MadFriars’ End of the Year Review: Lake Elsinore
Summary: The Storm were the most successful team in the Padres’ system with a 75-65 record before being swept in the opening round of the Cal League playoffs. The unusual aspect of this year’s squad was how much they were dominated by quality pitching prospects in what is easily the Padres organizations’ toughest to pitch in.
Starters Joe Ross, Zach Eflin, Colin Rea and Elliot Morris, who came over in the Huston Street trade, will all be on Top 30 Prospect lists at the end of the season. However, two players who were under the radar, closer Brandon Alger and reliever Adam Cimber, probably formed the best left/right combination out of the bullpen in the league.
The California League is notoriously hitter-friendly. While several stadiums are at elevation with strong winds, the Storm’s home field, The Diamond, plays more neutral than the league as a whole.
Top Players: The top two position players were a pair of outfielders, Hunter Renfroe, the top pick in the 2013 draft out of Mississippi State and Mallex Smith, who stole 88 bases to lead the entire minor leagues at Lake Elsinore and Low-A Fort Wayne. SS Diego Goris hit well in Lake Elsinore before struggling in AA San Antonio. MadFriars considered Hunter Renfroe as the top position prospect.
For pitchers, as noted above, this was a strong staff dominated by a talented starting pitching. Despite the starting pitching talent, John selected the team’s closer Brandon Alger as the pitcher of the year while Ben liked what he saw from Rea. Ross, Eflin, Rea and Morris all performed well but Ross and Eflin could both be in San Diego before the end of 2015 and took the honors for the top pitching prospects for MadFriars. In addition to Alger, Cimber, Matthew Shepherd and Chris Nunn comprised parts of a very talented bullpen.
On the Beat: The Storm were partially covered by the Southwest Riverside News Network but they did not have a regular reporter dedicated to the team.
Announcer Series: Sean McCall is the voice of the Storm and has been for the past 19 years and is one of the better announcers in minor league baseball. Sean sees his role as more of a reporter/broadcaster than a scout/pundit so he is reticent about spouting his opinions on them. For that reason he always requests that we ask someone else for their thoughts/opinions on the talent that he saw in front of him.
Randy Smith is the the Padres Direct of Player Development and gave his thoughts on what may be the top pitching staff in the system next year in San Antonio and the progress of Hunter Renfroe.
Minor League Announcer Series: Tyler Zickel
Tyler joined the Storm this February as the Assistant Director of Media Relations and a part-time broadcaster. As with most people in the minors he held a variety of positions ranging from preparing statistics, managing the Storm’s website and social media and even dressing up as one of Lake Elsinore’s sponsored mascots.
At Whittier College, Tyler played baseball for a season before concentrating on his broadcasting career; where he was the "Poets" (no, that is not a misprint) broadcaster for a wide range of athletic events from baseball to lacrosse.
This season he got an opportunity to ply his talents on a professional level as he took over the sixth inning of road broadcasts, "Zick in the Sixth," and when Sean McCall had to travel out of town during a homestand he assumed the play-by-play duties.
Tyler gave us his impressions of the 2014 Storm.
Hunter Renfroe had a big year for the Storm before he got promoted to San Antonio. What was the most impressive part of his game to you?
Tyler Zickel: Hunter got a lot of attention for his bat, and rightly so. He would hit balls in batting practice that would make you stop what you’re doing and watch the rest of his turn in the cage. But I was most impressed with his ability in the outfield, specifically his arm. There’s a 36-foot high wall in right field here at The Diamond, and by the time he was promoted to AA Hunter had learned how to entice hitters who’d hit a line drive off the wall into trying to take second base. He’d play the carom, spin and fire to second base and more often than not get the guy by a step or two. He made some unbelievable throws while patrolling right field.
We talked earlier this year and you were very high on Mallex Smith. He led the organization and entire minors in stolen bases but what other parts of his game should we know about?
TZ: His ability at the plate makes him that much more dangerous of a hitter. He can bunt for a base hit, put the ball in play and utilize his speed, drive the ball to the gaps and even put a charge into the occasional pitch. Mallex hit .327 in 55 games in the California League this year, and at one point in late August he led both the Cal League and Midwest League in stolen bases. It was apparent that his mid-season promotion was well deserved.
Dane Phillips had a nice bounce-back season but there are some concerns about his defensive ability. What areas does he need to improve upon?
TZ: I didn’t have the opportunity to see Dane before this season, so I can’t speak on what he has or hasn’t done in the past. But what I can tell you is that I never worried about his defense when he was in the lineup. I had a chance to sit down with him for an interview early in the season and I was quite impressed by his intelligence, not just within the game but in general. He’s a guy who knows how to handle a pitching staff. On top of that he’s a bona-fide run producer, whether it’s collecting extra-base hits to get on base or driving guys in.
Gabriel Quintana, despite leading the Storm in home runs and RBI does not get a lot of attention. What did you think of him this season?
TZ: Q certainly flies under the radar a bit but his production this year placed him tied for third in home runs (18) and second in RBIs (84) amongst Padres Minor Leaguers. The 22-year old has a lot of raw talent and can drive the ball with authority. He has a strong, accurate arm and he’s committed to improving the areas of his game that need work.
I thought this year’s Storm staff was the best I have seen in a long time and the guy who really stood out for me was Zach Eflin. What made him so effective?
TZ: Zach understands the game, despite the fact that he’s only 20. He knows what to throw and when to throw it, and he was never afraid to challenge opposing hitters. I can’t speak to pitch-by-pitch adjustments but he always seemed to bounce back from a bad inning or bad outing with a solid performance. I was most impressed by his attitude; I never saw him get down on himself or his teammates and he always found a way to stay positive.
Colin Rea has always been a big favorite of the Padres’ front office. his year, as opposed to last, he had a good year for the Storm. What made him effective?
TZ: I didn’t get a chance to see Colin last season. With that said, I think a good portion of his success this year was confidence in his ability. Good outing or bad, he didn’t allow his performance to change the way he looked at the "big picture." He stayed humble and went out to do his job every fifth day. As a side note, Colin tossed an "immaculate inning" (9 pitches, 3 strikeouts) against Bakersfield this year, which is a rare (and cool!) feat.
You had a strong bullpen this summer led by Adam Cimber and Brandon Alger. How would you describe the two pitchers and what type of future do you see for them down the road.
TZ: Those two were as lights out as you can be at this level, especially in the hitter-friendly California League. The sidearming right-hander Cimber led the league in holds, and the even-keeled southpaw Alger had the second-lowest opponent batting average against (.191). They were also 1-2 in fewest baserunners/9IP ratio (Alger edged Cimber 9.38 to 10.49). With continued development, I think both could be a part of a big league bullpen.
Last question, who was the best position player prospect you saw this summer and who was the best pitching prospect?
TZ: That’s a tough one. I think Hunter Renfroe is the obvious choice, with Diego Goris being a close second in terms of position players. On the mound, midseason All-Star Joe Ross performed as advertised before his promotion to AA San Antonio. I also thought Brandon Alger, who was recognized as Lake Elsinore’s Pitcher of the Year, and Adam Cimber were especially impressive in their season-long performance out of the Storm bullpen.
You can follow all of the action in the Padres’ minor league system @madfriars on Twitter.