AZL Padres Pitcher of the Year

Summary: This year's version of the Arizona League (AZL) Padres featured some strong ams in Adys Portillo, Deiber Sanchez, Rafeal Arias and James Needy and possibly a few more sleepers in the Padres' desert outpost.

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 of not what the players did this year, but their age and ability to improve.

Level: The Arizona League is the bottom rung of the ladder in the Padres organization and the first place that high school players, Latin American players and college players with some questions land. The games are played at the Padres spring training complex before, and we are being generous, "limited fan support." As anyone can imagine playing in the mid-summer heat of Phoenix is no joy.

Conniff Confidential

Pitcher of the Year:

Deiber Sanchez
4-2, 3.00 ERA
Right-handed starter

Sanchez, 20, struck out 45 batters against 15 walks in 51 innings. The thin Columbian packs more of a punch than one would think, bringing it around 91 to 93 mph to go along with a pretty good slider. The Padres made him a starter after gradually stretching him out. The only negative was that he allowed five home runs, which is a little high for the amount of innings he pitched, but he was still able to hold AZL batters to a .226 average.

Runner-up:

Rafeal Arias
3-0 2.22 ERA
Right-handed reliever

He can throw 95, has a wipeout slider, strikes out over a batter an inning and is 20 years old. I don't know about everyone else, but that is a pretty good example of the type of relief prospect that are good to have in any organization. Arias had 37 strikeouts in 28.1 innings against only seven walks. He held right-handed hitters to a .217/.270/.261 line. He's someone to keep an eye on.

Savage Sub-Rosa

Pitcher of the Year:

Rafeal Arias
3-0, 2.22 ERA
Right-handed reliever

The Padres were unsure Arias would even make it out of spring training after control problems nearly derailed his career. DSL Padres manager Evaristo Lantigua fought for him and was rewarded. A guy who had trouble hitting the side of a barn became the team's closer and went on to hold the leadoff hitter of an inning to a .179 on-base percentage. Arias allowed just three extra base hits all season, pitching down in the zone and using a terrific slider to finish off hitters.

Runner-up:

Deiber Sanchez
4-2, 3.00 ERA
Right-handed starter

One start accounted for five of the 17 earned runs he allowed all year, costing him 77 ERA points for the season. Sanchez held the opposition to a .170 average with runners in scoring position and stranded all of the runners he inherited before moving into the rotation. A quick worker that keeps runners close, Sanchez has to continue to work on his secondary pitches to be effective. He isn't a flame thrower but has a plan of attack on the mound and keeps hitters on their toes.

Others of Note: James Needy, 18, was a sixth-round local draft pick out of Santee High School and performed well in limited time, 17.1 innings. The 6-foot-6 right-hander really had only one bad outing out of five and should have a shot at the starting rotation in Fort Wayne next year. Pedro Hernandez, 20, is a little more polished than both Sanchez and Arias, but at the same time doesn't have quite as much stuff; although a 31/4 K/BB ratio in 33 innings gets people's attention. Also keep an eye on big Matthew Lolis, 18, who at 6-foot-7, 230-pounds is a load and the organization liked what it saw in very limited viewings.

Manager's Commentary: "Arias just dominated. He added five more miles per hour on his fastball. It was like night and day between extended spring and the season. (Pitching coach) Jimmy Jones helped him a lot." - Jose Flores on Rafeal Arias.

Top Prospect: Adys Portillo

The Padres signed Portillo out of the Dominican Republic last year for $2 million, taking a substantial risk on a 16-year-old, albeit a very projectable 6-foot-3, 185-pound 16-year-old. Obviously a 1-9 record in not good, but at this level the potential is more important than results, and Portillo showed some real flashes of dominance, especially considering this is the equivalent of his high school junior year. He struck out 44 batters in 52.2 innings; what is going to have to change is his control, 28 walks and catching too much of the plate with 67 hits. Still the Padres liked the way the right-hander competed and the talent is there, it's just going to take awhile.

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