Summary: The Dust Devils were in the playoff hunt until the last day of the season but a horrendous offensive slump which saw the team not score a run in their final four outings sank any post-season hopes. Naturally, the pitching side is much brighter, but then again this was an extremely young team with nearly half of the roster under twenty years old.

Level: The Northwest League has existed in various forms since 1901. It features a mix of college talent acquired in the current draft, as well as high school and Latin American prospects who worked their way up from rookie ball. Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters on this circuit since the batters must transition from metal bats to wood. Players rarely go straight from the high school ranks to this level, with most having some experience in either the Arizona League or in college.

Gesa Stadium, the Dust Devils’ home stadium in Pasco, Washington, is considered the best pitchers’ park in the league and it takes an absolute cannon shot to drive it out of the park.

Player of the Year:     OF Robbie Podorsky .302/.375/.389
Podorsky, a twenty-fifth round selection out of Louisiana-Monroe didn’t make it up to the Northwest League until July 13 but was the team’s most consistent batter once he arrived.  A true speed merchant, with a good eye at the plate (he would have finished in the Top Ten in on-base percentage in the league if he qualified), he tied for second on the team with Carter in steals with 16 in 21 attempts despite playing in half the games.

The twenty-fifth rounder doesn’t have any power but his speed and bat-to-ball skills give him a chance to advance in the system.

Pitcher of the Year:  LHP Ben Sheckler 3-3 2.60 ERA 72.2 IP 70 H 32 R 21 ER 19 BB 60 K
At 22, Sheckler is a little old for the league, but he is also a 6-foot-8 lefty with four pitches, and pitchers like that you tend to wait around a little for.  He led the team in in innings pitched, strikeouts and starts. One can make a good argument that he may have been not only the best pitcher on the Dust Devils but in the league.

Sheckler started the year in the Fort Wayne bullpen and was moved back to Tri-City after a string of poor outings. He looked great in the Tri-City rotation and won the league ERA title while finishing in the top-five in innings pitched. The lefty has low 90’s velocity but his mix of pitches makes him difficult to pick up. Like most taller pitchers, He ran into trouble at times with the consistency in his windup, leading to issues with finding the strike zone.

Three Outside the MadFriars Top 20:

(1) Tre Carter
Position: Centerfield
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Age: 20
Bats/Throws: L/R
How Acquired: 2016 11th Round

AVG   OBP   SLG   PA   BB/K   Hits   XBH  HR
.230   .303   .372     288  27/95   60      20      3

2017 Highlights: A really bad July, followed by a so-so August offset a strong start for Carter in his first full year of pro ball.  In the outfield, he has plus defensive range and showed some gap power as he led the Northwest League in triples with 11.
Negatives: The athleticism is there, a consistent swing is not.
Projection: He’s a plus defender in center, but if he consolidates the gains he made at the end of the year he will be someone to watch in Fort Wayne.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Carter is the best defensive centerfielder of the group going to Fort Wayne and has yet to even scratch the surface of his potential. As with Michael Gettys and Buddy Reed above him, everything is going to revolve around how much the hit tool develops. If Carter can find a consistent swing and approach at the plate he could take off next year.

(2) Luis Almanzar
Position: Shortstop/Third Base
Height/Weight: 6-0/190 lbs.
Age: 18
Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: 2016 International Free Agent Signing

AVG   OBP   SLG   PA   BB/K   Hits XBH HR
.230   .299   .299   286   25/85  60   13     2

2017 Highlights: The Padres gave Almanzar $4 million dollars in 2016, the third highest bonus amount in the organization’s history. He put on a show with the bat in Extended Spring but struggled in the Northwest League at 18.
Negatives: Despite the big bonus, he has a lot of competition at shortstop at his level in Gabriel Arias, Justin Lopez, and Jordy Barley. Third base might be more in his future.
Projection: Although he didn’t show it in Tri-Cities, he can hit but his value will take a hit if he moves off of shortstop.
MadFriars’ Assessment: Almanzar should be back in the Northwest League at 19 with a full year of professional ball under his belt. Expect to see the tools that got him the big bonus on display this summer.

(3) Luis Asuncion
Position: Corner Outfielder
Height/Weight: 6-4/210
Age: 20
Bats/Throws: R/R
How Acquired: 2013 International Free Agent Signing

AVG  OBP  SLG  PA  BB/K  Hits XBH HR
.267 .319   .392  272 17/66  68   21    4

2017 Highlights: Asuncion spent his second straight season in Pasco and was produced league-average numbers — quite the achievement for the offensive-starved Dust Devils offense. Asuncion’s .267 average led qualified Dust Devils and he tied for the team lead with four homers. The mammoth outfielder did most of his damage in June, hitting three of his four homers in the first month of the short-season league. He was the MVP of the Northwest League All-Star Game.
Negatives: Despite a big arm, he does not move well and could eventually be limited to left field.
Projection: Of the players competing for spots on the 2018 TinCaps, Asuncion has the most power of any; the problem is it’s going to be a crowded outfield.
MadFriars’ Assessment: With Jeisson Rosario, Tirso Ornelas, Mason House, Tre Carter, Robbie Podorsky and potentially Jack Suwinski coming back, the Padres are going to have to make some very difficult decisions on who to take north at the end of Spring Training.

The relative lack of depth at first base could be an opening for Asuncion on the TinCaps’ roster.

Up Next:  We take a look at one of the youngest and biggest surprises in the organization last year, the Low-A Fort Wayne TinCaps.

 

Posted by John Conniff

John grew up in Poway and has written for MadFriars since 2004. He has written articles for Baseball America, FoxSports San Diego, the El Paso Times, San Antonio Express-News, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and Pacific Daily News in addition to appearing on numerous radio programs and podcasts. He can also break down the best places to eat for all five of the affiliates. There is no best place to eat in Peoria, Arizona.

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