AZL Padres Pitcher of the Year

The Arizona Rookie League boasts a combination of big arms trying to find the plate and college pitchers who can find the plate, but need to prove they have enough "stuff" to make it up the chain. The San Diego Padres squad had plenty of both.

AZL Padres Summary: The Arizona Rookie League (AZL) is one of two complex leagues in the minors. The AZL is where you will generally see three types of players, young prospects from Latin America, high school draft picks and second-tier college players who have to prove they can play on the professional level to be given future opportunities.

With all of the games at spring training complexes in the middle of the day in the heat of the Arizona summer for half the year and at night the other half, the games are little more than spring training exhibitions. In these games, however, the players' futures are on the line. At this level, the potential of what a player may do and the age that they are performing at outweighs whatever numbers are being put up. The AZL Padres finished third in the first half and then slumped in the second in the wake of promotions.

Grady Fuson on the AZL Padres:

Were you at all surprised how well Matt Bush seemed to have no trouble going back to the mound?

Grady Fuson: It's kind of hard to say because he was on it so little, but we expected to see some velocity what we didn't expect too see was such a smooth delivery. It's really a shame what happened to him, but he's just finished surgery and we hope for the best.

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.

Conniff Confidential

Look for the continued improvement of some of the pitchers next year in Eugene, especially southpaw Euclides Viloria who posted an impressive strikeout to innings pitched ratio. He will have to cut back on 36 base-on-balls in 54 innings. It is tough not to like the upside of Viloria and Simon Castro, but they need to locate the plate on a more consistent basis. At this level, we'll take talent and potential over performance. Viloria and Castro should both start the year in extended spring training and could end up in Eugene, although Viloria just turned 18.

The last three pitchers I've named pitcher of the year at this level have been E.J. Shanks, Geoff Vandel and John Hussey. Shanks was released by the Padres the next year in spring training, obviously my award held little sway with the powers that be, Vandal has just completed his "junior" year with the AZL Padres and Hussey was hammered at both Eugene and Fort Wayne this year.

Needless to say, this is not one of the reviews that I was looking forward to writing.

There were some better performances among the players for the AZL Padres, but there is more upside among the pitchers, especially if relief pitcher Matt Bush can come back from injury and Castro can locate the plate a little more often.

Pitcher of the Year
Tyler Davis
3-0, 0.83 ERA
Right-handed reliever

Hawaii must have had some magic for the Padres this year in the desert, as their top pitcher Tyler Davis, drafted in the 21st-round from the University of Hawaii, had a nice year allowing only two earned runs and holding batters to a .216 average. At Hawaii, Davis finished with a 6-2 record with a 4.06 ERA where he closed, set-up and did middle relief. At 6-foot-3, 175-pounds, he has a rubber arm and delivers pitches from more of a sidearm than three quarters motion and was particularly effective against left-handed hitters with a ball moving away from the batter to induce end of the bat contact. He was promoted to Fort Wayne at the end of the year and should begin there next year.

Others of Note: Right-hander Alexis Lara had a nice year with a 3-0 record and a 3.10 ERA with batters hitting only .226 against him and 38 strikeouts in 29 innings. Viloria, who will play the entire 2008 season at 18, and Castro both put up some impressive strikeout to innings pitched numbers, Viloria with 73 in 54.1 innings to finish second in the Arizona League and Castro with 55 in 50.2 innings. The problem is both of them tend to also be wild, posting high walk numbers and touting ERA's over 5.00.

Savage Sub-rosa

This tends to be the most difficult place to evaluate future talent in terms of pitching. The arms usually have flawed control, despite electric arms that can dial it into the mid-90s. Lara is, perhaps, the most advanced and could one day develop three plus pitches. Bush spent most of his time here and was downright dominant. Viloria placed second in the minors in strikeouts per nine innings. While the pitching overall wasn't great, the potential prospect haul could be significant.

Pitcher of the Year
Alexis Lara
3-0, 3.10 ERA
Right-handed reliever

After missing all but a handful of innings last year with a shoulder injury that required surgery, Lara was back hitting the mid-nineties with his fastball and mixing in a slider that has plus potential while his changeup continues to develop. He went into the final week of the season with a 1.88 ERA before allowing five runs over his final five innings. Lara will have to work on becoming quicker to the plate, as he proved easy to steal off, but he controlled the strike zone – a plus given his lost year of development a season ago.

Others of Note: Davis had a great season, as noted above. I was, however, a little concerned about his eight unearned runs and relative age to the league. Viloria has a plus changeup, tempering some of the enthusiasm because most hitters in this league will struggle with plus off-speed pitches. Bush fanned 16 in 7.1 innings, ‘nuff said! Castro has two quality pitches but needs to curtail his desire to overthrow and become consistent with his mechanics. Tyler Mead started off well but was hit hard down the stretch. Geoff Vandel has not found his form of two years ago. Vantroit Medina has made progress – just wish it was quicker. I was hoping for more out of Cooper Brannan and I worry his fastball may never come back.

Manager's Commentary - Tony Muser: "(Lara) has a breaking ball that he can get over and he also has a quality changeup. In my opinion, his changeup is better than his breaking ball. We are trying to get him away from the slider and not try and strike everyone out and use the changeup."

Top Prospect:Right-hander Matt Bush
Both Denis and John agreed upon the top prospect for the AZL Padres.

Bush, 21, only threw 7.1 innings before being promoted to Fort Wayne, where he felt a twinge in his elbow with his first batter and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery. He is expected to return at the end of next summer.

After being converted from shortstop, Bush was consistently throwing in the mid-90s with impeccable control, striking out 16 batters against only five hits and one run with two base-on-balls. With his slight stature, 5-foot-10 and 175-pounds, and big fastball, he profiles best as a reliever rather than a starter. How well he comes back from major surgery is still an open question, but frequently pitchers will come back stronger. If he's healthy he should advance rather quickly through the system.

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