The Dust Devils finished the year at 35-41, better than only the Eugene Emeralds. Of course, Eugene sneaked into the playoffs by claiming a second-half wildcard spot and wound up the Northwest League champions. A good reminder that standings and records are not the most important measure of success in the minor leagues.
There were some bright spots for Tri-City, particularly on the offensive side. If you lean toward performance, shortstop Owen Miller, who was taken in the third round of the 2018 draft, had as good a debut as any Padres’ draft pick in recent memory. If you like looking at the long-term, then there is plenty to be excited about the future double-play combination of Xavier Edwards and our AZL Position Player of the Year Tucupita Marcano.
Eligibility for the awards is simple. We consider a player at whatever level he made the most regular-season appearances. So, while Xavier Edwards was technically in the AZL longer, you’ll see him below because he played in three more games and logged 19 more plate appearances for Tri-City. Ryan Weathers, meanwhile, made the AZL coverage because he logged one-third of an inning more there than in Fort Wayne.
We distinguish between the player of the year and top prospect at each level. Player of the year is about whose production this season was most impressive. Top prospect takes into account a mix of this year’s production, opportunities to improve, and potential impact in the major leagues.
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 batters are transitioning 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, especially from gap to gap.
2018 Tri-City Dust Devils Position Player of the Year
SS Owen Miller .335/.395/.440 24K/15BB in 216 PA (Conniff, Davey, Jay)
Miller, 21, the Padres’ third-round pick in June, put together the best – and fastest-rising – debut of any college position player drafted by the Padres in a long time. In his junior year at Illinois State, the Wisconsin native hit .384/.433/.537. He didn’t miss a beat as he transitioned to the professional ranks with his relaxed approach at the plate. For the eight weeks he was in Tri-City, he anchored the middle of both the Dust Devil’s lineup and defense and earned the start at shortstop for the Northwest League All-Star team.
After destroying the Northwest League, he went on to hit .336/.368/.495 for the Low-A TinCaps. Continuing with their aggressive promotions, San Diego sent him to San Antonio for the Texas League playoffs, where he was the starting shortstop for the Missions in both of their playoff series.
Others receiving votes
Olivier Basabe .313/.371/.480 12K/12BB in 168 PA (Charity, Pond)
Basabe, 21, is a Venezuelan native but moved to the U.S. during his high school years and was drafted out of Faulkner University in the eighth round of the 2017 draft. He put together a solid but unspectacular debut year in the AZL, hitting .272/.348/.389. Improved conditioning in the offseason propelled him to a big jump in 2018. After a slow start, he put together a .353/.407/.529 line in July that helped him lead the Dust Devils in slugging percentage and OPS on the year. He played all over the infield but spent the majority of his games at second base for Tri-City.
Basabe should start next year where he finished this year, in a super-utility role for Fort Wayne. With Marcano and Edwards slated to occupy the middle of the field, he was experimenting in the outfield corners in his Midwest League cameo this summer. Basabe will need to continue to improve athletically, but the organization believes there could be more power in the future for him.
Xavier Edwards .314/.438/.360 15K/18BB 10SB/0CS in 107 PA (Barnett)
He only had 107 plate appearances, so his counting stats are below those of other Dust Devils leaders. But the dynamic shortstop was a key contributor from the time he arrived in the Pacific Northwest a few days before his 19th birthday. Edwards did exactly what you’d want at the top of the lineup, posting a .438 on-base percentage that would have been good for second in the league with enough plate appearances, while swiping 10 bases in as many attempts. He also showed electric abilities in the field, flashing plus range and surprisingly advanced instincts for a player his age.
Top Prospect: Shortstop Xavier Edwards (unanimous)
The returns from San Diego’s second first-round pick have been better than anyone could have hoped. The Florida native got well above-slot money to bypass a Vanderbilt commit, an investment that looks good so far. The first high school player the Padres have jumped to the Northwest League in his draft year since Hudson Potts, Edwards showed the mix of current abilities and opportunity for future improvement that portend good things for a young prospect. After reaching base in nearly half his AZL plate appearances, he kept it up with the aggressive promotion, walking more than he struck out. A wrist injury suffered in the AZL earlier in the summer prevented the switch-hitter from batting from the right side, so his numbers may have been even better.
Defensively, he made a single error in 24 games and showed plus range. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but his ability to move his feet cut down on the distance. Next season the switch-hitting Edwards should be one of the more exciting players in the Midwest League.
Others of Note
Blake Hunt caught the majority of games for the Dust Devils this year and showed considerable improvement, particularly on the defensive side as the season progressed. One of the more impressive parts of his season was that in August when you’d expect a young catcher to fade because of workload, he had his best month at the plate hitting .316/.378/.506. The six-foot-four Hunt is big for a catcher, but he has a plus arm and embraces the mental challenges that come along with the position. He should be behind the plate next year in Fort Wayne.
Outfielder Grant Little, 21, had a big year for Texas Tech, helping them reach the College World Series and then went on to play 39 games for Tri-City. Little was another one of this year’s draft picks that was nearly as well known as a basketball player in high school as he was for baseball. He’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter and should become a plus defender as he acclimates to center field. … Luis Asuncion, 21, and Tre Carter, 21, both repeated the level – Asuncion for the second time. Both showed flashes of their ability, but each also struggled with consistency. Asuncion also began to make the transition to first base from the outfield, a spot he should be at next year as well. Despite their numbers not being what they or the organization would want, both have too much potential talent for the Padres to not try to unlock it in the Midwest League next year. … Slugger Michael Curry, drafted as “hitter” out of Georgia this year, didn’t have the production you’d want, but his underlying numbers – including a strikeout rate under 20 percent and solid batted ball profile – are indicators of good things to come.
If you missed any of our AZL wrap-ups, you can see that and all our end-of-year level-by-level coverage here. If you’re not already subscribed, now’s a great time to get access to our interviews with top prospects and the front office, coverage of the On Deck game, and our upcoming top prospect lists.