Josh Geer led the way with his 16 victories, earning the ERA (3.20) title for the circuit. Cesar Ramos wasn't far behind, landing in the third spot with a 3.41 ERA and tied for the league lead with two shutouts. Wade LeBlanc chipped in with seven wins, although he qualified in Lake Elsinore. The bullpen was also superb with Paul Abraham standing out and Neil Jamison bouncing back from a rocky May. Dirk Hayhurst was also formidable in middle relief.
Josh Geer won the most games in the organization, second most in the minor leagues – but if you talk to him he always says he throws three average pitches for strikes. Obviously there is more to him than that what makes him so good?
Grady Fuson: "He's not an overpowering guy, no "Hollywood" pitch, but he's the poster child for what 70 percent of the minor league pitchers need to be; ability to locate, disrupt batters timing, and compete. He makes big pitches at big times. He doesn't walk people, hits spots with his fastball, tricks them with his breaking pitches and makes outs with his change."
How close is Wade LeBlanc to being a major league pitcher?
Grady Fuson: "Geer, LeBlanc and Ramos are all pretty close to the majors. When I say fairly close that could mean breaking with the club in April, mid-season promotion, or September call-ups. All three have mastered things in the system, but all have things that they need to improve upon. Ramos has gotten away a little bit from his change and LeBlanc's change is going to take him to the majors but his fastball command still isn't where it needs to be."
Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards, whichever team the player or pitcher appeared at the most determined their eligibility. For the top prospect we took into account not only the future potential that the player or pitcher may have along with their performances, but also the needs of the organization which will allow them to rise the fastest.
This was a team built around solid defense up the middle and at the corners and a pitching staff that put the ball in play. Ground balls and keeping the rock in the park were the prerequisite and no team had a better first-pitch strike ratio than this squad. The starters did not overpower but used guile, deception, and smarts to keep the hitters guessing. The plan worked. There is no guessing when it came to announcing our award winner:
16-6, 3.20 ERA
Geer epitomized the mentality of the Missions staff: Throw first-pitch strikes. Use your entire arsenal. Spot your pitches. Put the ball in play, preferably on the ground. Trust your defense. Use the corners, up and down. Limit walks. Keep the ball inside the park. Repeat.
He tied for the minor league lead with 17 wins (one in Portland) and placed second in the Texas League in innings pitched. Geer was as reliable as they came, keeping his team in every game. He held the opposition to two runs or less in 15 of his outings and lasted seven or more innings on 15 occasions. He was a bulldog on the bump, working the ball low in the zone and using the corners. He knows how to use every pitch and spots each with a purpose, thinking ahead several moves in the chess game between batter and pitcher. Five of the nine homers he allowed came in a two-game span. He was the key cog in the Missions wheel.
Others of Note: Abraham does not get much play but he should. While his fastball is not back to his pre-injury form just yet, he is a deadly competitor that should help a big league club. The late season addition of Edwin Moreno proved to be a boon, as the only runs he allowed came on two homers. Cesar Ramos was solid with his ability to keep hitters off-balance. Jon Ellis led the team in holds but needs to keep his walks down. Mike Ekstrom was the only disappointment – but he won the clinching game for their Championship season by holding a no-hitter into the seventh.
The main reason why the Missions won the Texas League Championship was their outstanding starting pitching. Geer, Ramos, LeBlanc, Will Inman, Manny Ayala and Ekstrom all have a chance to pitch in the major leagues. None of them have outstanding velocity, but they command their fastballs, can throw a change and have effective breaking pitches.
Under the tutelage of pitching coach Glenn Abbott, the key to the Missions pitching success has been the ability to throw inside, to get the batters feet moving. Abbott preaches that in order to have success a pitcher has to use both sides of the plate. Watching these guys pitch, it's apparent that Abbott knows what he's talking about.
16-6, 3.20 ERA
As the season went on, Geer got better and better. In the first half, although he was 8-4, he had a 3.69 ERA with batters hitting .287 against him. The second half, he was 8-2 with a 2.63 ERA, as batters hit a measly .207 against him. In an interview with Madfriars.com towards the end of the season Geer attributed much of his success this year to buying into what Abbott preached, namely learning to pitch inside for strikes and keeping the ball down.
Others of Note: Ramos was a different pitcher in the second half of the year than in the first. First half he was 5-7 with a 4.01 ERA, but 8-2 with a 2.64 ERA down the stretch. His last month was his best, 4-2 with a 1.75 ERA. The lefty is all about getting batters to swing at his strikes, which are usually down and away and nub the ball to second base in two pitches or less. As with Geer, a big part of his game was not only pitching inside, but up as well. If Ramos can keep batters from diving over the plate and change their eye level, he's tough to beat. Lefty Wade LeBlanc was promoted mid-season and was impressive, especially in the Texas League playoffs where he went 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA and 16 Ks in 12 innings pitched against four walks and fivehits. The bullpen had its up and downs, but one of the better pitchers this year was Dirk Hayhurst, the author of the popular "Non-Prospect Diary" at Baseball America. The "non-prospect" actually had a pretty good year with a 4-1 record and 3.19 ERA, excelling in the role of middle relief/occasional starter role with 55 strikeouts in 59.1 innings against only nine walks.
Manager's Commentary – Randy Ready: "The whole second half he had an ERA down in the two's," he said of Geer. "He was our go-to guy."
Top Prospect: Will Inman
Denis and John agreed on the top prospect
When you are 20 years old and in Double-A, something is going right. Reputed as the key cog in the Scott Linebrink to Milwaukee deal, Inman is a control pitcher with the moxie to believe in his stuff. The right-hander hates walking batters and mixes in three pitches to help his cause – a fastball that sits in mid-eighties and tops out at 90 MPH, a 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup. He can throw each of his pitches for strikes and does a good job hiding the ball, making it appear as if it jumps out on top of the batter. A fierce competitor that takes instruction, Inman's greatest attribute is his will to succeed. He won't let anything stand in his way.