Portland Beavers Pitcher of the Year

Summary: While the Portland Beavers had the exact same team ERA as a season ago, they managed to win 12 more games and ended the year with a 70-74 record. Still, the team finished 13th in the 16-team Pacific Coast League with a 5.08 ERA.

The Beavers staff was 10th in hits allowed, seventh in homers and walks, fourth in saves and strikeouts and tied for third with seven shutouts. Three pitchers dotted the PCL leader board, but the squad allowed more hits than innings pitched and allowed a 1.48 WHIP overall.

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: Dirk Hayhurst
Right-hander – 2-3, 3.75 ERA

Runner-Up: Wade LeBlanc
Left-hander - 11-9, 5.32 ERA

It was no wonder that Hayhurst was the first call-up to San Diego, trumping other potential starters. The right-hander allowed four runs over his last 22.2 innings pitched, a 1.74 ERA, and struck out 10.5 batters per nine innings pitched. He held the opposition to a .159 average with runners in scoring position and two outs, earning two saves and two spot starts along the way.

Hayhurst has a no fear attitude that lays it all on the line every time he goes out. While he can be over analytical, he has learned how to move on from a bad outing and regain his poise. He pitches ahead in the count with a fastball that moves and uses his curveball as an effective out pitch, getting hitters to roll over or hit weak fly balls.

LeBlanc's overall ERA isn't a good indication of how well he pitched for much of the year. When he was good, he was very good. Subsequently, when he was bad, things spiraled out of control quickly. He had 12 starts where he allowed one run or less and eight starts where six runs or more crossed. There was little middle ground. He tossed 63 percent of his pitches for strikes en route to placing third in the league in wins and second in the circuit in strikeouts.

LeBlanc is a backwards pitcher. He has two changeups that he consistently works with – one a pitch that he throws for strikes and a second that he is able to bury in the dirt for swinging strikeouts to put hitters away. A fly ball pitcher, he had some trouble keeping the ball in the park – seeing 21 balls go yard. With a fastball that sits in the mid-80s, control is his most important tool.

Conniff Confidential

Pitcher of the Year: Wade LeBlanc
Left-hander - 11-9, 5.32 ERA

Runner-Up: Dirk Hayhurst and Josh Geer
Right-hander – 2-3, 3.75 ERA and right-hander -

LeBlanc learned how to throw a new pitch, a two-seam fastball, the majority of the time and after struggling for the first time in his professional career came on to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the PCL. In April, he had a 9.27 ERA as batters hit .365 against him. After the All-Star break, he had a 2.86 ERA with batters hitting .191 against him, striking out 46 batters in 44 innings against only five walks.

The key for LeBlanc is the ability to get ahead with the two-seamer to set up his changeup(s) and show-me curveball. His four-seam fastball is very straight, but he has very good command with it and a very good ability to spot it on the outside corner.

As Hayhurst has progressed in the system, he has consistently improved at each level. The key to his success is his ability to command four pitches as a relief pitcher, where batters rarely see pitchers that have that many pitches in their arsenal and don't usually get a second look at him. His pitching coaches swear that he not only works the hardest but also the most intelligently, and his pitches have improved every year.

Hayhurst believes that he has a very narrow window for success, but to his credit his greatest strength is in his ability to know what he can and can't do. If he sticks in the major leagues, it will be in the role that he has shined in Double-A and Triple-A, long relief/spot starter.

Geer led the staff in innings pitched, and like the rest of the staff, struggled with the change from the pitcher friendly Nelson Wolf Stadiums to some of the bandboxes of the PCL. He still finished second on the team in wins and strikeouts. Geer is a sinker/slider pitcher with a change that has been improving. His K/BB ratio was a good 107/45 but where he was hurt was on the artificial turf in PGE Park that saw his hits to innings pitch ratio balloon to 187/166.2.

Others of note: Paul Abraham wasn't very good in Portland, posting a 5.52 ERA before a demotion and subsequently getting injured. Josh Geer led the league in innings pitched with 166.2 and posted a respectable 4.54 ERA. He allowed more hits than innings pitched but also led the team with 20 double play grounders. Enrique Gonzalez had a renaissance when moved to the pen, posting a 2.70 ERA in 22 appearances after a 5.61 mark as a starter. Edwin Moreno was second in saves with 25 but also blew seven games and struggled down the stretch. Chad Reineke was a nice late addition but gave up five bombs in 17.1 innings. Joe Thatcher was dynamite against right-handed hitter, holding them to a .218 average. Mauro Zarate couldn't eliminate the big inning and ended the year with a 5.26 ERA and .355 average against with runners in scoring position.

Manager Commentary: "Geer is a control guy, he needs to stay down in the zone, locate and change speeds. He likes to work fast and the defense enjoys playing behind him." – Portland manager Randy Ready on Josh Geer

Top Prospect: (Denis) Wade LeBlanc

It was a learning year for the southpaw. He came into the year with the intent of working on his two-seamer and found out just how important pitch sequencing is. His two-seam fastball has more movement than the four-seamer and offers that as the advantage without a big drop in velocity. He also has a pair of changeups and a serviceable breaking ball.

Five starts in; he had posted a 9.27 ERA in the PCL. While he got down shortly thereafter, he refocused his energies on the problem and making the adjustments accordingly. The issue he faced was hitters connecting on his changeup for the first time in his career. With 40 percent of his pitches a slip pitch, batters knew it would be coming at some point. He actually surrendered more extra base hits when he was ahead in the count, a direct result of hitters sitting on the change of pace when the count was in his favor. He made adjustments through the season and improved greatly as a result. Fastball command will tell his future tale.

Top Prospect: (John) Josh Geer

LeBlanc is easy to like, but Geer has a chance to be more successful at the major league level. While Geer does not have the plus pitch that LeBlanc does, he does have a very good sinker, which is the pitch he throws 75 to 80 percent of the time on the mound compared to LeBlanc who has to work to get to his best pitch that he can only throw 25 to 30 percent of the time.

Geer is able to command his sinker to both sides of the plate, add and subtract off of it, making it virtually impossible to get a consistent pattern on him regardless of how much video the opposition watches. He's an efficient pitcher that is able to eat innings and should be a quality #5 starter at the major league level, probably beginning next year.

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