Let’s take a quick look at what’s going on down at the Padres’ lowest full-season affiliate, shall we?
Fort Wayne Wizards in a Box:
Runs Scored: 472
Runs Allowed: 449
BA/OBP/SLG: .258/.347/.373 (Midwest League: .251/.323/.373)
ERA: 3.90 (MWL: 3.69)
DER: .630 (MWL: .650)
This is a team that does a good job of putting runs on the board in an unfavorable environment (4.63 R/G is third in a 14-team league). The pitching is below average (the range in the Midwest League is 2.98 – 4.15, with only four teams sporting a higher ERA than that of the Wizards), as is the defense (only Beloit has a lower DER).
The big prospects at Fort Wayne are right-hander Mat Latos (whom I ranked #3 in the system entering 2008), outfielder Yefri Carvajal, and shortstop Drew Cumberland. Secondary names include first baseman Felix Carrasco, outfielders Luis Durango and Brad Chalk, and right-handers Jeremy McBryde, Jeremy Hefner, and Wynn Pelzer. Two other highly regarded pitchers — Corey Kluber and Cory Luebke — struggled at Lake Elsinore before returning to the Midwest League.
Yefri Carvajal: .280/.320/.376; .296 BB/K, .056 BB/PA, .096 ISO, .247 XB/H
The main things to remember about Carvajal are that he’s 19 years old and this is his first full season of pro ball. Word on the street is the kid has plenty of power potential. Right now he’s hitting a fair amount of doubles, but that’s it. His plate discipline could be better, although it’s improved already from last year. Carvajal has been in left field about two-thirds of the time this season and in right the other third. He’s putting up league-average numbers against players that typically are 2-3 years older than he is. Cedric Hunter did the same thing in Fort Wayne in 2007, which caused some folks to be surprised by his “rebound” this year at Lake Elsinore. Carvajal isn’t the same type of player as Hunter, and his approach isn’t nearly as polished, but there’s a lot to like here. In 27 games since the Midwest League All-Star break, Carvajal is hitting .320/.384/.410, with 10 walks against 18 strikeouts. That’s a small sample, but encouraging nonetheless.
Drew Cumberland: .286/.348/.350; .708 BB/K, .075 BB/PA, .064 ISO, .169 XB/H
Another 19-year-old, Cumberland struggled mightily in the early going before catching fire in June, when he hit .432/.500/.523 in 12 games. Unfortunately he landed on the disabled list shortly thereafter thanks to an oblique strain and hasn’t played since June 25. In addition to controlling the strike zone, Cumberland also has shown usable speed, swiping 16 bases in 20 attempts. In the field, the Padres began the season by shuttling him between second base and shortstop. That experiment didn’t last long, though, as the vast majority of Cumberland’s time has been spent at short. The .922 fielding percentage looks ugly, and it is, but given his age and level of experience, it’s excusable for now. He also has a 4.70 range factor, which seems reasonable (Khalil Greene is at 4.16; NL average is 4.45), but I have no idea how that compares to the rest of the Midwest League, so I can’t say for sure. Right now Cumberland’s biggest challenge is getting and staying healthy so he can continue to develop.
Felix Carrasco: .242/.337/.436; .347 BB/K, .126 BB/PA, .194 ISO, .400 XB/H
This guy is a freak. The 21-year-old Carrasco mostly played third base before 2008, but nobody was impressed by the .796 fielding percentage in 71 career games there and now he’s a first baseman (more on this a little later). If you’re into Three True Outcomes, this is your man. Carrasco has homered, walked, or struck out in a mind-blowing 53.2% of his plate appearances this year. It will be exceedingly difficult for him to maintain any kind of production at higher levels without making serious adjustments (striking out 36% of the time in the Midwest League just doesn’t impress folks — in the way you want to impress them, anyway). That said, I can’t wait to see him at Elsinore in 2009. He may never amount to anything, but I’m betting he’ll be fun to watch. Carrasco has some of the largest home/road splits you’ll see: .305/.411/.560 at home, .182/.262/.318 on the road.
Luis Durango: .303/.399/.365; 1.222 BB/K, .138 BB/PA, .062 ISO, .146 XB/H
I wonder if Durango has Juan Pierre’s tiny head, too. Anyway, Durango is a 22-year-old top-of-the-order type who has split time between the outfield and designated hitter in 2008. This is his first crack at full-season ball, and he’s doing pretty much what he did in short-season leagues: hit a lot. In 823 career plate appearances Durango owns a .345/.423/.422 line. The trouble is, he needs to hit .345 every step of the way to have value. Durango has no power, doesn’t use his speed very well (career 68% success rate in stolen base attempts), and apparently isn’t a stellar defender (unless you have another explanation for 30 games at DH for a guy with his skill set). I love his ability to get on base, but as Sean Burroughs reminded us, that’s not enough to build a career. And come to think of it, Burroughs actually showed more at the same level, at a much younger age.
Brad Chalk: .277/.371/.357; 1.000 BB/K, .124 BB/PA, .080 ISO, .246 XB/H
If Durango is a poor-man’s Pierre, then this guy might be the new Jason Tyner. In 420 career plate appearances, the 22-year-old Chalk owns a .368 OBP and has hit zero homers. In my book, this is not an exciting skill set, though he gets bonus points for swiping 14 bases in 14 tries this year.
Mat Latos: 3.28 ERA, 2.92 BB/9, 8.39 K/9
Latos is supposed to be a stud, but thanks to injuries, we have insufficient data (24.2 IP) with which to make a judgment at this point. If healthy, he’s got the highest upside of any pitcher in the organization. Latos is 20 years old, so we’ll call this a mulligan and hope for better things in 2009.
Jeremy McBryde: 4.91 ERA, 1.57 BB/9, 9.62 K/9
The 21-year-old McBryde has been around the plate a lot this year, maybe too much. I love the walk rate, but when the league is hitting .309 against you (and we’re talking about a league that hits .251 against everyone) it might be time to make the hitters a little less comfortable. In seven starts since the All-Star break, McBryde has struck out 36 batters while walking only two. Seriously, he’s got some real nice peripherals, in a Jon Lieber/Shane Reynolds/Kevin Tapani kind of way.
Jeremy Hefner: 3.36 ERA, 2.48 BB/9, 9.47 K/9
Hefner is 22 years old and posting nice numbers, although there is concern that his stuff may not translate to success at higher levels (more later). The right-hander has enjoyed greater success this year against lefties (.214 BAA) than righties (.260 BAA), so I’m guessing he changes speeds well, which could confuse some A-ball hitters.
Wynn Pelzer: 3.10 ERA, 2.48 BB/9, 7.14 K/9
The ERA is a bit deceptive, as Pelzer has given up 17 unearned runs as well. Still, I love this guy. A ninth-round pick out of South Carolina in 2007, Pelzer has rebounded from a broken left kneecap incurred in the Cape Cod League last summer and been shifted from the bullpen to the rotation with nice results. He has fairly extreme lefty/righty splits (.294 BAA, 18 BB, 22 SO vs LHB; .188 BAA, 6 BB, 47 SO vs RHB), so an eventual return to relief work shouldn’t shock anyone.
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At the beginning of July, I had a chance to talk with MadFriars.com‘s John Conniff, who had just returned from Fort Wayne to watch the Wizards. Due to life circumstances I’ve been sitting on this for longer than anticipated, but now here it is, in all its glory:
Ducksnorts: Felix Carrasco is a… very large man. Is the move to first base permanent, and do you think he’ll ever control the strike zone enough to take advantage of his prodigious power at higher levels?
John Conniff: He is a big man. My guess is at least 6’2″ and somewhere around 250 lbs., so yes I do think the move is permanent. He is in a bit of a power slump right now, but he is making good progress on controlling the zone with his OBP in the .340-.355 range. The other day he drew four walks, which would have been unheard of last year. Remember it’s his first full year of full-season ball against much better competition; so far he’s doing pretty well — much better than I would have expected at the beginning of the year.
He won the Midwest League Home Run Derby and to see him take batting practice is a show; he seems to hit every ball hard. An interesting tidbit: his “natural” side is his left side, he’s always been a left-handed hitter, which is strange because he throws right-handed. He only began switch-hitting a few years ago, which is one of the reasons he has trouble from the right.
Ducksnorts: Mat Latos hasn’t been able to stay healthy this year. What’s the latest on his situation?
John Conniff: Pulled oblique. The Padres thought he was over it and they sent him back to Fort Wayne. According to some of the guys who saw him he was really unleashing some fastballs in the first inning. A few pitches into the second he threw one and just called everyone over and came out. He’s going to be in Arizona until they are sure he is 100% healthy.
When he has pitched he has been impressive. However, both Doug Dascenzo, the manager, and Tom Bradley, his pitching coach, worry that he throws too many fastballs, which will get batters out at this level, but not at higher ones. His slider and change have been improving this year according to Bradley, who was his pitching coach last year in Eugene.
Ducksnorts: Beyond the usual suspects — Yefri Carvajal, Carrasco, Drew Cumberland, Brad Chalk, Latos — who should we be aware of at Fort Wayne?
John Conniff: I’ve really been impressed with Robert Perry, an outfielder who was a late round pick out of Long Beach State last year. He struggled in Lake Elsinore at the beginning of the season and was sent down to Fort Wayne. When he got back to working with Tom Tornincasa, the hitting coach, he straightened out a minor flaw in his stroke and has really hit — .343/.425/.448 [Ed note: he's cooled off since we spoke and now hitting .274/.363/.394]. He can play all three outfield positions, has a strong arm and speed, and is a very bright guy. Because the Wizards have Carvajal, Danny Payne, Chalk, and Luis Durango in the outfield, I think there is a chance they will send him back up to Lake Elsinore soon.
On the mound Jeremy Hefner has put together a nice year, but much of his success is due to his ability to throw three pitches for strikes. Some of the scouts weren’t impressed by his inability to get many batters to swing and miss at his fastball. Wynn Pelzer has done a nice job after missing most of last year with a knee injury, and Jackson Quedeza, a big Dominican with a good two-seam fastball and slider, may be the best closer in the organization.
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There you go. Thanks, as always, to John for dealing the goods…