San Antonio Missions Pitcher of the Year

Summary: After being pulverized in the high desert of the California League, the in-blowing winds of Nelson Wolf Stadium are welcome respites from the hitter's paradises that will be at their next stop in the Pacific Coast League.

This year, the Padres had several notable pitching prospects in San Antonio: Will Inman, Steve Garrison and Matt Buschmann all experienced success during the season. Greg Burke emerged as a bona fide relief prospect and Mike Ekstrom, after going through the toughest two months of his career, seems to have found his niche.

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: Mike Ekstrom
Right-hander – 11-8, 4.58 ERA

Runner-Up: Matt Buschmann
Right-hander – 10-6, 2.98 ERA

Ekstrom, 25, got off to a slow start last year after a big season in the Cal League in 2006 and never really got on track in ‘07. During the month of May, Ekstrom went 1-2 with a 9.86 ERA in five starts. He was sent to the bullpen where he turned around his season.

Working mainly in one or two inning relief stints, his velocity and command returned, resulting in a 9-3 record and a 2.34 ERA in the second half. In that time period, he struck out 53 batters in 50.1 innings against only 14 walks. He is a little hittable allowing 54 hits and Texas League batters hit .274 against him but only allowed 13 earned runs, leading the Missions in wins.

He will probably start the season in Portland for 2009, but he's certainly put himself back on the prospect map with his standout season.

Buschmann, 24, was the most consistent starter for San Antonio this year, leading the Missions' starters in ERA and innings pitched. He finished second in the Texas League in ERA and third overall in strikeouts. His walks were a little high in his K/BB ratio of 118/58, but his hits to innings pitched was solid at 137/148.

The Vanderbilt grad is not going to blow anyone away with his velocity, but he has good fastball command, a plus sweeping slider and an improving changeup. The walks were higher than it has been in his career but all other indicators, strikeouts, ERA and hits to innings pitched were career bests.

Savage Sub-Rosa

Player of the Year: Greg Burke
Right-hander - 2-7, 2.24 ERA, 23 saves

Runner- Up: Gabe DeHoyos
Right-hander 6-4, 2.69 ERA, 4 saves

Burke wasn't much of a prospect coming into the season. He was a fringe player that the organization loved having around for his durability and ability to fill multiple roles. The off-season, however, changed the thinking. He added weight to his frame and with it came increased velocity and a plus pitch. Normally working with his two-seam fastball, Burke developed a quasi-slider that acts like a cut fastball, getting hitters to swing over the top and roll over on it. It became his go-to pitch through the season.

The right-hander earned the save in 23-of-26 chances, allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and struck out 9.82 batters per nine innings. And his first save didn't come until May 24. Relying on the slider for much of the season, he posted a sub 2.25 ERA in four of his five months, suffering through a rough stretch in July but still posting a 2.24 ERA across 59 appearances for the season. He allowed just nine hits in 63 at-bats with runners in scoring position and the only downside among the numbers posted was a high average against left-handers.

DeHoyos didn't look very good in spring training. The command seemed off and the curveball was a loopy and easy to recognize. After allowing 11 earned runs over his first eight outings, the right-hander turned things around and yielded 14 earned over his final 52 appearances. His curveball became a plus pitch with its 12-to-6 movement and his fastball command improved dramatically.

The New Mexico native ended up striking out 11.83 batters per nine innings and was equally effective versus right-handers and left-handers. He allowed just two gopher balls in 83.2 innings and stranded all but three inherited runners on the season. DeHoyos' has some deception, but his breaking ball was so good it had knees buckling with two strikes.

Others of Note: Philip Barzilla came in midway through the year and performed admirably without plus stuff, posting a 3.78 ERA. Mike DeMark was dynamite in his 12 appearances in Double-A. Jon Ellis produced nine wins as a reliever, showing the coaches faith in his abilities, and held right-handed hitters to a .208 average. Stephen Faris allowed 11 earned runs over an 11-game stretch from June through July before struggling down the stretch. Will Inman, 21, led the Texas League in strikeouts with 140 but also led the league in walks with 71. In the first half, he was dominant with an 8-3 record and 2.96 ERA striking out 92 batters in 85 innings against only 64 hits and 36 walks. The second half it was a different story with a 1-5 record and a 4.47 ERA as his control deserted him walking 35 batters and allowing 55 hits in 50.1 innings. Steve Garrison was the other young pitcher that the Padres acquired in the Scott Linebrink trade from the Milwaukee Brewers. He finished second in the Texas League in WHIP at 1.23. The left-hander, as with Inman, was better in the first half with a 3.09 ERA and a 65/21 K/BB ratio as compared to a second half of a 4.94 ERA and a 43/16 K/BB ratio. Neil Jamison was good before injury ended his season. Mauro Zarate allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and posted a 1.77 ERA across 28 appearances.

Manager Commentary: "Matt Buschmann is the epitome of a gamer. He loves to have the ball. His mentality and confidence level - he feels that no one can hit him." - manager Bill Masse on Buschmann.

Top Prospect: Will Inman

The key with Inman is becoming more efficient with his pitches, which will allow him to maintain his velocity and make his secondary offerings, a curveball and changeup, more effective. He's very young and will most likely return to San Antonio for at least half the season, but he has the potential to develop into a #3 or #4 starter.

There are some concerns about his durability and his mechanics, but when he was on he was the most dominant pitcher on the squad. His arm angle changed slightly this year, leading to some of the control problems. Inman will have to find a happy medium to utilize his deception and sneaky fastball to see future success.

John and Denis both agreed on the top prospect

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