Fort Wayne Wizards Pitcher of the Year

Summary: Despite the loss of Mat Latos, Fort Wayne still had the best raw talent of any team in the organization.

Both Jeremy McBryde and Wynn Pelzer can bring it with their fastballs and Jeremy Hefner is more than simply a college control specialist that we usually see at this level.

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 improve.

Conniff Confidential

Pitcher of the Year: Jeremy Hefner
Right-hander - 10-5, 3.33 ERA

Runner(s)- Up: Wynn Pelzer and Jeremy McBryde
9-7, 3.19 ERA and 8-9, 4.28 ERA

Hefner led the Wizards in wins, innings pitched (140.1) and was third in the league in strikeouts with 144. He was the team's most consistent pitcher throughout the year averaging nearly six innings a start and posted two excellent peripheral statistics; a K/BB ratio of 144/41 while giving up less hits than innings pitched, 117/140.1.

Hefner, 22, throws three pitches for strikes: fastball, changeup and a slider. He sits in the high-80s with a fastball that touches 90 to 91 MPH. He understands that to have the success at higher levels he has experienced in the Northwest and Midwest Leagues, he is going to need to throw his two-seam fastball much more than his four-seamer. He was promoted late in the year to Lake Elsinore, where he should begin 2009, on the back of his second consecutive strong year.

After Latos, Jeremy McBryde, 21, may have as much talent as any pitcher in the system. McBryde consistently sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and has pinpoint control, as evidenced by his ridiculous 158/24 K/BB ratio. So why did he go 8-9 and allow 151 hits in 136.2 innings pitched?

Because he still has to learn that no matter how hard a pitch comes in, unless you vary speeds and pitches, professional hitters are going to send it back faster. In August, he began to throw his changeup and slider more, in essence becoming more of a pitcher and it paid off. He went 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA, striking out 48 batters in only 34 innings against only six walks and 12 earned runs in six starts.

Pelzer, 22, had the lowest ERA of any starter at 3.19 and has the best movement on his two-seam fastball of anyone on the team, which he throws in the low-90s. He sat out 2008 with injuries, but he put together a solid year with a K/BB ratio was a good 100/32, and he also allowed less hits than innings pitched at 114/118.1.

Savage Sub-Rosa

Player of the Year: Jeremy Hefner
Right-hander - 10-5, 3.33 ERA

Runner- Up: Bryan Oland
Right-hander - 4-1, 0.88 ERA with one save

Four players were under consideration for this one – with Pelzer and Quezada also getting recognition for terrific seasons. Hefner, however, was the most consistent from start to finish. He allowed more than three runs just four times all season and notched three double-digit strikeout games. He also had 11 games where he yielded three hits or fewer and 15 starts where he allowed two runs or less.

Hefner has command of all of his pitches and the velocity of his fastball increased this year, as we expected it would after he regularly threw in the low-90s at Oral Roberts. The right-hander also has a solid slider that is a wipeout pitch against righties while favoring the changeup against lefties. Provided there is a spot open, it wouldn't surprise to see Hefner make a Stephen Faris like move to Double-A.

Oland didn't get a lot of ink but was sensational for the Wizards and he was stuck in extended to begin the year. The big right-hander struck out 64 batters in 51 innings while only walking eight and he gave up just five earned runs all season. Oland held the opposition to a .179 average and limited right-handed hitters to a .158 mark. With just six hits allowed in 41 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Oland did it all.

Oland has a power arm that can dial it up to 95 MPH on the radar gun with terrific command. What he really does well is put hitters away by not giving them a chance to get back into the count. With his plus fastball, he had good separation between his breaking ball to keep hitters off-balance and rolling over on his pitches.

Others of Note: Aaron Breit was much better as a reliever than as a starter but still had his struggles, particularly in the hits to innings pitched category at 61/51.2. Brandon Gomes provided solid long relief before his promotion to Lake Elsinore. He posted a 3.49 ERA across 56.2 innings. Prior to getting hurt, Allen Harrington was terrific as a starter, showing off his bulldog mentality. Mat Latos began the year here but was better after returning from his oblique injury, maturing from the sidelines. The Padres version of the "Two Cor(e)ys", Corey Kluber and Cory Luebke, struggled in Lake Elsinore before regaining their form in Fort Wayne with 10 starts each; Kluber being the more impressive of the two with a 72/13 K/BB ratio and a 3.21 ERA. Jackson Quezada, 22, led the organization in saves with 27 and dramatically improved his changeup and slider to go along with a hard sinking fastball that sits in the low-90s. Robert Woodard held the opposition to a .231 mark before a much deserved promotion.

Manager Commentary: "I can only remember one start where he got banged around a little bit. The guy can pitch. He has come a long way. He can move the fastball around and throw the changeup anytime he wants." – manager Doug Dascenzo on Jeremy Hefner.

Top Prospect: (John) Jeremy McBryde

The big Okie spent half of the season throwing just one pitch, a low to-mid-90s fastball down in the zone that was still pretty good. Once he discovered that there are other pitches and other speeds that you can throw pitches, he started to dominate.

He needs to command his fastball a little better to the outer third of the plate, and as odd as this sounds, maybe not throw as many strikes, but its all there. He is one of the very few pitchers in the organization that has the potential to become a top of the rotation starter.

Top Prospect: (Denis) Wynn Pelzer

Pelzer came into the season with a split-fingered fastball that had excellent depth and movement but the Padres shelved the pitch to go with a traditional changeup. He worked tirelessly to make the pitch serviceable, and as his confidence with the pitch grew, success followed. He now has three pitches he can toss for strikes.

Before the changeup could become a weapon, he had to rely on fastball command – which proved innate. His two-seamer has late life down in the zone and is a ground ball pitch. Coupled with the emergence of the changeup, he gets hitters rolling over on pitches or diving out over the dish to compensate. As he comes inside more, his effectiveness will continue to improve.

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