Name: Manny Ayala
DOB: November 6, 1984
By all accounts, Ayala, 22, was supposed to begin the year with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League, the Padres' short-season affiliate.
He would, however, never pitch a game for the Ems.
After beginning the year in extended spring training, Ayala made three appearances for the Fort Wayne Wizards, including one start. Replacing the released Kyle Pawelczyk, Ayala did not have a great showing, posting a 7.56 ERA in 8.1 innings.
He was sent back to extended when Greg Burke was sent down from Lake Elsinore but two days later found himself in Triple-A Portland to fill an organizational need. The California native pitched in one game for the Beavers, tossing two scoreless innings.
"None of us here knew that Ayala could throw 91 miles an hour." Said Lance. "The thing that impressed me most about him is that he wasn't intimidated, and he threw strikes."
Shipped back to extended for a third time, Ayala soon found a home with the Lake Elsinore Storm, even if his role had yet to be defined. He began the year in relief, seeing action in 11 games and posting a 2.11 ERA over 21.1 innings.
"It is funny because Randy Ready said when I got sent back to extended, ‘Hey, you never know. You might just skip us and never come back here,'" Ayala explained. "I was like, ‘That doesn't look so good.' I came back and went to Triple-A on borrowed time because they needed an arm. Going up there and seeing the competition and going back to where I was supposed to be gave me a mental edge. I got to taste it and went back down. I felt like this year the cards played out pretty nice.
"Manny Ayala is a guy who we have used at Triple-A," Padres' roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "He went up and threw a couple of shutout innings for us this year. By all rights, he shouldn't have been out of (the lower levels) and ended up in Lake Elsinore."
On July 5, he was moved into the rotation, a spot the then 21-year-old held for the rest of the year. He allowed two runs or less in seven of his 12 starts but was tagged for five runs or more three times – two games in the bandbox that is Lancaster and one in another hitter's park, High Desert.
A master of control, he had a stretch of 22.2 innings without issuing a walk. Over 101.1 innings, the right-hander issued 14 free passes while striking out 81. He pitches to contact and is lives by the motto the Padres employ of three pitches or less to get a hitter out.
The California native mixes in his fastball, which runs in the low-90s and can hit 93 MPH and a devastating changeup that he will throw in any count. He is so confident in his changeup that he will throw it in a 3-1 count to take away the hitter's ability to sit on his fastball.
Fastball away and changeup in has been the repertoire he has lived by, tossing a good 25 percent of his pitches as changeups.
The off-speed pitch often causes hitters to pop the ball up to second base or reach and fly out to left. His fastball, with good tail, causes more ground balls.
He has a tendency to short-arm the ball, making his fastball and changeup effective and giving him solid command of both, but it has taken away from the efficiency of his slider, a pitch that requires more extension to get on top of the ball and create movement. As a starter, Ayala knows mastering that pitch could be the key to his development.
"He has a great changeup and knows how to pitch," Padres pitching consultant Bob Cluck said.
There is also a certain element of comfort that Ayala has out of the windup versus the stretch. His pitches are crisper, his mechanics better, and his control on point. Or at least one would think. But when runners get in scoring position a trigger goes off in Ayala's brain, and he goes into lockdown mode. He allowed 18 hits in 78 at bats with runners in scoring position while in High-A.
Ayala finished his year in the Padres' Instructional League, allowing one run in 13 innings. He threw first pitch strikes to 62.3 percent of the batters he faced and mixed in 21.3 percent changeups, the second best percentage of any pitcher in Instructs. He also worked on his slider in pitching sessions to add it confidently to his repertoire in 2007.
ETA: Ayala will return to High-A Lake Elsinore in 2007 with an eye on a mid-season promotion. He will pitch the entire year at 22 so there is no need to rush him and his ability to command the slider and be comfortable throwing it could prove to be the distinguishing factor in his development. His low walk totals and knack for hitting his spots will eventually continue his ascent at roughly a level a year, putting him on pace for late 2009.