The PCL is a tough place for pitchers, and the Tucson roster was not exactly replete with top prospects to begin the year. Thad Weber, who spent the month shuttling back and forth to the major league club, was the only starter with a better-than-average ERA, posting a 2.65 mark across three starts. Jorge Reyes worked 16.1 innings over nine appearances and had an impressive 2.20 ERA, though 13 hits and seven walks allowed would seem to make that unsustainable.
Robbie Erlin and Tim Stauffer both had hiccups in the season’s first week, but came back to put up more solid performances as the month went on. Stauffer surrendered seven runs in 6.2 innings in his first two starts, but then turned in three straight good showings for a 2.65 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 17 innings.
Among the disappointments in Tucson, none was harder to watch than Keyvius Sampson, who has lost both control and velocity this spring. The righty posted an 8.03 ERA on the way to a demotion back to San Antonio. A collection of relievers with big league experience also struggled throughout the month. Miles Mikolas, Tommy Layne, Nick Vincent, Daniel Stange and Jason Ray combined to post an ERA approaching seven for the month.
April Pitcher of the month: Thad Weber, with extra-credit for his bullpen saving performance in the majors
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.
Headlining the act is Burch Smith, who 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 to accompany a fantastic 31:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Smith, who got a six-figure bonus as a 14th-round pick in 2011, outshined rotation-mates Matt Andriese and Jose De Paula, though Andriese was just as good through his first four performances. The Riverside native surrendered only two runs across 21 innings to begin the month, but then was touched up for five runs in his final start. DePaula is making up for lost time after visa problems kept him from getting stateside last year with a 2.40 ERA through April. The lefty, still just 23, tends to add velocity as the season goes on, so it will be interesting to see if he can improve from there.
As impressive as the starters were, the bullpen matched them. Late-inning relievers Kevin Quackenbush and Matt Stites continue the dominance that has defined their careers, combining to yield only two earned runs over 23.2 innings of work with a ridiculous 28:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Setup man Colt Hynes gave up only one run with 16 strikeouts in his 10 appearances to earn a return trip to Tucson.
April Pitcher of the Month: Burch Smith
On a roster filled with highly-regarded position prospects, the pitching depth isn’t quite as overwhelming. But even if the rotation was as star-studded as those above and below in the system, it would have been hard for anyone to top Matt Wisler in April.
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.
A pair of veteran big righties were the other highlights for the Storm. Starter James Needy - looking to build on a 2012 season that saw him go from not having a job when spring training broke to anchoring the Ft. Wayne rotation down the stretch – posted a 2.76 ERA in four starts. However, the Santee native walked as many as he struck out, something that certainly can’t continue.
Needy’s long-time roommate Matt Lollis was a beast out of the bullpen, surrendering only two earned runs in 14 innings. The huge hurler struck out 17 and walked five while holding opponents to a sub-.200 batting average.
Wisler’s other rotation-mates will need to pick up the pace even as conditions get harder when the Cal League warms up. Frank Garces, Colin Rea and Brandon Alger all had ERAs north of 5.00, and weren’t able to average five innings per start.
April Pitcher of the Month: Matt Wisler
With a rotation that features four first-round draftees, impressive numbers should be in order throughout the season.
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.
Among the other starters, the only non-first rounder was nonetheless impressive. Justin Hancock put together a 2.14 ERA in his four starts, though his peripherals weren’t quite as strong. Across the player development staff, Hancock was a preseason favorite to break out significantly after his late-season performance in Eugene last year.
Lefty Max Fried had moments showing why he was regarded as the top high school pitcher in last year’s draft – and others showing why it’s a long way from owning great stuff to being ready for the Majors. The 19-year-old from Los Angeles had 22 strikeouts in 19 innings, but also walked 10. It should be easier to get a read on him and fellow warm-weather products Walker Weickel and Zach Eflin once it stops snowing regularly in the Midwest League.
The Padres system has had a remarkable run of dominating relievers come through, and TinCaps closer Roman Madrid has quickly added his name to the list. The big-bodied righty gave up one unearned run over 11 appearances while striking out 14. He hasn’t allowed a homer in 50 professional innings since his debut last summer.
April Player of the Month: Joe Ross
April MadFriars Player of the Month
With a number of strong candidates, Burch Smith just barely edges out Matt Wisler, getting credit for the higher level of competition he faces in San Antonio.