Fort Wayne TinCaps Hitter of the Year

Summary: This season the TinCaps put out, on a daily basis, maybe the best offensive lineup in the history of the organization. Fort Wayne hit a collective .266/.365/.399, and despite losing three of their best offensive players in midseason, James Darnell, Matt Clark and Sawyer Carroll, they didn't skip a beat en route to 101 victories.

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 Midwest League is often a prospect's first chance to be indoctrinated into full season ball. Known as a pitcher's league, as only eight batters managed to hit over .300 in 2009, hitters and pitchers alike often hit a wall during the hot months of August. April isn't kind either, as the weather can include snow and sleet.

Conniff Confidential:

Player of the Year:
James Darnell
.329/.468/.518
Third baseman

Darnell, 22, tore up the Midwest League before being promoted in June to Lake Elsinore. He had 73 hits, 26 of them for extra bases, in 66 games and a 57-to-51 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He led the team in on-base and slugging percentage, but the big question is does he have the glove to stay at third base? He had 19 errors with the TinCaps and 11 with the Storm. If he can't stay at third, he has the arm to play either corner of the outfield.

Runner Up:
Jaff Decker
.299/.442/.514
Outfielder

Decker led the league in on-base percentage and finished second in slugging, which is very good for someone that won't turn 20 until February. He led the team in extra-base hits, home runs and was second in walks to only first baseman Allan Dykstra, the league and overall minor league leader. He had an 85-to-92 walk-to-strikeout ratio and was tied for second in runs scored and RBI. He possesses a strong accurate arm that gave him 11 outfield assists.

Savage Sub-Rosa:

Player of the Year:
Jaff Decker
.299/.442/.514
Outfielder

Decker has done it all since entering the system and the 2009 season was no different. An on-base machine that hits for average and power, the outfielder also showed that he has a knack for stealing bases, taking 10 in 15 attempts. The crazy part is Decker is still learning how to hit and recognize pitches and will only get better over time. His only struggle came against southpaws where he hit .219. An instinctual player, Decker uses the whole field and can turn on the inside fastball. He hit a homer this year that had the whole team abuzz when it went into the upper deck in right field – estimated at over 450 feet.

Runner Up:
Sawyer Carroll
.316/.410/.464
Outfielder

The MVP of the Midwest League All-Star game, Carroll jumped from Fort Wayne to Double-A San Antonio during the season. A sleeper within the organization, he was a terror with men in scoring position, hitting .384 for the TinCaps. He notched 26 extra base hits during his time with the squad and ended the year with 57 across three leagues to go with 96 RBI. The most impressive part about Carroll's game is that he hits left-handed pitching as well as he does right-handed – a far cry from last year when he struggled against them. With a more direct line to the pitcher and a toned down wrap, Carroll can turn on the inside fastball while utilizing the whole field when presented with a pitch on the outer half.

Others of Note: Blake Tekotte, 22, had a better year than his overall numbers, .258/.345/.396, would indicate. He finished second on the team in extra-base hits with 42 and led the Midwest League in outfield putouts with 289. He worked on eliminating a wrap in his swing and that affected his timing early in the season. Dan Robertson continues to get things done after winning Northwest League MVP honors, hitting .296/.380/.398 in the Midwest League. He is one of the best defensive outfielders in the system and led the team in RBI with 65 while hitting everywhere in the lineup except the cleanup spot. Finally, former number one draft pick Allan Dykstra, 22, had a very unusual year, hitting .226/.397/.375 while leading the minor leagues in walks with 104. Dykstra missed significant portions of the off-season recovering from wrist surgery and the Padres made several adjustments to his swing. It all came together in August where he hit .319/.432/.505.

Manager's Comments: "I think he finished 10th in the League in hitting and to be 19 years old and be able to come up here and be productive like that says a lot about this kid." – Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo on Jaff Decker.

Top Prospect: Jaff Decker

To do what Decker did at 19, essentially a college freshman playing against players with much more experience than him, is amazing. He has an extremely advanced approach at the plate. Decker is constantly looking for a pitch to drive and rarely goes outside the zone. He is a better defensive player and athlete than he is given credit for and next year in the warmer, hitter-friendly California League could put up some serious numbers. To slug 16 homers in the Midwest League was also a major positive, giving him the kind of power that could provide serious damage at the top level.

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