Pitcher of the Year for Fort Wayne

It is hard to fathom what you get when you trade a Major League player for a Minor Leaguer. But a move the San Diego Padres made during the 2004 season may end up defining how their pitching staff is formed in the future.

Travis Chick
6-foot-3, 220 pounds
Born: 6/10/84

2004 Season: Acquired in the Ismael Valdez trade from Florida, Chick began paying instant dividends for the Padres at Fort Wayne. As we have seen so far in our reports the top Padres pitching prospects are dominated by control specialists, Tim Stauffer and Justin Germano or relief pitchers with "trick pitches", Brad Baker and Dale Thayer. Travis Chick represents something else, a "control pitcher" with a "power fastball" that simply blew away the competition in the Midwest League in 2004.

"Aggressive, I like what I saw," Padres' Director of Player Development Tye Waller said.

Chick started seven games, won five and in the process had 55 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched, while issuing only nine base on balls with a 2.13 ERA.

With the Marlins' South Atlantic affiliate, the Greenville Bats, Chick also pitched well. He was 6-4, with a 4.04 ERA, but had 112 strikeouts in only 91 innings, against 27 walks. His ERA was slightly high at 4.04, but again his strikeout to base on balls ratio was outstanding.

Background: Chick was the fourteenth pick of the Florida Marlins in 2002 out of Whitehorse High School in Whitehorse, Texas. In Chick's first year in professional baseball at Jupiter in the Gulf Coast League, Travis went 3-2, but struck out 39 batters in 46 innings pitched while walking only 19. In 2003, the Marlins promoted him to Jamestown in the New York-Penn League, where he struggled. Chick went 1-2 with a 5.71 ERA, but even in an off year still maintained his near strikeout an inning ratio, 48 strikeouts in 52 innings, with only 26 base on balls.

2005 Outlook: The most impressive thing about Chick is two fold, his size and ability to throw strikes as a power pitcher. After reviewing his statistics it's hard to believe the Marlins were willing to give him up for someone like Ismael Valdez. At only twenty years old, Chick maybe the Padres pitcher with the highest upside in the entire system. The organization has power pitchers in Jared Wells and Aaron Coonrod, but both have major problems with control. Chick will be one of the younger players in the California League, and if he succeeds the Padres will continue their practice of challenging their most talented prospects with promotions.

We could see Chick in the Southern League by mid-season, and possibly even a September call up with the big team. He may be that good.

"I have plenty of friends out there in California that want to see me," Chick said about the starting the year in the California League. "I will let them see me in San Diego."

Runner Up

Sean Thompson
5-foot-11, 160 pounds
Born: 10/13/82

2004 Season: Sean Thompson went into the season as one of the Padres more highly regarded prospects and delivered on his potential, earning a spot on the Padres 40-man roster at the end of the year. In 148 innings pitched, Thompson struck out 157, while walking only 57 on his way to a 9-6 record with a 3.10 ERA.

"The guy had a great year," Waller said. "We left him there because we really wanted to see him command his fastball well. He has a plus curveball, a plus change. We felt he would be best served by having a full year there."

In 21 of his starts, Thompson allowed two earned runs or less. In 15 of those he gave up one earned run or less. Take away a two-game stretch where he allowed 16 earned runs in eight innings and his ERA drops from 3.10 to 2.31. The Colorado native also had an eight game stretch during the season where he tossed five shutouts.

Background: Thompson went into the season as the #8 ranked player by MadFriars.com and the #14 ranked prospect by Baseball America. Drafted by the Padres in the fifth round of the 2002 draft out of the Thunder Ridge, High School in Denver, Sean has been given the grand tour of the San Diego minor league system.

The Padres started Thompson out in Idaho Falls, where he pitched well striking out 53 while walking only 32 in 79 innings. Where Sean really began to shine was in Eugene. In 2003, Thompson went 7-1, while striking out 97 batters in only 80 innings pitched. Furthermore, he only issued 39 base on balls while holding opposing batters to a .204 batting average.

2005 Outlook: He pitched well at Fort Wayne and the Padres, as they do with nearly all of their high school drafted prospects, have taken the approach that Thompson will be promoted one step at a time.

A good half season at Lake Elsinore, and the dearth of left-handed starters in the rotation; and moreover the lack of quality starting pitching talent that will be evident in Mobile, this year could justify a mid-season call up. By August, the Padres could have a staff in Mobile of Clark Girardeau, Jared Wells, Chick and Thompson, which will be a definite improvement over where the Mobile staff will begin the year.

John Conniff can be reached at Conniff@sandiegosports.net

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