Lake Elsinore 2004 Preview

The Lake Elsinore Storm of 2004 should resemble the opposite of what the team in 2003 was last year, strong on pitching, weak on hitting. The Storm could have the best starting staff in the California League for 2003, but are going to need to find more offense than what they have going into the season in order to compete.

Projected Line-Up
1b - Michael Johnson SP - Tim Stauffer (RHP)
2b- Rob Watson. SP - David Pauley (RHP)
SS- Luis Cruz SP - Brian Whitaker (RHP)
3b - Kevin Jacobo SP- Gabe Ribas (RHP
C- Andres Pagan SP- Jon Huber (RHP)
RF - Steve Baker RP – Justin Craker (RHP)
CF - Kennard Jones RP- Dale Thayer (RHP)
LF - Marcus Nettles RP- Alan Webb (LHP)
DH - Paul McAnulty Closer- Mike Wodnicki (RHP)

Pitching - As with the Wizards, the strength of the Storm should be their starting pitching. The first four, Tim Stauffer, David Pauley, Brian Whitaker and Gabe Ribas, will be as good as anyone in the league. Stauffer, Pauley and Whitaker all ranked in the top thirty Padres prospects, and Ribas was the minor league pitcher of the year for the Padres. Stauffer, the number three overall pick in last year's draft, might have the best stuff or all of them, but really, you could see anyone of the four advancing quickly. Because of the weakness of Mobile's starting staff look for at least two of the Storm to be promoted by mid-season. My guess right now would be Stauffer and Whitaker.

The bullpen should be led by Dale Thayer and Mike Wodnicki, who both put together solid years in the minors last year for the Padres. Thayer saved 25 games in Fort Wayne last year, and was one of the best closers in the system. Thayer needs to demonstrate he can have the same type of success against more polished hitters in the California League. Wodnicki is recovering from an off-season back surgery. Wodnicki thrived in the closer's role for last year's Storm, before struggling in the second half as a starter. This year he will be back in the bullpen for Lake Elsinore, probably as the closer.

Position Players - First baseman Michael Johnson and center fielder Kennard Jones should be the leaders for the position players. Johnson, a former teammate of Khalil Greene's at Clemson, is expected to have a big year. The left hand hitting Johnson battled injuries last year at LE, which limited him to only 178 ABs. If he plays well the first few months, expect to see him in Mobile quickly.

Kennard Jones was promoted in mid-season from Fort Wayne last year, before injuring himself in a non-baseball related matter. Jones will surprisingly bat third, and could have a big season. Jones has speed, a good quick compact left handed stroke, but is going to have to work on being smarter. He was caught stealing in 21 out of 44 tries last season, but the good news is he is a perfect 4-for-4 this season. He has good control of the strike zone, but limited power. He will probably be battling Freddy Guzman somewhere down the road in the Padres organization for a roster spot.

Peter Stonard broke his left thumb in spring training and will be out at least six weeks. When he returns he will be the starting second baseman. Pete joined the team in mid-season from San Diego State as the Padres fourth round draft pick, and had one of the better years of any position player on Fort Wayne, and probably the best year of any of our recent draft picks. Stonard finished the season at .293/.335/.338, with 10 doubles and 27 RBIs in 64 games. Stonard needs to work on his defense, and his power numbers must improve for him to have a chance to make the MLB roster.

Keep an eye out for shortstop Luis Cruz, who could be a sleeper. Luis was among Fort Wayne's leaders in doubles, home runs and RBIs, while being one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. Cruz needs to draw more walks (30), but also didn't strike out a great deal (55) either, especially when compared to other players on the team who posted similar offensive statistics. Luis also has very good range for a shortstop, just needs to work on making more consistent plays.

Also, look for Paul McAnulty to start over Marcus Nettles, who will be entering his third trip around the California League, and probably still not be able to hit. Nettles also struck out 122 times in 423 ABs last year in Lake Elsinore, bad numbers for a power hitter, horrible numbers for a contact hitter. McAnulty lost 35 pounds from last year and is slated to play some outfield and DH this year. McAnulty led Fort Wayne in doubles and RBI's last year and will provide much needed to pop over Nettles. Brian Burgamy, a switch hitter who struggled last year at Fort Wayne, also should eventually start over Kevin Jacobo at third base, another Wizard alumnus coming off of a poor season. Top 40 Prospects - Ten - #3 Tim Stauffer, #7 Kennard Jones, #10 Gabe Ribas, #16 Brian Whitaker, #17 David Pauley, #20 Luis Cruz, #25 Michael Johnson, #26 Dale Thayer, #29 Peter Stonard, and #37 Paul McAnulty.

Baseball America's Top 30 Prospects - Six- # 3 Tim Stauffer, #7 David Pauley, #8 Kennard Jones, #19 Michael Johnson, #23 Peter Stonard and #30 Brian Whitaker. Also keep an eye on right handed pitcher Gabe Ribas and shortstop Luis Cruz.

Storm Insider Commentary – "I don't think the hitters were that much better," Gabe Ribas said of Lake Elsinore and his California League debut in 2003. "It's hard to say that when I definitely did have my struggles there. Once I settled down and realized that I might have been given them too much credit, I was right where I needed to be. I definitely pressed in my first couple of games. Those guys lost Germano and he was there ace and they thought they were going to get somebody who was just like that. I think I tried a little too hard to impress those guys. The Cal League is a hitter's league, the hitters are aggressive, the ballparks are conducive to hitters and so it was definitely a learning process, without a doubt."

Prediction - The California League is very much a hitters league, so the Storm pitchers and defense will be put to the test quickly. The Storm will be a pitching dominated team, in a hitter's league. As with the Wizards, there are a lot of questionable bats in the line-up, especially with Stonard out. Look for Johnson, Jones, Cruz and eventually McAnulty to put up some good offensive numbers. For the pitchers, Stauffer needs to show that his shoulder is fully healed which looked great on Sunday, and Pauley, Whitaker, Thayer and especially Ribas need to show that they can play at the next level after their success in the Midwest League. A big problem for the Storm could happen in the second half of the season if Michael Johnson and Kennard Jones are promoted, significantly weakening an already mediocre daily line-up.

John Conniff can be reached at

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