Fort Wayne Wizards 2003 Season in Review

Fort Wayne Wizards

The Fort Wayne Wizards were one of the better teams in the San Diego Padres' organization in 2003. The Wizards ended the season with an overall record of 71-66, which included winning their division in the first half of the season. Most importantly, the Wizards developed several players this year, especially pitchers, who will become a part of future Padres teams. The Wizards were the Midwest League's best team in terms of pitching, but the worst in overall hitting.

Manager Gary Jones received the Padres Jack Kroll award for player development, and pitcher Gabe Ribas was named Padres minor league pitcher of the year.

In the Padres system, both Fort Wayne and Mobile (AA) are difficult places to hit, and great places to pitch. The exact opposite is true with Lake Elsinore (high A) and Portland (AAA). In Baseball America's ranking of the Padres top ten prospects for 2004, two Wizards, David Pauley and Kennard Jones, made the top 10. Six Wizards, Brian Burgamy, Kennard Jones, Paul McAnulty, Gabe Ribas, Brian Whitaker and Dale Thayer made the mid-season Midwest League all star team, with Jones, Ribas and Thayer being selected for the overall season ending all Midwest League team.

If anyone read the last review of Idaho Falls and Eugene, I will repeat the section on what determines a "prospect". If you are already familiar with the process, skip down to the section that begins to analyze the pitchers and position players. When doing these types of analysis, as rudimentary as they are, if you are only looking at statistics as opposed to actually scouting the players in person, one is looking for a separation, something that indicates the player will have the capacity to develop into a major league player. The three main criteria that form the basis of this analysis usually look for the following indicators:

(1) Tools - This can loosely be defined for position players as the ability to run, field, throw, hit and hit with power. Typically for position players, someone needs to be a plus player in at least one category to make it in the major leagues. For pitchers it can be a variety of components, velocity, control, ERA, strikeouts; something that indicates the pitcher is able to dominate the competition. Control is important, but velocity tends to get greater weight. If a pitcher can harness outstanding velocity, he may have a chance at a major league career. Very few pitchers can advance without a decent fastball.

(2) Performance - The easiest one to evaluate. How well the player actually performed in their league. Someone can have all the "tools" in the world, but as the player advances higher in the minor league system his actual performance becomes more important than his actual potential. Performance is the main criteria at AA or AAA level, as compared to the lower minors.

(3) Age - Age is an indicator of how well the player does against the competition that he is facing. A 19 year old hitting .310 in the rookie leagues carries far more weight than a 23 year old, with four full seasons of college ball experience, doing the same thing. The younger and more successful a player is, the bigger upside they could possess.

Pitchers:

The Wizards has six pitchers, Gabe Ribas, David Pauley, Brian Whitaker, Wilmer Villatoro, Bryan Edwards and Dale Thayer who performed well at Fort Wayne in 2003. All of them should be in Lake Elsinore next year. The only real weakness of the staff was the lack of quality left-handed pitcher. Thomas Lipari, the one left hander on the staff, was promoted to Lake Elsinore in mid-season after a decent start, but was shelled going 0-4 with a 6.32 ERA at Lake Elsinore. He probably will be given another opportunity this year at Lake Elsinore.

Gabe Ribas (RHP) Gabe had the best year for Fort Wayne in 2003, winning 13 games and losing only 3 before being promoted to Lake Elsinore. Ribas put together an excellent BB/K ratio of 26/116 with an ERA of 2.25. Gabe, a 24 year old, is 6'4" 210 lbs and a graduate of Northwestern University. After being promoted to Lake Elsinore, he had some rough outings, but bounced back in his last few starts. Ribas is known to have a good changeup and control, but according to Jim Callis of Baseball America, he has a fastball that sits in the upper-eighties, and mediocre breaking pitches. Lake Elsinore was the first time he struggled after two very successful stops in Eugene and Fort Wayne. Ribas has had success both as a starter (Fort Wayne) and a relief pitcher (Eugene) in the minor leagues, and his ticket to the major leagues will probably be in middle relief. His negatives, despite his success this past year, is that he was old for the league he was in and doesn't really have any plus pitches. A good indication of Ribas' future with the Padres will be whether he will start 2004 in Lake Elsinore or Mobile.

David Pauley (RHP) David Pauley is the most highly regarded of the Fort Wayne pitchers, and easily has the biggest upside. Pauley went 7-7 this past year, but was 4-2 with a 2.48 ERA after July. David, a 20 year old, is 6'2" 170 lbs, throws with a velocity of 88-91 mph, with a plus curve ball. His BB/K ratio was an excellent 38/117. The reason for Pauley's high ranking is his age, plus curve ball and good velocity. David was ranked as the number 7 prospect by Baseball America for the 2004 season. He will begin the year in Lake Elsinore, and will probably be there for the full year. He could be in San Diego by 2006.

Brian Whitaker (RHP) Brian Whitaker may have been the most impressive Wizard's pitcher in 2004. Whitaker was listed by Baseball America as having the best control of any Padres pitcher in the system, and he demonstrated it by walking only 20 batters in 164 innings pitched, while striking out 121. Whitaker, a 23 year old, is 6'4", 200 lbs out of North Carolina-Wilmington. Jim Callis raised some questions about his age for the league, and how his velocity will translate at upper levels. All good questions, but nothing should take away from the excellent year he had in Fort Wayne. Whitaker may be the best pitcher at LE this upcoming year. According to scouts, he has a better fastball than Ribas and one of the better sinkers in the organization. He could be the next Brian Lawrence in that he rarely walks batters and tends to keep the ball low. If he performs well in Lake Elsinore, the Padres should look to promote him in mid-season to Mobile.

Wilmer Villatoro (RHP) Wilmer Villatoro is a very young and thin 20 year old pitcher from El Salvador. Villatoro is 6' 145 lbs and throws with a whip like motion. He was one of the set up men for Fort Wayne. Jim Callis gave Villatoro higher marks than Thayer, Ribas and Whitaker, noting that he is younger, has a fastball that comes in around 92-94 mph and has a plus slider. This year Wilmer held batters to a .164 average, while compiling another good BB/K ratio of 28/77. Wilmer finished the season 3-2 with a 2.62 ERA and 2 saves. Although, Villatoro only gave up 31 hits in 55 innings, 7 of them were for home runs, as compared to Thayer who gave up only 2 home runs in 48 innings. Because of Villatoro's youth, MLB fastball and a potentially plus slider, he projects a little higher than Thayer. At the lower minors, tools play a greater role in evaluating talent, than does overall performance, although Wilmer did put up some good numbers.

Bryan Edwards (RHP) Brian is a 5'11", 170 lb, 24 year old, right handed pitcher out of the independent leagues and the Texas junior college system. Edwards pitched in 112 innings as a set up man, holding batters to a .245 batting average. His BB/K ratio was a nice 29/79, and is another nice find out of the independent leagues for the Padres.

Dale Thayer (RHP) Dale Thayer simply had a great year at Fort Wayne in 2003. Thayer, a 22-year-old, 6', 190 lb. relief pitcher out of Chico State and Edison High School in Huntington Beach, emerged as one of the Padres better relief prospects. Thayer went 1-3 with a 2.06 ERA and 25 saves, and a great BB/K ratio of 15/72 in 48 innings. Dale also held batters to a .182 average against him. He injured his knee in the last week of the season, but is expected to be healthy for spring training. Thayer's fastball is in the low 90's, and he also throws a good cutter or slider and has excellent control. The knock on Thayer, as with Ribas and Whitaker, by scouts is that he was old for the league and as he advances batters will catch up with him. This could or could not be true. Any time an older player succeeds in the low minors, especially in Baseball America's analysis, there are always doubts about their ability to translate this success to the next level. This was the same criticism leveled at both Jason Bay and Jon Knott last year, both who emerged as two of the better Padres prospects within the system. Talent is talent, and probably at least one of the trio of Ribas, Whitaker or Thayer will emerge this year in Lake Elsinore.

Pitching summary - Pauley and Villatoro have the most upsides, but at least one of the other four should emerge this year in Lake Elsinore. Ribas has a good chance to start the season in Mobile, and if that happens I think we will see a nice one-two punch with David Pauley and Brian Whitaker. To me, Thayer's success is just too hard to ignore, and we should see him dominate again at the next level.

Position players:

The three potential prospects at Fort Wayne this year that will advance to LE were Kennard Jones, Pete Stonard and Paul McAnulty. Colt Morton is also on the prospect list, but he will be in Fort Wayne again to start 2004. My potential "dark horse" who could also emerge is shortstop Luis Cruz, who also should be in Lake Elsinore for 2004.

Kennard Jones is probably the best know prospect among the three listed above. Kennard is a 22 year old 5'11', 180 lbs left-handed centerfielder out of Indiana, the Padres third round pick in the 2002 draft. Jones is projected as the prototypical leadoff hitter, good eye, limited power and speed, which is his greatest asset. According to Baseball America, which rated Jones as the number 8 prospect for 2004 for his short stroke and potential strength gain which could make him into an above average center fielder and base stealer. This year at Fort Wayne Kennard put up some good numbers, hitting .307/.407/.386, (Batting Average/On-base percentage/Slugging Percentage) with 1 home run, 30 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 81 games. Additionally, he made the all star team, along with Dale Thayer and Gabe Ribas, and earned a promotion to Lake Elsinore in midseason. At Lake Elsinore, Jones struggled, hitting just .250 in 16 games before being sidelined with an off the field injury.

Jim Callis of Baseball America and Denis Savage of this site are much higher on Jones than me and some other people who evaluate minor league players. While he did steal 20 bases at Fort Wayne, he was also caught stealing 19 times. A good comparison to his stolen base success is that Brian Burgamy, the Wizard's 3b and outfielder for most of the year, stole nearly as many bases,17, while only being caught four times as compared to Jones' nineteen. Jones has little power, and although he is a good defensive player, he is somewhat limited by a weak arm. Also, according to Baseball America, he needs to learn to take better routes to balls. He does have a good eye, and seems to understand what the Padres want from him, but needs to develop a more disciplined approach, both on and off the field for 2004 in Lake Elsinore. All of these problems can be solved, and in his second full year of professional baseball we should continue to see improvement.

Peter Stonard easily had the best debut of any of the Padres' draft picks in 2003. Stonard was the only Padres' 2003 draft pick to play a full season at Fort Wayne. Pete, a fourth round draft pick out of San Diego State University, slipped in the draft due to a failed drug test. Stonard, a 22 year old left handed hitting second baseman is 6' and 195 lbs, played collegiate ball at both Alabama and San Diego State University. At Fort Wayne this year, Stonard hit .293/.338/.335, with no home runs and 27 RBIs in 64 games. He had a nice BB/K ratio (18/25), but needs to improve his on base percentage for someone who doesn't hit with much power. Scouts expect Stonard to eventually hit with more power, which he could do with a year of professional baseball and wood bats under his belt. Moving into a more hitter friendly environment in the California League, as compared to the Midwest League, will also help. Stonard is obviously a good player, and the Padres made a nice acquisition in getting Stonard so low in the draft with limited risk. However, by playing 2b, Pete already has quite a bit of competition within the system from Bernie Castro, Jake Gautreau and especially Josh Barfield. I look for him to have a good year at Lake Elsinore this year, but he will have to hit for more power and improve his on base percentage in order to challenge anyone ahead of him, maybe even learn to play another position.

Paul McAnulty is a 23 year old left handed hitting roly-poly 1b who reminds a lot of people of John Kruk. McAnulty is listed at 5'10", 220, but might be even a little bit bigger. In his first pro season at Idaho Falls, McAnulty tore the Pioneer League apart hitting .379/.488/.604, with 9 HRs and 51 RBIs in 64 games. He slowed significantly this year in Fort Wayne, finishing at .273/.370/.378, with 7 Hrs and 73 RBIs in 133 games. Paul did lead the team in RBIs, doubles and slugging percentage in a lineup with little offensive firepower. He also made 16 errors at 1b, and will have to improve this facet of his game to advance. Fort Wayne is a difficult place to hit, and both Greg Sain and Josh Barfield significantly improved their offensive statistics in 2003 at Lake Elsinore from Fort Wayne in 2002. McAnulty's problem is that he really doesn't have a position, and as we know, 1b is a pretty deep position within the Padres organization. As with Stonard, he will have to hit for more power and average to turn some heads in the organization.

The most interesting prospect, who played in Fort Wayne this year, may be Luis Cruz. Cruz, a 19 year old 6'1", 185 lbs shortstop, was obtained in the Alan Embree trade with the Red Sox along with Brad Baker, a relief pitcher at Lake Elsinore this year. Cruz at first glance doesn't appear to have had that successful a season, finishing off the season at .231/.279/.335, with 8 HRs and 53 RBIs in 481 Abs. However, if you look beyond the basic numbers, Cruz is exactly the type of "tools" prospect the Padres should be developing in the lower minors. Luis was among the team leaders in doubles, home runs and RBIs, while being one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. Cruz needs to draw more walks (30), but also didn't strike out a great deal (55), especially when compared to other players on the team who posted similar offensive statistics. According to many scouts he has great range, which could have caused a relatively high error total (42). I understand the negatives on Cruz, low batting average, on-base percentage and defensive concerns, but his potential is what excites me. He has the ability to hit for power, and struck out nearly half as much as McAnulty, Steve Baker and LJ Biernbaum, former college players who put up similar power numbers for Fort Wayne this year. Cruz will be twenty years old next year in Lake Elsinore, and already has shown abilities similar to or surpassing many more experienced players. Because of his age, power potential and plus defensive abilities at one of the most demanding positions on the field, he is a prospect. Luis should start the season at Lake Elsinore in 2004, and will probably stay there the entire year. If he continues to improve, he could be one of the Padres' best prospects in 2005.

Baker, Biernbaum and Burgamy all should be promoted to Lake Elsinore next year. All three have some abilities, but nothing really stands out. Burgamy, a 22 year old switch hitter, started off the season at 2b, was then moved to 3b because of defensive reasons and eventually sent out to LF. Burgamy probably has the highest upside of the three, a switch hitter, who can play multiple infield positions and has a good eye, 78 walks to 98 strikeouts, but is going to have hit much better in Lake Elsinore to have much of a chance. His fielding will also need to improve, since it is doubtful he has the bat to be a corner outfielder, he will probably have to make it at 3b to succeed. Both Baker and Biernbaum, who played the outfield last year for Fort Wayne, posses some power, but also struck out a great deal and were old for the league. It is difficult to see any of these guys becoming prospects, unless they really turn it around this season in Lake Elsinore.

Potential MLB players this past year at Fort Wayne - Ribas, Whitaker, Thayer, Pauley, Villatoro, Jones, Stonard and McAnulty. Of this group, probably Pauley, Villatoro and Cruz have the highest upside and best chances for advancement.

Conclusions

An interesting team, especially with the pitching. Ribas, Whitaker and Thayer all had great seasons statistically, but Pauley and Villatoro may have the biggest upsides. Both throw in the low 90's, have excellent control and are fairly young. Look for Jones, Stonard and McAnulty all to post better offensive numbers playing in Lake Elsinore, but I think the real star could be Luis Cruz. Cruz could develop into a power hitting shortstop with plus defensive ability, all before he turns 21. Overall a nice year for Fort Wayne, the team produced at least seven quality players to advance to Lake Elsinore in 2004.

In the next report, we will summarize Lake Elsinore's past season.

John Conniff can be reached at conniff@sandiegosports.net

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