Eugene Emeralds Pitcher of the Year

Evaluating pitching in the short-season leagues is both fun and maddening. At the San Diego Padres Northwest League affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds, you will find pitchers that can simply blow away their competition with 90 MPH-plus fastballs – often down the middle of the plate. We get excited, start writing about power pitchers, velocity, etc...

The problem is they try the same thing in the Midwest League and batters start hammering those same offerings.

The hitters become much better very quickly at the next level and most of the lineup can hit a fastball. Ask Aaron Breit, a star pitcher for last year's Emeralds team, His fastball caught far too much of the plate this year in Fort Wayne, despite having one of the better heaters in the organization.

Eugene Emeralds Summary: Although the Emeralds didn't quite measure up to the talent that they had on their roster this year, the addition of pitchers such as Mat Latos and Jeremy McBryde, both big pitchers, with big fastballs that throw strikes, is a boon to a system largely lacking those traits.

Grady Fuson on the Eugene Emeralds:

Everyone know how fast Mat Latos can bring it, how would you describe the progress of his secondary pitches?

Grady Fuson: "They are a work in progress, but both are there. He has two different types of changeups and is going to have to blend them into one usable change. His breaking ball is coming along too. He's very competitive and has a good idea of what he's trying to do on the mound and had a good summer for someone his age."

Another pitcher that is looking like a very good pick in the fifth-round of this year's draft was Jeremy Hefner. What can you tell us about him?

Grady Fuson: "I like the way we took the pitchers in this year's draft. Kluber is the one guy that I think is really exciting, he's a little more athletic than Hefner, but Hefner is a competitor; a great kid that works hard. All of the guys on that staff are pretty good strike throwers."

Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards, whichever team the pitcher appeared at the most determined their eligibility. For the top prospect we took into account not only the future potential that the pitcher may have along with their performances, but also the needs of the organization which will allow them to rise the fastest.

Conniff Confidential

What should interest Padres' fans the most about the Emeralds staff is the assembly and potential of all the young power arms. Latos and McBryde have the ability to bring it in the mid-90s, giving the Padres such much needed boost in velocity. Also keep an eye on lefty relief pitcher Colt Hynes.

Pitcher of the Year
Jeremy Hefner
2-5, 3.90 ERA
Right-handed starting pitcher

Despite a losing record, Heffner recorded quality peripheral statistics, namely 74 strikeouts in 62.1 innings against only 20 walks. Heffner also allowed less hits than innings pitched (51/62.1) and only 27 earned runs with batters hitting .221 against him. At 6-foot-5 and with a fastball that figures to hit the low-90's after regaining his stamina in the off-season, he was a steal in the fifth-round out of Oral Roberts University in this year's draft.

Others of Note: Although Mat Latos didn't have the most impressive record at 1-4, the peripheral numbers, as was the case with Hefner, were outstanding. Latos struck out 74 batters in 56.1 innings against only 22 walks with a 3.83 ERA. Latos improved every month he was with the Padres, culminating in a very strong August with a 1-1 record, 3.08 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 37/9 while holding batters to a .240 batting average.

Jeremy McBryde and John Hussey also put up impressive strikeout numbers to innings pitched, but caught far too much of the plate with ERA's of 5.31 and 6.66, respectively. Both of them have big arms and good stuff, but they need to become pitchers, not throwers. Then again, that is what the minor leagues are for.

Finally, left-hander Colt Hynes, a 31st-round pick from Texas Tech, became the Emerald's closer this year and put up quality numbers with four saves, a 1.54 ERA and 50 strike outs in 41.2 innings pitched against only six walks. The left-handed side-winder has the big running two-seam fastball, which could take him places.

Savage Sub-rosa

It was an interesting year in Eugene. They were very good early on and many of the young arms ran out of steam near the end. An off-season of rest could be the ticket to some special seasons in '08. Many arms will be pushed, as has been the trend under Fuson. Kluber and Luebke have already begun that process after being part of the Storm playoff run.

Pitcher of the Year
Colt Hynes
3-2, 1.54 ERA
Left-handed reliever

Allowing runs in six of 30 appearances is a sure-fired way to get noticed. Hynes was the stabilizer of a young bullpen. When the Emeralds were nursing a lead it was Hynes they called upon to keep the game close and it eventually earned him save opportunities.

While his fastball doesn't break the wind barrier, he has tremendous run on his two-seamer and compliments it with changeups. Fearless on the mound, Hynes isn't afraid to work the inner half of the plate. He keeps the ball down in the zone, getting a lot of ground ball outs, doesn't miss much, and has deception in his delivery that makes his fastball seem harder than it is. Hynes had a terrific year.

Others of Note: Latos was better than his numbers, flashing a very good fastball that had movement and a spiking changeup to get hitters out. He needs consistency and better stamina – he seemed to lose his stuff in the fourth inning. Hefner had spurts of superiority. He pitched to contact and down in the zone. Cory Luebke looks and feels like a major league pitcher. Corey Kluber took some time to get his wind back but has quality pitches and could make a big jump next year. Jeremy McBryde lacked consistency but is in line for a season that puts him on the map. Matt Teague was very clean but throws too many strikes, if there is such a thing. Robert Woodard's deception and funky delivery proved prosperous. Jackson Quezada did some good things and some bad. Rey Garramone could be very good one day. Chris Perez looked like a bona fide star before fizzling. John Hussey never looked comfortable on the mound and abandoned his best pitch. Dustin Gibbs doesn't have the attitude I want to see.

Manager's Commentary – Greg Riddoch: "He struck out a ton and walked very few," he said of Hefner. "He had two or three outings where he was just dead arm and then he bounced back for three good games. You will see a different pitcher next year."

Top Prospect: Mat Latos:
Denis and John agreed on the top prospect

Yes, we both went out on a limb on this one believing that a 19-year-old who throws consistently in the mid-90s with control, strikes out nearly two batters an inning, has a good changeup and a developing slider and is 6-foot-6, 215-pounds has a chance to be pretty good.

I know, I know, we're crazy.

Seriously, in the first year, the key is to get the guy in the organization and see what you have to work with. If they perform well it's a bonus. Where Latos will be after the Instructional League, off-season workouts, spring training and a half season of full-league season could be scary. He easily has the highest ceiling of any Padres' pitcher in the organization.

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