AZL Padres Pitcher of the Year

Summary: The AZL Padres went 33-23 and missed the playoffs by a game in Jose Flores' inaugural year as the manager, and the pitchers led the league in the least amount of walks, which is one of the more important pitching statistics to the organization.

The Arizona Rookie League Padres had a rich assortment of talented position players, but several pitchers, most notably Stiven Osuna and the hulking Chris Wilkes, were also impressive.

Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards, whichever team the player appeared at the most determined their eligibility. For the top prospect we took into account not only what the players did this year, but their age and potential to get better.

Conniff Confidential

Pitcher of the Year: Stiven Osuna
Right-hander - 7-3, 2.18 ERA

Runner- Up: Chris Wilkes
Right-hander - 7-1, 3.21 ERA

Osuna, 21, was solid throughout the year allowing only 11 earned runs and 62 hits in 70.1 innings with a 57/11 K/BB ratio. The right-hander's best pitch is a plus sinker, and he held batters to a .241 average. He got stronger as the year went on with his ERA dropping each month from 3.00, 2.70 to 1.57 in August.

Wilkes was a long shot for the Padres to sign, hadn't played baseball as much as others and had a full scholarship to the University of Mississippi as a quarterback. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Orlando native turned down the Rebels and signed with the Padres. In Arizona, he started 10 games and won seven of them, striking out 45 against five walks in 61.2 innings. Only 18, he is blessed with a solid fastball and developing secondary pitches. One thing he does do is what the organization insists upon – throwing strikes.

Savage Sub-Rosa

Pitcher of the Year: Chris Wilkes
Right-hander - 7-1, 3.21 ERA

Runner- Up: Stiven Osuna
Right-hander - 7-3, 2.18 ERA

Stronger than any number posted, a 3.55 ground ball to fly ball ratio by Wilkes had these eyes lighting up. What it means is Wilkes worked ahead in the count, pitched down in the zone, and got hitters rolling over on his fastball and changeup.

Having never thrown the slip before, Wilkes grasped onto the pitch with fervor and made it his mission to compel the hitters to swing at his pitches. Add in location of his arsenal on both sides of the plate for a guy that had more football than baseball in his bloodlines and this kid is someone to watch.

Osuna is a control pitcher that relies on a fastball that has late life down in the zone. Consistent in plying his trade, the right-hander was a quick starter who set the tone early, rarely allowing runs the first time through a lineup.

Perhaps his most impressive trait was Osuna's ability to keep the ball in the yard. He did not allow a single homer on the season and got better in each start, seeing his confidence soar along the way. After surrendering more hits than innings pitched in two of his first three starts, Osuna allowed more hits than innings just once over his final 11.

Others of Note: Jose DePaula, 18, was a little more hittable than both Osuna and Wilkes with AZL batters hitting .288 off of him, but he still went 4-3 with a 3.57 ERA and posted an exceptional 56/9 K/BB ratio in 53 innings. The lefty is very similar to his counterpart Osuna both have good command and changeups and as their bodies fill out could develop more velocity. You don't find many pitchers that hail from the Canary Islands but the 6-foot-5 Eric Gonzalez, 22, a former South Alabama Jaguar put together some nice numbers with 34 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched against only five walks and 17 hits in relief. Brad Brach, 22, was selected in the 42nd-round of the 2007 draft from Monmouth College and in limited action with the AZL Padres put up the kind of statistics that San Diego likes to see from relief pitchers, striking out more than a batter an inning, 33 K's in 22 innings pitched, while walking just a few batters. The 6-foot-6 right-hander isn't the hardest thrower around, but he did lead the team in saves with four and posted a 2.01 ERA.

Manager Commentary: "I loved this kid. He is the type of kid that will come out and compete for you the minute he takes the rubber. He spots balls and throws every pitch with a purpose." – AZL Padres manager Jose Flores on Stiven Osuna

(John) Top Prospect: Chris Wilkes

If Wilkes does pan out this will be a tremendous coup for the Padres scouting department that essentially went on a package of tools and personal assessments rather than seeing him pitch in an actual game.

At Dr. Philips High School in Orlando, Florida, he was 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 46.1 innings, but was seen as a more promising football recruit.

In the Arizona Rookie League Wilkes did show his ability, especially in August when he went 4-0 in six starts with 22 strike outs in 31 innings pitched and no walks and a 2.32 ERA.

Where he ends up next year will depend on two things: how much progress the organization judges that he makes as a pitcher, and, more importantly, how strong they gauge his arm. Remember, Wilkes is not used to pitching anywhere close to the demands of a five-month season that he would go through as a starter in the Midwest League.

He may be better off working on his pitches and arm angles in extended spring training and then pitching in Eugene as the Padres did with Simon Castro this year.

(Denis) Top Prospect: Jose DePaula

A left-hander with impeccable control, DePaula struggled early in the year with putting hitters away. In one contest, the southpaw had four hitters in a 0-2 count and allowed a hit to each of those batters. As the season wore on, however, he got better at getting the outs he needed.

DePaula even had several 10-plus-pitch at-bats with hitters regularly fouling off pitches. Knowing he would be around the plate, hitters sat on the corners. He simply threw too many strikes. DePaula has a good changeup that could become great and a solid curveball that has been a plus pitch at times. He also has a good fastball that the Padres project to add a few ticks over the next several years.

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