have all the "tools" in the world, but as the player advances higher in the minor league system his actual performance becomes more important than his actual potential. Performance is the main criteria at AA or AAA level, as compared to the lower minors.

(3) Age - Age is an indicator of how well the player does against the competition that he is facing. A 19 year old hitting .310 in the rookie leagues carries far more weight than a 23 year old, with four full seasons of college ball experience, doing the same thing. The younger and more successful a player is, the bigger upside they could possess.

Pitching Prospects - A much better group than the position players. Three legitimate major league prospects emerged in 2003, Cory Stewart, Rusty Tucker and Chris Oxspring. The bad news is that Stewart had the most upside and was included in the Brian Giles trade.

Cory Stewart (LHP) - Cory had the best year of any starter in Mobile going 12-7 with a 3.72 ERA. He struck out 133 batters in 126 innings pitched. Stewart has a nice fastball and curve, but his changeup needs work. Its still unclear to me why the Padres had to include Stewart in the Giles deal given the Pirates wealth of young pitchers. The loss of Stewart left the Padres with a serious lack of left handed pitching talent within the organization.

Rusty Tucker (LHP) - If Tucker hadn't gone down with Tommy John surgery in early August, he may have had a chance to make the Padres bullpen in 2004. Tucker was one of the most dominating relief pitchers in the minor leagues for the first three months of the season, until arm troubles led him to go 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA over the last six weeks of the season. Tucker, 23, 6'1" 190 lbs resembles Billy Wagner when throwing his left-handed, three quarters heat. His fastball can touch the upper 90's, but he's going to have to develop his secondary pitches more to become more effective at the higher levels. Tucker is scheduled to be out for all of 2004, but may pitch in the Arizona Instructional League in 2004.

Chris Oxspring (RHP)- A big jump for Chris in 2004. Oxspring went 10-4 with a 2.47 ERA and didn't give up more than three runs until his final start of the season. According to Baseball America, he has the best slider in the system and a decent low 90's fastball. His curve and changeup need work, but he could emerge in Portland as a potential back end starter as the Padres begin to tire of Denis Tankersley's unfulfilled expectations. Oxspring will be 27 in May and is starting to run out of time.

The pitchers obviously have the advantage in Mobile:

"The humidity in Mobile is something that you can't explain unless you go there," says one Padre scout. "It rains everyday, at the hour at 3:30. On cue, I mean for the last month and a half of the season I think they took batting practice about two or three times.

"It is the worst travel in the minor leagues from Mobile to Jacksonville, Florida, all the way up to Zebulon, North Carolina, which is near Raleigh. The shortest bus trip is about three and a half to four hours. And you can go anywhere from 15-17. You throw in the travel, you throw in the hotels that we are staying in, you throw in the weather and you also throw in – these guys in Double A baseball are a phone call away from the major leagues."

Potential MLB players this past year at Mobile - Stewart, Tucker, Oxspring, Knott and Quintero, with Gautreau an outside possibility. Scales, although I like him, is a long shot.

In the final review of the Padres minor league system in 2003, we will summarize Portland in 2003.

John Conniff can be reached at conniff@sandiegosports.net

MadFriars Top Stories