Lake Elsinore Storm Pitcher of the Year

Summary: The Lake Elsinore pitching staff took a step back from last season, seeing their team ERA rise by 50 points from the previous year on a team that recorded just one shutout after notching 10 such games a season ago.

The Storm posted a 4.71 team ERA – ranking seventh in the 10-team circuit – while ranking dead last in strikeouts. They were also seventh in fewest homers allowed and eighth in fewest hits allowed.

Nine pitchers who saw action with the Storm this season posted an ERA over 5.00, and 15 of the 19 pitchers with more than 20 innings pitched allowed more hits than innings pitched.

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.

Savage Sub-Rosa

Pitcher of the Year: Mike DeMark
Right-hander – 1-2, 2.17 ERA

Runner-Up: Nathan Culp
Left-hander – 14-8, 3.83 ERA

It's not often that a reliever not in the closer's role is as valuable as Demark was in 2008. If the game was tight, you could be assured that the Pennsylvania native was warming up. He stranded 15-of-21 inherited base runners, giving up just nine hits in 55 at-bats with runners in scoring position. More amazingly, he gave up one hit and two RBIs the eight times he had to face the bases loaded. Against right-handed hitter, DeMark held serve with a .153 average against. He struck out 53 and led the team with 15 holds as the eighth inning bridge to the closer.

DeMark is a mentally tough pitcher that thrives on pressure situations. Armed with a fastball that hits the mid-90s, DeMark has a bit of deception in his delivery that makes the pitch jump on a hitter. He can get fastball happy and worked hard over the last year to develop his changeup into a quality pitch. When he is changing speeds effectively, DeMark is tough to hit.

Culp's stats aren't ones to wow, but he allowed two earned runs or less in 14 of his 26 starts and worked at least six innings 16 times. The left-hander works to contact, resulting in a .296 average against but stays around the strike zone with 23 walks issued in 157.1 innings.

Culp reminds of the days of Jack Cassel – a ground ball pitcher that would have more hits than innings pitched but would limit the damage. He has four quality pitches he can throw for strikes and while he lacks a true strikeout pitch, he works ahead and gets his fielders in on the action, posting a team-high 19 double play grounders. An innings-eater that keeps his team in position to win, he keeps hitters off-balance with his bevy of pitches.

Conniff Confidential

Pitcher of the Year: Michael DeMark
Right-hander – 1-2, 2.17 ERA

Runner-Up: Rolando Valdez
Right-hander – 8-5, 4.00 ERA

You have to like the 53/19 K/BB ratio DeMark posted, and, more importantly, the 49.2/35 innings pitched to hits ratio, as California League batters managed a paltry .196 average against him.

If DeMark, 25, maintains his strikeout to per inning worked ratio he has a good chance of ending up in the Padres or another major league bullpen.

Valdez, 22, was moved into the rotation from the bullpen in July and preceded to deliver the most consistent performances of any Storm starter. California League batters were held to a .239 average, the lowest of anyone with more than 10 starts. Valdez' K/BB ratio was a solid 79/24, and he allowed less hits than innings pitched at 90/99.

The former outfielder that was converted to the mound has a solid fastball and a plus changeup that has returned to the plus pitch he sported in 2006. In August, he averaged six innings a start – the only downside was that he elevated a few pitches, making his susceptible to the gopher ball.

Others of note: Cesar Carrillo returned from injury, but the most important detail is he is healthy and the command will return. Ernesto Frieri was dynamite in relief and so-so as a starter but logged valuable innings. Corey Kluber gave up 62 runs in 85.1 innings but seemed to find his command when he was demoted. Wilton Lopez saved 12-of-13 and posted a 2.64 ERA but was more hittable this year than last when he was added to the 40-man. Cory Luebke saw the opposition hit .323 off him and wore a 6.84 ERA before being demoted and finding some of his luster. John Madden rebounded from a poor 2007 and showed he can be a ground ball machine, securing a better than 3-to-1 ratio of grounders to fly outs. Drew Miller struggled through the year, giving up 11.5 hits per nine innings pitched. R.J. Rodriguez was moved out of the closer's role after blowing six saves in 18 chances, as right-handers feasted to the tune of a .331 average. Evan Scribner struck out 31 while allowing just 14 hits in 23.1 innings in what looks like a very solid trade acquisition. Rolando Valdez also moved to the rotation and seemed to perform better once in the role, suffering one bad game that skewed his stats, accounting for 40 percent of the runs he allowed over 11 starts.

Manager Commentary: "He did well for us. He throws in the 90s with a good slider. He got it altogether this year and attacked the zone by throwing strikes." – manager Carlos Lezcano on Mike DeMark.

Top Prospect: Drew Miller

With numbers such as a 6.10 ERA, 172 hits allowed in 134.1 innings, a .313 average against, and a .393 mark with runners on base and two outs, it seems like Miller isn't much of a prospect. Add in team-highs with 19 homers allowed, eight hit batsman and 13 wild pitches and you wonder where the excitement is held. The stuff.

Miller has a fastball that sits in the 92-93 MPH range and will hit 95. Even his two-seamer, a newer pitch for the right-hander, has similar velocity. Controlling the two-seamer has been more of a problem, as he has left it over the plate too many times. And his dedication to the changeup, another pitch that has been hanging over the middle of the dish, will also serve him well in the future. He also has a good breaking ball and needs to command the two-seamer and changeup better low in the zone. Each pitch is tough to hit when he keeps them down, and he has better separation on all pitches than he did a year ago. A year from now, this will be the aberration.

Both Denis and John agreed on the top prospect

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