Eugene Emeralds: Pitcher/Prospect of the Year

"He doesn't throw the hardest ball, but he knows what he can do," Eugene Emeralds manager Roy Howell explained of his best pitcher this year.

Clearly a no-brainer, Brent Carter was the best pitcher in Eugene this summer. Carter, a left-hander, was the University of Alabama's all-time leader in strikeouts and was selected by the Padres in the 16th-round in the 2005 draft. The first statistic that jumps out at you about Carter, 22, is his control. Carter only walked seven batters in 72 innings pitched, which came out to nearly a half a walk for each of his 13 starts while holding opposing teams to a .221 batting average. He finished the year with a 4-2 record and a 1.88 ERA.

Much of Carter's success came with his ability to command his fastball.

"He's a strike thrower, moreover he's a pitcher," Howell explained. "He's very precise in what he is trying to do out there, it sometimes it hurts him a little by trying to be too fine."

Toward the end of the year the Padres moved Carter up to Fort Wayne where he enjoyed even more success, going 2-0 in two starts with a 0.75 ERA. Again, Carter posted similar numbers as he did in Eugene, striking out 13 in 12 innings pitched while only allowing a single walk and seven hits.

Jeff Kingston, the Padres Director of Baseball Operations said, "Carter is a guy who has big league fastball command right now, can command it as well as anyone. He knows how to pitch."

Arnold Hughey, 22, is another talented left-handed college pitcher selected out of Auburn in the 13th round of the 2005 draft. Hughey went 5-1 with a 3.06 ERA, allowed 43 hits in 47 innings pitched, while posting a very respectable base-on-balls-to-strikeout ratio of 12/58.

As with Carter, Hughey is a polished college pitcher who relies on the command of his fastball and ability to change speeds. He has a decent slider, but as with Carter, his velocity is in the mid-80s. Without a real plus pitch, he will have to rely on pinpoint control and the ability to consistently fool hitters, which will be difficult as he moves higher up the chain.

So are Carter and Hughey the next great prospects or just college pitchers who dominate at the lower levels but don't have enough "stuff" to succeed at the majors or even Double-A?

The problem with analyzing fourth-year college pitchers in the short season leagues is that right now you are seeing the extent of their physical abilities. There isn't any 95 mph fastball or unbelievable curve balls these guys are trying to harness. Its kind of what you see is what you get, the real question is will they be able to refine what talent they have now enough for the next level.

Carter is going to have to come up with a better breaking pitch to offset his low velocity. He does have some things going for him to get to the Major Leagues, specifically he is a left-handed pitcher with very good control and a sharp mind. That puts in the position where he will be given every opportunity to prove that he can't pitch his way to the show. At the very least, he will always have a chance as a left-hander coming out of the bullpen.

As with all Padres' minor league analysts, I am haunted by the ghost of Gabe Ribas, the Padres' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2003. Ribas was an outstanding right-handed pitcher out of Nothwestern University, and an even better person, who dominated in the Northwest and Midwest League as both a reliever and a starting pitcher in his first two years within the Padres organization.

The problem was when he got to the California League and especially at Mobile a mid-80's fastball, without a good breaking pitch, doesn't get anyone out, no matter how effective your change up may be. Ribas was released from the Padres' organization at the end of spring training in 2005, primarily because the team believed he had reached his talent ceiling.

So are Carter and Hughey destined for the same fate? It's hard to tell, that is what the minor leagues are for, to find this out. First, both being left-handed is an advantage Ribas didn‘t posses, and there is always the chance that they may develop another pitch to go along with their excellent control. They both should enjoy success at Fort Wayne next year, the real test, as stated above, will come at Lake Elsinore.

Neil Jamison, 21,the Padres sixth round pick in the 2005 draft from Long Beach State University, lived up to his reputation as one of the better college relief pitchers in the nation in the Northwest League. At Eugene, Jamison went 1-2 with a 1.32 ERA and eight saves. In 27.1 innings he allowed 23 hits with a 31/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

A 6-foot-3, 185-pounder out of Ramona High School in San Diego County, Jamison may have as much upside as anyone who pitched for Eugene this year. He comes from a big time college program, where as the team's closer he was used to dealing with a lot of pressure, a key component for success. Jamison was briefly called up to Fort Wayne at the end of the year, where he went 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in ten innings. He will probably start next year as Fort Wayne's closer.

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