Pitcher of the Year: AZL Padres

In late May and early June, Geoff Vandel blew his way through the Georgia state high school playoffs, striking out 59 batters in four games to get his team to the state championships just before his 18th birthday.

By September, he was blowing his way through the Northwest League, tallying 11 strikeouts and only one run allowed in two starts for the Eugene Emeralds. In between, the lefty chewed up everything put in front of him to earn my nod as the Peoria Padres' pitcher of the year.

Although he started in Eugene, Geoff Vandel was used in relief during his stint in the Arizona Summer League. A 34th-round pick in the 2005 draft, he originally planned to go to Chipola Junior College, but finally signed with the club and reported at the start of August.

His month in the desert certainly made us want to see more of him. In 11 games, he pitched 21 innings, allowing only one earned run while striking out 32 batters. In fact, he struck out nearly twice as many as he allowed to reach base, giving up just 12 hits and five walks. The lone appearance in which he didn't record at least one strikeout an inning came when he struck out "only" two in 2.1 innings.

Working with a fastball in the low 90's and a well-developed curve, Vandel overmatched many hitters several years older than him.

He'll spend some time in the Instructional League this fall, and with the layoff he had in June and July, should get some good work in there.

Young lefties with good stuff and command are a commodity to be treasured, and he definitely fits the bill at the end of his first year of professional baseball.

Ernesto Frieri may have walked too many batters (29), but that's the only negative thing you can say about his performance in the desert. At 20 years old, the righty threw 46.1 innings for Peoria, racking up an impressive 1.17 ERA and 59 strikeouts along the way.

A native of Columbia, he played for the Padres' Venezuelan Summer League team in 2003 and was in the Dominican last year. The fact that he has relied heavily on a curveball lowers his value as a prospect, but he certainly deserves a nod for his production in his stateside debut.

Others of note include Grant Varnell and Riki Paewai. Varnell, taken in the 25th round of this year's draft out of Texas-Arlington, worked 26 innings in Peoria before jumping to Eugene. He walked only two while striking out 26 in the desert and went on to put up a very similar 24:2 ratio in 28 Northwest League innings.

Paewai, one of several Australians signed in the last few years, struggled with control (walking 25 against just 15 strikeouts) as he adjusted to the professional game, but showed some promise in putting together a 3.77 ERA over 28 innings.

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