Lake Elsinore 2006 Pitcher of the Year

The California League is supposed to strike fear into the pitchers that come through. Apparently the handbook that states that never made it out to Lake Elsinore. There were dynamite performances from the starting rotation and bullpen alike, making this the toughest challenge.

No stone was left unturned as many had a legitimate claim to the honor we bestow. It became apparent, however, that there was one pitcher that senior writers Denis Savage, John Conniff and David Jay would continually bring up – Mike Ekstrom.

"Thanks, that sounds good to me," Ekstrom said of winning the award. "It was easy to pitch there. The setup was great, the front office was great and the coaches were great. We had a really good defense too – and that is all you need for pitching."

The Savage File:

While he only pitched in 14 games for the Storm, Ekstrom toyed with the opposition. Minus one bad outing where he surrendered eight runs, six earned, the right-hander would have boasted a 1.72 ERA. Still, a 2.30 mark is nothing to sneeze at in the California League.

Spotting his fastball in and out while keeping it down in the zone led to a good number of ground ball outs, as he used the solid Lake Elsinore defense to make the plays.

He made his mark early in the game, allowing just two first inning runs on the season and establishing control with a cool, aggressive approach on the hill.

Over his last four starts, Ekstrom allowed just two earned runs – and actually lost one of those games – a one run outing over six innings that ended his tour in the California League. In fact, in three of his four losses he allowed two earned runs or less.

He had some struggles in Mobile but also didn't garner much run support from his Double-A teammates. The Oregon native could, however, be seeing Portland soon enough.

There were a number of pitchers who deserved credit for the year they had. Brent Carter was putting everything together before his injury. Richie Daigle was as steady as can be – and is a former outfielder. Jonathan Ellis was money. Ryan Klatt was the bridge. Neil Jamison shut the door with regularity. Cesar Ramos controlled the zone. Kyle Stutes stymied the opposition. Matt Varner proved reliable. Is there anyone we didn't mention?

Conniff Confidential:

Mike Ekstrom quieted a lot of critics who wondered it he would turn into a long line of college pitchers the Padres have previously drafted that had success in Eugene and Fort Wayne, and then proceeded to get shelled in the California League.

That didn't happen with Ekstrom.

Instead he went 7-4 with a 2.30 ERA, struck out 68 batters in 82.1 innings while only allowing 76 hits. In addition, Ekstrom proved that he could throw in the low nineties, change speeds to go along with calm demeanor on the mound. He struggled in Mobile after being promoted in late June, but bounced back in August.

Brent Carter was on his way to a very good year with the Storm before badly injuring his ankle at the end of June, which ended his the year. Carter improved every month he was in Lake Elsinore starting off with a bad April of a 6.08 ERA, 3.68 May and a 1.85 ERA in June. After hitting well over .300 against Carter in the first two months he held the opposition to a .186 average thereafter, while walking only one of 120 batters faced (the other walk was an intentional pass) in August. He credited his improvement to developing a good cut fastball that he could pitch inside to right-handed hitters.

If you read many of the prospect periodicals, the one thing the Padres are constantly praised is their ability to scout the Independent Leagues. They found success not only with Tim Brown but also Manny Ayala, whom they signed out of the Golden League. Ayala went 5-4 with a 4.28 ERA, struck out 71 batters in 91.1 innings while only walking 12. He's got good size at 6-foot-4, 210-pounds and throws in the low 90's, but needs to improve his changeup and develop his slider more.

Ramona High School's Neil Jamison may have been the Padres best minor league relief pitcher that wasn't in Portland. Jamison, whose 34 saves led the organization, throws everything down in the zone and could become a viable middle relief prospect as soon as next year for the big club.

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