Meeting that challenge head-on, keeping the same consistent approach that earned the promotion is a difficult proposition. Many times said prospect tries to do too much and falls into bad habits. Others will inevitably rise to the occasion and earn their keep, proving the talent evaluators right.
Overview:Tweeners are classified as players that spent at least 30 games in two leagues or pitchers that made at least 10 appearances in two leagues.
Consider this: Two of the top four RBI men in the Padres' minors fell into the tweeners category. Two of the top three in wins were also tweeners. It was a good year.
We felt it was important to recognize several players that get overlooked when the stats are tallied in a particular league and consistency over the course of the season might outweigh what a player truly accomplished. In fact, we dare say it is more impressive when a player comes in and accomplishes his goals over two leagues. Several players were worth mentioning, making the Player and Pitcher of the Year a difficult one.
The most important statistic for a position player is runs produced and Chad Huffman produced a lot. He led the system in RBIs with 104, adding 22 homers while also touching home plate 91 times. He ended the year with 47 extra base hits and drew 64 walks. He also hit .318 with runners in scoring position. After netting just three hits in his first 30 at bats in the California League, prompting questions about whether he was ready for the challenge after skipping Fort Wayne, Huffman swatted .329 the rest of the way.
A fierce competitor that understands the strike zone, Huffman is an athletic prospect that excels in the mental side of the game. He doesn't take failure to heart and works hard to get out of the valleys. Huffman has a competitiveness to him that will not be denied, making him a solid all-around prospect.
Huffman is known for his patience and his ability to wait for a pitch that he can drive, which he believes is one of the reasons behind his success.
"You're going to get your fastballs no matter what league you are in," said Huffman. "The key is just getting the one that you like and not missing that pitch. You're not going to get many second chances, so you can't miss your pitch."
Others of Note: Matt Antonelli was the man across two leagues – a true gamer that upped his game. Yordany Ramirez was better in Portland than Lake Elsinore and his confidence seemed to reach a new high. The Padres, however, may not sign him as a six-year free agent. Yefri Carvajal hammered the ball in Arizona and saw some struggles in Eugene as an 18-year-old before finishing up strong. A bright future. Brett Dowdy was a catalyst for two clubs and carried the Missions to a Championship.
His 13 wins over two leagues were impressive, as were his system leading 145 strikeouts. He also placed third in the system in overall ERA at 2.95 and allowed just 120 hits in 149.1 innings. Oh yea – he walked just 36 all season.
LeBlanc was dirty. He varied the speed on his fastball and flashed multiple looks at the competition, using his baseball acumen and mixing his pitches. He also added two different variations of the changeup, making hitters extremely uncomfortable in the box. The southpaw knows when to bury a pitch and when to nick the corners. San Diego could be calling soon.
"If I think the batter isn't going to swing I usually throw the harder change-up, if I think he is going to swing I throw the real slow one," LeBlanc admitted. "My game is all about throwing pitches the batter doesn't expect."
Others of Note: Nathan Culp toyed with the opposition in Fort Wayne before seeing some struggles in Lake Elsinore. He got better down the stretch. Ernesto Frieri was dynamite for the Wizards and even better with the Storm, before getting hit in the playoffs. Dirk Hayhurst – throw him anywhere and he simply does what is asked and gets the job done. Dylan Axelrod started off slow but was a go-to guy down the stretch for Fort Wayne.
Matt Antonelli, Chad Huffman, Wade LeBlanc and Manny Ayala were a big part of Lake Elsinore's success in the first half of the year and then they went up to San Antonio and helped move a team that finished last in its division in the first half to the Texas League crown.
Antonelli started off red-hot in July [.417], but slowed down in August [.234]. Even though Antonelli slumped in August, he still had OPS of .711 and with an overall line of .294/.395/.476 to go along with a fielding percentage of .975 and was a significant contributor to both squads.
"I got hot early in the year and kind of just kept it up," said Antonelli. "I had a little bit of a bump in the last month but that is more of just getting a little tired form a long season."
Others of note: Huffman put up some big numbers in Lake Elsinore. Over 84 games, he collected 76 RBIs and 36 extra base hits but slowed down some in San Antonio, ending with a final line of .269./362/.431.
There isn't much more to add about LeBlanc that Denis hasn't already touched on. LeBlanc was a big part of both Lake Elsinore and San Antonio's success this past year. In the Texas League playoffs, LeBlanc went 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA and 16 Ks in 12 innings pitched against four walks and five hits. Usually we are fairly skeptical about pitchers whose best pitch is a changeup, but with LeBlanc, both of his changeups are unreal. Throw in solid fastball command and a show-me curve and we should see him in San Diego sometime next year.
Ayala, after a big year at Lake Elsinore with an 11-3 record and a 2.22 ERA, struggled at San Antonio before going down with an arm injury. Still it was a very big year for the undrafted free agent out of the independent leagues.