Lake Elsinore Pitcher of the Year

Summary: The starting rotation of Jeremy Hefner, Corey Kluber, Cory Luebke, Jeremy McBryde, and Wynn Pelzer may have been the best ever assembled at a San Diego Padres minor league affiliate. Many performed up to expectations with a surprise or two sprinkled in.

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 San Diego Padres High-A affiliate in the California League is mainly comprised of second and third year players – most of the pitchers have already tasted full season ball. While Lake Elsinore is a pitcher's park, many of the other venues throughout the league favor the hitters. The staff ERA was more than half a run higher on the road.

Savage Sub-Rosa

Pitcher of the Year:
Cory Luebke
8-2, 2.34 ERA
Left-handed starter

In 14 starts, Luebke allowed more than two runs just three times and only once allowed more than three. He finished off his California League tour giving up nine runs over his final eight starts and was pacing the league in ERA at the time of his promotion. The southpaw underwent a major retooling of his delivery last year to eliminate a toe-tap and get him standing taller. That has given him better downward plan on the ball and improved his command tenfold. He may be ready for prime time sometime next year.

Runner-up:
Aaron Breit
2-6, 3.51 ERA
Right-handed starter

One of the most talented arms in the system has been held back for several years due to a lack of confidence. Breit jumped that hurdle this season and put up quality numbers in relief and the rotation. Breit had more strikeouts than innings pitched with fewer hits allowed. The Storm team didn't score nearly enough runs during his starts, hence the losing record. He has a great curveball and has always had a plus fastball but command of the pitch had him leaving balls over the plate. He is working inside more and getting better quality strikes.

Conniff Confidential

Pitcher of the Year:
Cory Luebke
8-2, 2.34 ERA
Left-handed starter

Luebke, 24, was the starting pitcher in the Cal-Carolina League All-Star game, and although the game was at the Storm's homefield, he earned the privilege. He had an 80-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he only allowed 73 hits and 23 earned runs in 88.1 innings. He averaged over six innings per start and held California League batters to a .227 average, the lowest of any of the starters. He pitched well in San Antonio too and should have a shot at being in San Diego sometime next year.

Runner-up:
Wynn Pelzer
11-8 3.94 ERA
Right-handed starter

Pelzer, 23, tied for the team lead in innings pitched at 150.2 while only allowing 134 hits. In 27 starts, he averaged less than 2.5 runs per game and struck out 147 against 59 walks. Only two starters, Cory Luebke and Jeremy McBryde, had a lower WHIP than Pelzer and Cal League batters were limited to a .244 average. Pelzer improved significantly in the second half, with his ERA dropping from 5.09 to 2.83. Pelzer is still relatively new to pitching, so his walk totals are slightly high, and as he refines his motion more, the results will continue to improve.

Others of Note: Jeremy Hefner scrapped the slider in favor of the curveball and found himself throwing more changeups as a result, giving him a better mix to keep hitters off-balance since he relied on the slider too much. Hefner earned 14 victories, the most on the staff and was a bulldog with 150.2 innings pitched. Jeremy McBryde was on his way towards a dynamite year before a back injury halted his season prematurely. He has a heavy fastball and combines it with a tight slider and improving changeup. McBryde went 6-3 with an 82-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Corey Kluber's methodical approach will get him in trouble, but when he speeds up his between pitch routine, the right-hander has a terrific blend of pitches. He was 7-9 with a 4.54 ERA in 19 starts, striking out 124 in 109 innings.

Manager's Comments: "He was aggressive. He has a nice downward plane on the ball. He was outstanding. He was our MVP." – manager Carlos Lezcano on Cory Luebke.

Top Prospect (Denis): Cory Luebke

The staff worked hard during the 2008 Instructional League to two things from Luebke's delivery – a toe-tap and standing him more upright. The result was increased command and the confidence to come inside with regularity. That has opened up the outside half for his secondary pitches to take over. It would not surprise to see him in San Diego in 2010.

Top Prospect (John): Jeremy McBryde

McBryde, 22, went down with a back sprain in late June and wasn't able to return, but with the exception of being part of two crazy games at Inland Empire and especially the 33-18 debacle at High Desert he pitched very well. He had 82 strikeouts in 75.1 innings pitched against only 19 walks. Throw out the clown game, and he allowed only 59 hits in 69.2 innings.

McBryde throws a heavy sinker along with a two-seamer that comes in around the low 90's, along with a good slider and developing change. He has the ability to pound the zone with pitches that are compared to hitting a bowling ball. If he can get healthy and continue to develop his change he has the potential to become a #3 starter or better.

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