The Beavers finished the season with a sub-.500 season (69-75), but when the man in charge of your development says you "surprised" him. It was a good year.
One of the key reasons the Portland Beavers started off so strongly was the emergence of outfielder Jason Bay as a top prospect. Bay was never a heralded prospect. But he was always solid.
Bay has always had good plate discipline, in 1332 career minor league AB, Bay has walked nearly as frequently as he has struck out (194 to 283). This year a bulked-up Bay added power to his game; hitting 20 HR in 307 AB. While Jason won't be patrolling PETCO Park's outfield, his emergence as a top prospect helped the Padres trade for Brian Giles.
At the end of April, after 6 starts, Oliver Perez had an 8.23 ERA with San Diego. He was promptly sent to Portland to figure things out. In 8 starts with Portland, Beaver fans saw Oliver post a 3.02 ERA in just under 50 innings. It was this stint in Portland that righted Oliver's ship. Like the afore-mentioned Jason Bay, Oliver was a big key to the Padres trade for Giles.
On June 8, 2003, the San Diego Padres placed Ramon Vazquez on the Disabled List. To fill the hole at short, the Padres called up Denaldo Mendez from Portland and moved 2002 first-round pick, Kahlil Greene up to AAA from AA Mobile. At the time, Kahlil wasn't setting the world on fire. His .275 batting average was respectable, but he wasn't getting on base at a high rate (.327) nor was he showing a lot of power (17 doubles and 3 home runs); Greene displayed plenty of patience and power in college.
Kahlil's promotion to Portland was deemed temporary. The Padres hoped Kahlil would play solidly and get his feet wet so his eventual full-time move to Portland would be easier. Little did they know, Kahlil had other plans.
In only 319 AB with Portland, Kahlil hit 10 home runs and 19 doubles. Kahlil batted over .300 for much of his time in Portland. He then cooled off in the latter part of the season to finish with a .288 batting average. Kahlil's numbers are not off the charts, but after only 768 minor league AB, Kahlil is in San Diego; probably for good.
Tye Waller told me, "If we wrote a script [for Kahlil's season], it wouldn't have turned out this good."
Kahlil's season does have a few blemishes. Performance-based analysts (like me) like to see hitters walk at least once for every 10 AB. Kahlil has only walked 53 times over his 768 minor league AB. Waller indicated that plate discipline is a "product of maturity." As if to prove Tye accurate, Kahlil's 20 BB in Portland were his most at any stop of his career.
While continuing to gush about Kahlil, Tye said that Greene's performance "surprised a lot of people" within the Padres organization.
Fellow 2001 draft pick, Tagg Bozied, ended last season in Lake Elsinore (High-A). After a strong Spring Training, the Padres decided to let Tagg open the year in Portland. Tagg struggled initially but rebounded to post decent numbers (.273 batting average, .331 on-base average, 25 doubles and 14 home runs). Tye reminded me that while Tagg's numbers were not outstanding, this was Tagg's first full season of professional baseball.
I compared Tagg to current Padre, Brian Buchanon, and asked Tye about that comparison and about Tagg's future with the Padres. Tye liked the comparison and reminded me that Tagg played 3B in college and has handled 1B, LF, & RF in the minors. Tye went on to say that it was likely that San Diego fans would see Tagg in San Diego at some point next year.
After the 2001 season, people were saying the Padres had 2 of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball: Jake Peavy and Dennis Tankersley. In 2002, both were called up to San Diego. While both showed signs of brilliance, Jake has solidified his status as one of the top young pitchers in baseball. Dennis on the other hand is in danger of becoming the next "can't miss prospect" to miss.
When I talked to Tye Waller, I also asked him about Dennis.
"Is Tank[ersley] still a prospect," I asked?
"The arm is still there." Waller said. He also said that as long as Dennis had that arm (getting good movement and good velocity on his pitches), there would be a chance he could still be the premier pitcher we thought he would be.
In reading an interview-write-up (from www.NewbergReport.com) about Texas Rangers' Assistant General Manager, Grady Fuson, I noticed a relevant comment that is appropriate here.
Jayme Newberg – "Is part of the reason so many pitchers who come up for this club have low AAA walk totals but high [walk] numbers with Texas that AAA hitters will swing at pitches out of the strike zone that big league hitters won't?"
Grady Fuson – "Exactly. When you look at some of the pitchers that have come up and struggled when they first got here, it's all because of location. They're trying to make that quality "bitch pitch" that gets quality major league hitters out one time through the lineup, but the second time, when they know more about you, they're going to spit on it."
Jayme Newberg covers the Texas Rangers, but the same question could be asked as to why Dennis Tankersley showed so much as a minor leaguer but got hit so hard in the Majors.
Encouragingly, Dennis' struck out 148 and gave up only 149 hits in 150.1 innings. Even his 67 BB allowed were not an awful total. Discouragingly, Dennis allowed 15 HR. In 2003 Dennis went 8-11 with a 4.65 ERA.
Tye said that the only thing holding Tankersley back was confidence. Dennis needs to have success and he needs to "do it again" (repeat his success). Hopefully Tank can get his personal ship back on the course he was sailing in 2001.
In 2003 Ben Howard, of whom Baseball America said has the highest upside of any pitcher in the Padres' minor leagues, went 7-9 with a 4.55 ERA.
For Howard, the problem has never been strikeouts, it has always been control. Coming into 2003, Howard amassed 610 career minor league punch-outs in 585 innings. However, in those same 585 innings, Howard walked 449 batters. This year, in 130.2 innings with Portland, Howard struck out only 68 while walking only 49. Obviously the walks-to-innings pitched ratio is vastly improved, but the decrease in strike outs was not an equal trade-off.
Often when a pitcher's numbers fall drastically there are injury concerns. I asked Tye Waller if it was cause for concern. Tye assured me that Ben was not injured. He said that Ben had a bit of rough delivery and that in smoothing out Ben's delivery; he lost the over-powering effects of his pitches. Tye said that for Ben to have success, he needed to be "effectively wild."
Tye also noted that it was encouraging that Ben's hits per innings pitched ratio remained below 1-to-1 (Ben allowed 118 hits in his 130.2 innings). Ben's career hits allowed total now stand at 626; well below his 715 career minor league innings.
Unfortunately one other event requires discussion. In an August contest with the Las Vegas 51's, Tagg Bozied and some of the other Beavers went after a heckling fan. Virtually every Portland Beaver player was suspended for at least 4 games.
While the last even casts a shadow on the season, San Diego Padre fans should be excited about what is happening in Portland and how the Beavers will continue to positively impact the big league club.
Peter Friberg is a free-lance writer in San Diego and writes for his own website; www.PeterFriberg.com.