The Savage Files:
There were several pitchers to consider. Mike Ekstrom was great – but he already won once and we like diversity. Josh Geer commanded the strike zone in Fort Wayne but had some struggles. Only LeBlanc got better as he went up the ladder.
After spreading his wings in Eugene, LeBlanc blossomed in Fort Wayne. He began slowly, allowing six runs in his first six innings, and went on to allow four over his next 15. The biggest problem he encountered was the big inning. Generally when one run scored it was followed by a second.
Left-handed hitters batted well off the southpaw but he threw strikes and allowed his defense to do the work for him. That led to his name being called for a promotion.
"I think as you move up in the systems you have to adjust with the hitters you face," said LeBlanc. "As they get better you have to get better."
LeBlanc went to the Midwest League and continued to mix his pitches well and play off his changeup and fastball command. He went on to yield eight runs over seven starts for the Wizards and was a master with men on base simply by pitching to contact and keeping the ball down in the zone.
LeBlanc's future success will depend on doing all the things he has done up until this point.
Geer was silky smooth in the Midwest league, tossing 25.2 scoreless innings to end his tenure there. Considering where he came from and the questions about his velocity in spring, Geer showed he can keep hitters off-balance and mystified in the end.
It wasn't perfect in Fort Wayne as he did have some stretches where he left the ball over the plate a little too much. His promotion was well merited.
Geer had an up and down campaign with the Storm. He would have one start that was brilliant and follow it up with mediocrity. He again found the fat part of too many bats. Overall, a very solid year.
"They're not swinging at bad pitches in the dirt," Geer said of the move up. "You definitely have to get ahead and make them hit your pitch."
I gave Wade LeBlanc the slight edge over Josh Geer, who spent time at both Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore, mainly on the basis that LeBlanc had slightly better numbers at Fort Wayne. Both pitchers are similar in that they rely on their command and abilities to out think the hitters, since neither possesses a plus fastball.
LeBlanc, one of the Padres two picks in the 2006 second round draft, is the prototypical "crafty lefty". The University of Alabama graduate throws mainly a fastball and change, in and out which is good enough to have success in the Northwest and Midwest Leagues, but the higher he goes it could be another story.
LeBlanc is going to need to develop a better curveball or pinpoint fastball command to continue his success, or he could qualify for the Gabe Ribas Memorial Award [a talented college pitcher with good control, mediocre fastball, good change and indifferent breaking pitches, who then proceeds to get shelled at levels above low A].
Josh Geer put together a very good year in Fort Wayne and bounced back after a rough debut in Lake Elsinore in June and July. Geer, a right-handed pitcher from Rice University, is another pitcher without dominating "stuff" but seems to find a way to win. He throws four pitches, all down in the zone, fastball, curve, change and slider all of which he keeps down in the zone in the 86-90 mph range. Like LeBlanc, he doesn't have overpowering stuff and relies more upon deception than blowing hitters away.
At Fort Wayne Geer went 6-2 with a 3.10 ERA. He had more than a three to one strikeout to walk ratio [46/13], but wasn't dominating with batters hitting .263 against him and allowing 72 hits in 72.2 innings. Lake Elsinore was more of the same for Geer with good K/BB ratios [56/18] and a record of 7-4, but a 4.96 ERA and an innings pitched to hits ratio of 89/116 should be viewed with some concern. He did improve quite a bit, winning 5 of his last 7 starts against no losses, but was still giving up 54 hits in 45.2 innings pitched in his last two months with the Storm.
Geer has been successful at all levels that he has pitched, but his peripheral statistics are not that encouraging. Without dominating "stuff" Geer is going to continually have to prove to doubters that he has the ability to pitch at the next level.
So far he's done that.
2006 Tweener Pitcher of the Year: Wade LeBlanc