Despite not having as many big-name pitching prospects as they did in 2016 with Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi and Cal Quantrill or last year with Adrian Morejon, the Dust Devils staff still finished in the middle of the Northwest League in overall pitching.
Tri-City got quality starts from Angel Acevedo, Ramon Perez, Henry Henry and Omar Cruz, and featured a pair of Northwest League all-star relievers Dan Dallas and Jordan Guerrero.
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, he appeared in our Dust Devils position player review 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 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. It takes an absolute cannon shot to drive it out of the park, especially from gap to gap.
2018 Tri-City Dust Devils Pitcher of the Year
LHP Ramon Perez 2.48 ERA 33 H 45K/16BB in 40 IP (Davey, Jay, Pond)
Ramon Perez, 19, was a teammate of Adrian Morejon on the Cuban National U-15 team and was a late addition to the Padres’ big J2 International class of 2016. In 2017, he struggled with his command in the AZL with a 48:33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50.2 innings but cleaned it up considerably this year with a 45:16 rate in Pasco.
He has a low-90’s fastball, curve, and changeup and as Baseball America’s Ben Badler noted at his signing, the organization made a few mechanical tweaks to get him to throw more strikes.
This season with Tri-City, he held the opposition to a .223 batting average and was very good in cavernous Gesa Stadium with a 1.90 ERA in 23.2 innings. He can either start or relieve, but this year, left-handed hitters could only manage a .158/.200/.184 slash line against him. The physically mature lefty should open next year in a Fort Wayne rotation that could, once again, skew heavily toward teenagers.
Also receiving votes:
RHP Angel Acevedo 3.88 ERA 55H 54K/16BB in 65 IP (Conniff and Barnett)
Acevedo,19, signed late in the 2015-16 international signing period, just months before the Padres’ major splurge. The Venezuelan is above his listed weight of 180 pounds, but has yet to use his sturdy six-foot-one frame to generate as much velocity as you’d like. He nonetheless mixes his pitches well and throws strikes, to the point that when Lake Elsinore needed a spot start in late June, the Padres were comfortable sending him up to make just his third appearance outside the complex league. He held the Northwest League to a league-best .219 batting average, while leading the staff with 65 innings of work and filled the strike zone, walking just 6 percent of opposing batters. He should be in contention for a starter’s role in Fort Wayne in 2019.
RHP Henry Henry 3.32 ERA 62 H 44K/11BB in 59.2 IP (Charity)
While his ERA was nearly a full run higher than Perez’s, ERA estimators show the gap being a lot narrower, and Henry delivered almost 50 percent more innings to the Dust Devils rotation. After struggling to control the ball in a brief stint in Fort Wayne, the big Dominican native bounced back impressively to post the Dust Devils’ best walk rate in his second crack at the Northwest League.
MadFriars Top Pitching Prospect:
The man with the best name in minor league baseball also had the most upside of any Dust Devil in 2018. Henry has the ability to throw three quality pitches, unleash 95 MPH fastballs with little apparent effort, and when he is fully engaged, can give his team quality innings.
He started the year off with the TinCaps, but after a nightmare 6.1 innings with a 19.89 ERA, was sent back to Extended Spring where he simplified his mechanics by going full-time to the stretch. After a successful campaign with Tri-City, he made his last two starts back in Fort Wayne and went seven shutout innings in his final start.
As solid as the soon-to-be 20-year-old has been so far, he has plenty more in the tank. He’s shown different abilities at various times, but has yet to put it all together at once for any extended period. If he does, he will quickly jump up the rankings in a very deep Padres system.
Others of Note
Omar Cruz didn’t sign out of his native Mexico until after his 18th birthday, but the 19-year-old put up some impressive numbers across the AZL and Northwest League in his first professional season. A lefty with an advanced feel for pitching, Cruz had a 1.80 ERA in 20 rookie-ball innings and kept it at 2.01 ERA in 22.1 innings for the Dust Devils. While he maintained a 30 percent strikeout rate at the higher level, he issued 16 walks in his Northwest League stint, something he’ll need to improve upon next year.
After a lost season in 2017, lefty Dan Dallas needed to get back on track. Striking out 45 batters in 26.2 innings with an ERA that barely squeaked over two certainly counts. A converted starter, the 20-year-old was able to feed off of the adrenaline rush that can come in the bullpen and saw his fastball tick up a few notches. A big part of his success was the continued refinement of his curveball and his ability to change tempo on the hitter. He was given a wel l-deserved promotion to Fort Wayne in mid-August.
Jordan Guerrero was only in the Northwest League for off-field reasons, and the big righty took it out on opposing batters. He didn’t allow a run and yielded only nine hits in 22.1 innings. Listed at an entirely-believable 296 pounds, he can touch a 100 mph and comfortably sits in the high 90s. While he struggled with command a bit in Fort Wayne before being sent back, the sixth-round 2015 pick tightened it up in Tri-City. Right-handed hitters batted just .116 against him in 47 plate appearances.
Fellow right-handed reliever Joe Galindo, 23, was a Northwest League all-star last year, but struggled with his command early in the year at Fort Wayne. He returned to the Dust Devils and again struck out (30) more batters than innings pitched (23.2), but walked too many at 14. He can touch 96 and when his slider is on is a very tough at-bat, just needs a little more consistency. … Righties Sam Keating, who turned 20 in August, and Cole Bellinger, still 18 for a few more weeks, were both high-profile high school draft picks in 2017, and both struggled in their first stint away from the AZL. Despite a 5.43 ERA, Bellinger showed noticeable improvement in August when he posted a 2.45 ERA in 18.1 innings. Keating has a big fastball but managed just a 34:28 strikeout-to-walk ratio 55.1 innings. … Righty Adrian Martinez posted solid peripherals, striking out 52 against only 14 walks in 57 innings. When he was on, he was quite good, but the Mexicali native got crushed when he wasn’t, twice failing to make it out of the first inning of a start. … Gabe Mosser put up impressive numbers as a multi-inning relief option after the Padres selected him on day three of the draft. He’s got a fantastic backstory.