Level: The Triple-A level is fast becoming a combination of development and a taxi squad for major league teams. At this level, there are many players that are good enough to be in the major leagues, just not in the organization they are currently with.
Pitcher of the Year:
4-9, 3.87 ERA
LeBlanc's won-loss record this year is indicative that to value how far a pitcher's development has come, there are other statistics that can measure it. LeBlanc, 25, struck out 95 batters in 121 innings pitched against only 31 walks. He allowed fewer hits, 109, than innings pitched while PCL batters were held to a .240 batting average against. In 20 starts, he averaged six innings an outing and gave up less than three earned runs a game. His biggest negative is that he still has a tendency to give up the long ball, leading the staff with 15 home runs allowed. This season, he focused much more on his fastball command than on results in the minors. The Padres know he can dominate minor league hitters, but to have success on the major league level he has to command his fastball to set up the plus changeup.
7-7, 3.46 ERA
Banks tied for the team lead in strikeouts with LeBlanc with 95 against 36 walks in 125 innings pitched. He also allowed fewer hits, 120, than innings pitched and also allowed less than three runs a start in the hitter-friendly PCL. Banks, 26, has bounced back and forth between the major leagues for the past few seasons and was ineffective in three starts in San Diego this year.
Pitcher of the Year:
4-2, 1.73 ERA
In 41 games as a reliever, Esktrom posted a filthy 1.04 ERA, giving up just 40 hits in 60.1 innings for a .194 average against. It was his one start that moved his ERA up to 1.73 for the season. A ground ball pitcher that works off a two-seam fastball, Esktrom held the leadoff hitter of an inning to a .135 average. He allowed just nine extra base hits all season while stranding 15-of-18 inherited runners. Ekstrom was dominant from beginning to end, never giving up more than one run in a relief outing. His slider remains an out pitch.
4-9, 3.87 ERA
LeBlanc allowed two runs or less in 12 of his 20 starts for the Beavers. In eight of those games, he took a no-decision or a loss. He took a loss twice in games where he yielded a single run. What he learned this year was he could no longer work backwards and expect to see positive results. The changeup was not a tool he could use to setup the fastball. Instead, he worked diligently after getting smacked around in his first stint in San Diego on improving his fastball command. With that in tow, his changeup and curveball became more effective. The results were evident in San Diego.
Others of Note: Tim Stauffer, 27, made a brief stop in Portland, going 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA on his way back to the majors, one of the better comeback stories in baseball this year. Cesar Ramos was 5-6 with a 3.99 ERA in an injury shortened year. Ramos, 25, was limited to 15 starts and again his peripheral statistics don't look great with a 45/31 K/BB ratio and a .274 batting average against him, but he does have his supporters within the organization. Poreda, 22, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound lefty acquired in the Jake Peavy trade has a very big mid-90s fastball and held batters to a .239 batting average. He struck out 30 batters in 32.2 innings against only 28 hits in six starts. The big problem – where is the ball going? He gave up 37 walks which led to 26 earned runs.
Top Prospect: Aaron Poreda
Poreda essentially gets into trouble anytime he attempts to throw anything other than a fastball and will have to develop at a minimum a serviceable changeup and slider to have a chance as a big league starter. However, the number of pitchers that the Padres have in their system that can consistently throw in the mid-90s are less than the digits on your hand. San Diego knows that they have quite a bit of work to do with him, but the upside is tremendous.