MadFriars’ April Players of the Month

Each month, MadFriars will take a look at the best performances across the Padres minor league system. April featured strong performances from a number of the Padres’ highly-regarded pitching prospects. On the offensive side however, the top production came from unheralded and forgotten players. But that, as the saying goes, is why they play the games.

Tucson Padres

We’ve already seen several of the top early producers from Tucson join the big leagues with Kyle Blanks — who posted a .943 OPS in his short Triple-A stint — and Thad Weber getting call-ups. However, while Weber was the only Tucson starter with an ERA below 4.50, there were several strong offensive performances.

Unheralded outfielder Dan Robertson has done nothing but get on base since the club drafted him in the 33rd round in 2008. But even by the standards he’s set, a .362/.456/.521 line in 25 games is fantastic. The undersized righty has more walks than strikeouts and almost as many extra-base hits. Robertson also provides value on the base paths, where he has eight stolen bases in nine attempts, and defensively in center where he has enough range and strong instincts to go get the ball.

Other top producers in Tucson include Dean Anna, a versatile infielder whose .558 slugging percentage is solid even in the thin air of the Pacific Coast League, and 22-year-old infielder Jonathan Galvez. At the other end of the spectrum, Nick Vincent and Miles Mikolas, who both contributed in the Majors last season, have been eminently hittable out of the Tucson bullpen, and starter Keyvius Sampson struggled enough to get sent backward to San Antonio.

April Player of the month: Dan Robertson

San Antonio Missions

Pitching was supposed to be the strength of this club, and through the first month the arms certainly haven’t disappointed. Eight members of the staff, including three starters, posted sub-3.00 ERAs in April. Late-inning relievers Kevin Quackenbush and Matt Stites have been stellar, but Burch Smith has been even more impressive in the rotation.

Smith, who got a six-figure bonus as a 14th-round pick in 2011, has ridden his plus fastball to a dominating Double-A debut. The big righty posted a 1.38 ERA over 26 innings, giving up only 15 hits and a fantastic 31:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Smith’s performance outshines rotation-mates Matt Andriese and Jose De Paula, who is making up for lost time after visa problems kept him from getting stateside last year.

While pitching dominance was predictable, the Missions’ league-best offensive production is a shock. Much of the early success comes courtesy of a pair of forgotten outfielders. Former second rounder Everett Williams came out blasting over the first two weeks before cooling off later in the month. Rey Fuentes, however, has been strong since opening night. The “other guy” left from the Adrian Gonzalez trade posted a .347/.422/.505 line, good for one of the best park-adjusted OPS totals in the Texas League. With a reworked swing and more strength than he’s shown before, Fuentes — still just 22 years old — has been the revelation of the system through the first month.

The offense took a big hit last week when they learned Tommy Medica will be sidelined until June with a strained rib cage muscle. Medica’s .639 slugging percentage is second in the Texas League. If the team is to fill the gap, shortstop Jeudy Valdez and outfielder Justin Miller will need to pick up after a disappointing April.

April Player of the Month: Burch Smith

Lake Elsinore Storm

On a roster filled with highly-regarded position prospects, an unknown first baseman and the best pitching prospect most minor league followers haven’t heard of led the charge for the Storm in April.

Lee Orr was unstoppable at the plate for two weeks in the month, riding the stretch to a .378/.433/.707 line overall. The big right-hander had eight doubles, five homers and a pair of triples to pace the hitter-friendly Cal League in slugging. Orr was a 13th-round pick from McNeese State, where he teamed with supplemental first-rounder Jace Peterson.

Table setters Travis Jankowski and Cory Spangenberg both got on base at a good clip through the month. Once they arrived at first base, they didn’t often stay long as each collected a league-best 13 stolen bases.  After a slow start, shortstop Peterson has surged to a .297 batting average. High-profile catcher Austin Hedges is still foundering a bit, sporting a 696 OPS through the first month.

Matt Wisler continues to position himself as one of the top performers anywhere in the minors. One of the Cal League’s youngest pitchers, the righty from Ohio has also been one of its best. Another six-figure signee from the 2011 draft class which might have set the organization up for the future, Wisler posted a ridiculous 1.04 ERA in 26 innings. The peripherals say that wasn’t a fluke either. Wisler had a 23:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio and he didn’t allow a homer.

April Player of the Month: Matt Wisler

Fort Wayne TinCaps

With a rotation that features four first-round draftees, Joe Ross has been the TinCaps’ most consistently dominant pitcher. The younger brother of Padres hurler Tyson Ross made four starts in April and gave up only three runs. The hard-throwing righty struck out 18 in 20.1 innings while surrendering only 11 hits. Fellow starter Justin Hancock put together a 2.14 ERA in his four starts, though his peripherals weren’t quite as strong.

At the plate, Dane Phillips owns the club’s top OPS even though he has split time at catcher evenly with Dutch teenager Rodney Daal. The Padres’ second-round pick last year, Phillips hit .340 to go with a .596 slugging percentage, an impressive feat in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Outfielders Corey Adamson – already in his fifth year in the organization as a 21-year-old Australian – and Mallex Smith provided strong support in the lineup as well. Smith has the table well with a .370 on-base percentage, and has helped keep the pressure on opponents with nine stolen bases in his first 19 games.

April Player of the Month: Joe Ross

April MadFriars Player of the Month:  Dan Robertson

With a number of strong candidates, Dan Robertson gets the nod for his production at the highest level, just edging out Burch Smith and Matt Wisler for the honors. As the weather heats up, watch for more offensive performers at the top of the list in May and June.