Tucson Padres' top pitchers
Summary: Despite having the best position prospect in the Padres' system, the Tucson Padres struggled for the second straight year, posting a 56-88 record. They finished second-from-the-bottom in the 16 team Pacific Coast League, ultimately one of the reasons that manager Terry Kennedy and pitching coach Steve Weber won't be back next season.
On the mound, Tucson relied on a mix of journeyman minor leaguers, former big leaguers in various stages of reclamation efforts for the injury-riddled big league club, and guys pulled up from lower in the system to patch the many holes in the rotation. In all, an absurd 25 different pitchers started at least one game for Tucson, and 20 other guys threw in relief.
Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we took into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
Level: Triple-A is a combination of development and a taxi squad for major league teams. At this level, many players are good enough to be in the major leagues but, thanks to roster configuration, organizational need, and perceived or real shortcomings, they are just waiting for their shot.
The Pacific Coast League's Pacific Division features six of the most offense-inflating parks in affiliated ball. Not surprisingly, the four worst team ERAs in the 16-team league were in the division in Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Tucson and Salt Lake City. Only one of the four T-Padre starters who made 15 appearances held the opposition under .300, and that was Bear Bay, who checked in a .298.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Brad Boxberger 2.70 ERA 62Ks 19 BBs 43.1 IP
Being the best pitcher on this makeshift staff may not be the grandest honor ever bestowed, but the former Reds first-rounder who came over in the Mat Latos haul gets the nod here. Though he spent much of the second half of the year taxiing back-and-forth to San Diego, his work in the Tucson pen after June was particularly impressive as the righty allowed just one run with a 24-to-3 strikeout to walk ratio in 16.1 innings. On a staff with a 5.13 ERA, that's an award-winning performance.
Runner-up: RHP Cory Burns 3.14 ERA 78Ks 17 BBs 66 IP
The 24-year-old acquired from Cleveland in exchange for Aaron Cunningham last offseason pitched his way onto the 40-man roster and then into the Majors for much of the season's final two months by posting a 3.14 ERA and strong strikeout and walk ratios. He worked in 42 of the team's first 90 games, providing consistency and stability that the club needed.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Brad Boxberger
Boxberger was the fourth player who came over in the big Mat Latos trade in the 2012 off-season and should develop into a reliable middle reliever out of the Padres' bullpen in 2013. The former first round pick out of USC relies on a solid four-seam fastball and put up the type of strikeout and walk ratios one likes to see from relief pitchers. He has very little left to prove in the minors and put up a good showing with San Diego in limited action with 33 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched.
Runner-up: LHP Josh Spence 4-2 4.20 ERA 36 Ks 20 BBs 49.1 IP
The slight Australian may have been Tucson's best pitcher in the second half, which may be damning him with faint praise. But to put up a 2.61 ERA in 14 appearances including four starts in the Thunder Domes of the PCL South is impressive. The Padres believe that Spence is more effective as a long reliever as opposed to a lefty specialist because in the longer role he can use more of his pitches and vary his arm angles.
Spence struggled mightily in the first half with a 6.87 ERA in 18.1 innings but seemed to find his groove in the second half with a 2.61 ERA in 31.1 innings. While he didn't go long in four second half starts he compiled a 0.50 ERA while pitching in Reno, Salt Lake City, Fresno and home in Tucson as he held the opposition to a .150 batting average.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Corey Burns
I really didn't want to go with a reliever who appeared in seventeen games for the Padres, and with a losing record in Tucson, but there wasn't much of a choice here. Burns' .205 batting average against was by far the lowest in Tucson (Boxberger was next at .233). In addition, he allowed only one home run all year, which is impressive considering they play in what is essentially a tee-ball park for hitters. Burns also had the club's lowest WHIP (1.00) and struck out more than a hitter an inning.
Runner-up: RHP Jorge Reyes - 152 IP, 10-11, 5.09 ERA, 99 K
The numbers are not exactly what you would consider "player of the year" caliber. But to me Reyes deserves the reward just for being healthy and taking the ball as much as he did. The Tucson Padres used twenty-five different starting pitchers! Of those, many were relievers who were not accustomed to going more than a few innings. Though Reyes did enter a few games from the pen, mainly to let a rehabbing Padre start the game, Reyes led the team in games started, innings pitched, complete games and strikeouts.
Others of Note: RHP Bear Bay did a reasonable enough job after coming over from the Angels organization and the Independent Leagues. Although we are defining "reasonable" as making eighteen starts with a 4.63 ERA and holding the opposition to a .298 batting average. Former Padre Eric Hamren, became the impromptu closer when Brad Brach and Brad Boxberger were promoted and was 9 for 14 in save opportunities with 54 strikeouts in 47 innings pitched against 23 walks and 52 hits.
One other note on Reyes. He was much better in Lake Elsinore and San Antonio. The organization believes that his stuff will play better out of the bullpen where he was moved to in August. In ten games he had a 1.46 ERA with an 8/1 K/BB ratio in 12 innings as he held the opposition to a .234 batting average. A small sample, but Reyes has quality stuff that can play in a big league bullpen.
2012 MadFriars' Tucson Padres Pitcher of the Year: Brad Boxberger
Top Prospect: Brad Boxberger
Boxberger is a lock to contribute valuable innings in the majors. On this roster, that is enough to stand out. Whether he ultimately winds up as a set-up guy, where many outside observers think he fits best, or a closer will depend on how consistent he can get with his secondary pitches. As his outstanding strikeout rates in the bullpen attest, when he's on, he has the ability to shut down anyone at the plate. But he often walks too many and can get in trouble when he needs to pitch away from his fastball. If the slider comes around more, he could wind up earning some saves down the road.