Who were my breakout picks in 2004 for the Arizona League? The first one I felt pretty confident about, Ben Krosschell, a late round 2004 draft pick out of Highlands Ranch High School in Colorado with a big fastball, and EJ Shanks, a 6'5", 230 lbs college relief pitcher from Oklahoma City University. Both posted good numbers in Peoria in 2004, and according to projections and my reading of their statistics, they had a chance to become solid minor league prospects, and maybe even potential major league players.
So how did they do?
Krosschell got shelled at Eugene this year with a 2-7 record and a 4.70 ERA, but that was better than EJ Shanks who never made it out of spring training with the team and ended up being cut again by the Richmond Roosters of the independent Frontier League in July. Krosschell is only 19, and far from being a bust, but he certainly didn't have the type of year that I envisioned.
So it was a bit of an off year. However, tomorrow is another day, and this is another year, so here we go again.
There were several good pitchers at this level this year, but the two that stood out were Geoff Vandel and Ernesto Frieri.
Vandel, 18, out of Shaw High School in Columbus Georgia, was the 34th round selection by the Padres in this year's draft and somehow escaped the notice of the Atlanta Braves who seemingly draft every talented high school baseball player in the state of Georgia. Vandel had agreed to play baseball at Chipola College in Marianna, Florida, but elected to sign with the Padres and begin his professional career at the lowest rung in the minor leagues.
Geoff pitched mainly in the Arizona League in 2005 where he was simply dominant.
Allowing only 12 hits in 21 innings with a strikeout to base-on-balls ratio of 32/5, he held batters to only a .164 batting average. After being called up to Eugene, he started two games with an ERA of only 0.90 and again he allowed less hits (8) than innings pitched (10) while striking out 11 against some of the best players from this year‘s college ranks.
Lets see, Vandel is left-handed, won't turn 19 until midway through next year, can start or relieve, posted dominant numbers in two leagues against players usually a few years older than him; I think he may pan out a little better for me than EJ did in 2005.
Frieri, 20, who was signed by the Padres out of Columbia, had nearly as good, and some could claim better year than Vandal, going 7-1 with a 1.17 ERA. He struck out 50 batters in 46.1 innings pitched, while only allowing 21 hits and held batters to a batting average of .137. The only negative in his performance was that his strikeout to walk ratio, 59/29 should be a little more in line with the rest of his superlative statistics.
As he moves up the ladder, it will be interesting to see if Frieri can harness his command more as batters become more selective.
I gave the edge to Vandal because of his age and he's a left-handed starter, which is worth its weight in gold. As with Kyle Blanks for the position player of the year, its important to look at how many similar players the Padres have like Vandel, and right now there aren't many. While Frieri is obviously a very valuable prospect, there are quite a few right handed starting pitchers in the organization with his upside, but only three bona fide left handed starting prospects in Mobile's Sean Thompson, this year number two pick, Cesar Rojas, and Brent Carter. Vandel has now emerged as the fourth left-handed pitching prospect.
Geoff posted solid numbers this year, and if he performs well in spring training, should be in line for a spot in the starting rotation for Fort Wayne in 2006, a full season league. Keep an eye on him, if he post even close to the numbers he did this year, you will be hearing a lot about him soon.