Scouting Padres Prospect #44: Matt Varner

The prospect that wasn't. Each year, a player who was on the fringe makes his name known in a big way through consistency. Matt Varner was the 2005 model of that player in the Padres' system.

Going into the year, Matt Varner wasn't penciled in as the closer by several people in the Padres' system. But Wizards' manager Randy Ready had faith in his abilities and was adamant that he had the makeup to be effective in the role. He was rewarded mightily for his thinking.

Varner, a right-hander, not only led the Midwest League in saves, he also finished second in the Rolaids Relief Man Award, placing three points behind Mark Worrell (St. Louis).

"(Loe Rosales) could be a huge reason why I had success," Varner offered of his teammate in 2004. "I learned a lot by watching him do it and have been trying to hang with him all year."

It didn't start out very well for the Texas native. He gave up six runs in his very first outing of the year, earning a blown save in the process. Over his next 27 appearances, Varner allowed runs in two games – three earned runs total.

It was the product of two new pitches added to his arsenal after the first game blowout. In place of a circle change and a curveball, Varner added a slider and split-fingered fastball – with the split a brand new addition to his arsenal.

"I didn't have him as a prospect until this year," Padres minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk admitted. "He throws his slider and his split now for strikes."

One of the biggest attributes he holds is the mentality of a closer. While he does not have typical closer stuff, he prefers to be the last line of defense for his team and can forget a bad outing when he takes the hill the following night.

"Pitching an inning is pitching an inning," Varner said. "Typical closer stuff is mid-to-upper nineties but you look through our whole organization – which closer do we have that has that? "I am just keeping the same focus that you have to have every inning, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth – it is just one inning."

Varner made the closing job look easier by containing the leadoff man. He only allowed 15-of-54 leadoff men to reach base – a .241 on base percentage. Varner was a late addition to the Lake Elsinore Storm roster for their Championship push – used as a setup man to Rosales.

At the end of the year, Varner had allowed runs in 11 of his 54 appearances. Eleven of the 24 runs came in two appearances. With a 4-5 record, Varner recorded 34 saves and had a 4.00 ERA. He struck out 62 in 54 innings while walking 18.

One of the big concerns with Varner was his trouble with left-handed hitters. They batted .318 off him while he dominated righties – keeping them to a slim .167 average against. He also wasn't at his best with runners in scoring position (RISP), allowing the opposition to hit .295 with a .318 average against with RISP and two outs.

His overall success, however, has landed him on the prospect list. It will be up to him to maintain that good standing.

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