Summary: For the first time in almost a decade, the Storm failed to reach the playoffs. They earned the omission, finishing both halves of the season under .500. The club’s struggles were primarily caused by the pitching staff, which posted an ERA of 5.04, put more runners on base and struck out fewer than any team on the circuit. Once Matt Wisler earned a promotion in May, there simply wasn’t anyone who could consistently shut down opponents.
Approach: We use a simple formula for the awards. A player is eligible with whichever team he appeared for the most. For the top prospect, we take into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
Level: 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. The High-A level is home to players with a wide mix of experience levels. The 2013 Storm got contributions both from players who were drafted last June and one whose professional career began in 2006.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP James Needy
10-5, 3.76 ERA; 98 K, 51 BB in 134 innings
The big righty from Santee finally had the season the club hoped for when they gave him a six-figure bonus to sign out of high school in 2009. While he doesn’t have overwhelming velocity, Needy’s heavy sinker makes him a tough matchup for any hitter. He was especially effective at home, where he seemed to trust his stuff much more than in the super-charged environments of High Desert and Lancaster. Needy’s margin for error against more advanced bats isn’t huge, but now that he’s finally healthy and showed he could take the ball every five days, he’ll get every chance to build on the successes of 2013.
Runner-Up: RHP Cody Hebner
2-2, 3.62 ERA; 78 K, 41 BB in 74.2 innings
With the rest of the Storm rotation a mess, the nod here goes to the guy who led the bullpen in innings pitched and strikeouts and held opponents to a .207 average. The 22-year-old righty from Washington State had a precarious walk total, but consistently pitched his way out of trouble as the primary set-up guy all year.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Cody Hebner
Slim pickings for pitcher of the year. No pitcher had an ERA south of 3.50 or a WHIP below 1.3. With that being said Hebner did lead the Storm in both ERA (3.62) and WHIP (1.31), all while holding hitters to a .207 BAA and averaged more than a strikeout per inning. While he did average more than five walks per nine innings, he did this all with a fastball that tops out at 98 mph.
Runner-Up: LHP Frank Garces
7-9, 5.67 ERA; 126 K, 57 BB in 120.2 innings
Let’s get matters straight; Garces’ 5.67 ERA is ugly. But, to put matters in perspective, Garces’ ERA ranked him 22nd in the league. In fact only 13 pitchers in the entire Cal League had an ERA less than five. While Needy, who ranked fifth in the league, is just as deserving, Garces generated more swings and misses. His 126 strikeouts put him seventh in the league. No pitcher on the Storm roster could make hitters look as foolish at the plate as Garces. Unfortunately, when hitters did make contact, they crushed it.
Pitcher of the Year: James Needy
An over-slot draft signing in 2009, Needy suffered through three years of injuries and rehab before he finally put together the type of season that he and the Padres envisioned. He threw the most innings on the staff, made the most starts and had the lowest ERA of any starter. Throw out a few starts in some of the notorious Thunderdomes of the Cal League, and he put together a solid year.
Runner-Up: Cody Hebner
Hebner was the most extreme fly ball pitcher on the staff and he still put up some of the best numbers. The walk total was not good but everything else was outstanding for the converted starter from Washington state. As Ben mentioned, despite his slight build, he can dial up his four-seamer to 98 with a solid slider. A few more mechanical adjustments and maybe the incorporation of a slider or a change-up as a third pitch and he’s in the big leagues.
Others of Note:
Johnny Barbato spent the first four months of the year working out of the bullpen, racking up strikeouts, but still giving up too many runs. He made the move back to the rotation in August, a plan the organization was hoping to implement from the start of the year and showed some positive signs. His numbers as a starter are skewed by two brutal appearances in Lancaster and High Desert, not exactly the best venues for evaluating a pitcher. Justin Hancock joined the Storm from Ft. Wayne in July, but the poor peripherals that supported a stellar ERA in the Midwest League really came back to bite him in High-A. Hancock was punished for his low strikeout (39) and high walk totals in 63 innings, getting tagged with a 5.14 ERA. At home, his ERA was an impressive 2.78, but even there he walked almost as many as he struck out.
MadFriars’ 2013 CAL League Pitcher of the Year: James Needy
Top Prospect: James Needy
His ceiling isn’t as high as other pitchers in the system, but the big righty really began to figure it out as a starter this year, and he has the durability and sinker to profile as a solid back-of-the-rotation starter if things break right.