Fort Wayne Wizards Pitcher of the Year

Rolando Valdez

The Fort Wayne Wizards pitching offers a little more hope for the future than the offense with a few that could become factors in the San Diego Padres' system.

For Wayne Wizards Summary: At the beginning of the year, we believed Fort Wayne had the two best young starters of any team in the organization with Aaron Breit and Drew Miller. The problem was, despite having very good fastballs, both, especially Breit, needed to refine their fastball command, catching far too much of the plate for the more experienced Midwest League hitters.

Grady Fuson on the Fort Wayne Wizards:

How is Drew Miller's health is and what do you expect to see out of him next year?

Grady Fuson: "Miller was hurt three different times during the year and had an oblique that bothered him at the end of the year and its bothering him again in the Instructs. For him it's all about finishing his delivery and right now he's learning the change, but there is a lot of upside with him."

Aaron Breit had a rough year until his last month, what did he do to turn it around?

Grady Fuson: "Breit hasn't really changed a lot of hitters looks and didn't command his spots, had a real rough going. It wasn't that he wasn't throwing strikes, he just wasn't controlling where he was throwing the strikes. At the end of the year, he started to use his stuff better and got ahead in the counts. But it took a couple of times of taking him out of the rotation and getting a few more sides out of him to get there."

Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards, whichever team the pitcher appeared at the most determined their eligibility. For the top prospect we took into account not only the future potential that the player may have along with their performances, but also the needs of the organization which will allow them to rise the fastest.

Conniff Confidential

Both Miller and Breit have the stuff to become major league pitchers, but right now Miller seems closer. He could put together a big year in the California League, if he can stay healthy. Nathan Culp, the proverbial "crafty lefty" that every team in the Padres' organization appears to have, had a nice year before being promoted to Lake Elsinore in mid-season. R.J. Rodriguez led the organization in saves and has one of the best differentials between his fastball and changeup among Padres' minor league pitchers.

Pitcher of the Year
Nathan Culp
8-3, 3.16 ERA
Left-handed starter

Despite having only 14 starts, Culp led the Wizards in victories, posted a decent K/BB ratio of 54/13 and allowed 28 earned runs in 79.2 innings, which was good enough to earn him a spot on the Midwest League All-Star team. The former Missouri Tiger is a very polished pitcher with the ability to throw four pitches, fastball, curve, slider and change for strikes, but none of them are plus pitches. In the Midwest League, you can have a fastball that is in the high to mid-80s, as long as you can locate it with the accompanying changeup – you're going to have success.

Culp was promoted in mid-season to Lake Elsinore, where he didn't quite experience the same success with a 5-4 record and a 4.81 ERA.

Others of Note: Rodriguez led the organization with 18 saves in 20 opportunities and a 3-2 record. His ERA was high at 4.18, but it was more of a case of some bad outings in a few selected non-save opportunities. Rodriguez' problems always tend to come when the game is not on the line.

Miller showed some flashes of his prodigious ability, leading the team in strikeouts with 87 against 24 base-on-balls in 80.2 innings pitched for a 4-6 record with a 4.69 ERA. Miller's biggest challenges were staying healthy and staying away from the middle of the plate, but he did begin to come around before ending the season early in mid-August with a mild arm strain.

Savage Sub-rosa

This was a disappointing team in many ways, including the pitching staff. A league that is usually reserved for sub-4.00 ERA's saw the Wizards come in at 4.45, 13th in the 14-team Midwest League, with the fewest wins in the circuit. The relief corps made it bearable, as several had quality seasons, but they often came in when the game was already decided.

Pitcher of the Year
Nathan Culp
8-3, 3.16 ERA
Left-handed starter

The team leader in wins, as John mentioned, Culp was the stabilizer early on. When the team needed a win, they turned to the left-hander to deliver – he often did. Mixing in four pitches, Culp was able to spot his pitches and his changeup really improved since last year with Eugene. He now uses it to keep hitters honest and will throw it in off-counts.

Culp's bread and butter – his fastball command. A ground ball pitcher, he kept the heater down in the zone and worked the corners, inducing many ground ball outs. He pitches to contact and keeps the ball in the park – a key stat that the Padres use for projecting their pitchers. They believe that pitchers who can keep the ball on the infield grass are more likely to see success. Hard to argue with the facts.

Others of Note: Ernesto Frieri had a great year but will need to add to his arsenal to continue his effectiveness. Wilton Lopez is a power arm that offers up promise out of the pen. Rolando Valdez was probably the team MVP but fizzled down the stretch – his first in full-season ball. Allen Harrington made a big statement as a long reliever. Bigger things were expected of Drew Miller and Aaron Breit.

Manager's Commentary – Doug Dascenzo: "He just knows how to pitch, there is no question about it," he said of Culp. "Another word – competitiveness."

Top Prospect: Drew Miller
Denis and John agreed on the top prospect

Miller is a classic example of how it's much more important what you may become than what you currently are in the lower levels of the minor leagues. He spent the first half either recovering from injury or searching for better command of his fastball. After coming back from a nearly two month lay-off with a shoulder strain, he began to put together some solid outings, culminating in July where he struck out 31 batters in 29.2 innings against only three base-on-balls.

Miller is one of the brighter starters in the Padres' system, a big arm that can consistently bring it in the low-90s, but needs to improve upon his secondary pitches and locating his two-seamer. As Miller matures, and if he can stay healthy, he will become one of the Padres' better pitching prospects.

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