With the youngest roster in the Midwest league for a second straight year, the TinCaps endured plenty of growing pains early, finishing with a paltry 32-37 record. Yet, the team rallied in the second half of the season behind a bevy of talented pitching prospects to finish just one game out of the playoffs.
A frigid April exacerbated the acclimation period for many of the players and likely played a role in the early season struggles, but the presence of premier prospects like MacKenzie Gore, Tirso Ornelas, Luis Patiño, and others made for an intriguing season regardless of the record.
Eligibility for the awards is simple. We consider a player at whatever level he made the most regular-season appearances. So, while Owen Miller was great for Fort Wayne, we already wrote him up with Tri-City. Conversely, Nick Margevicius pops up today even though he also had promising results once he was promoted to Lake Elsinore.
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.
Low-A is the bottom rung of full-season ball, so it can be difficult to gauge how meaningful a prospect’s performance is in the grand scheme of things. Some pundits focus primarily on the ability and potential demonstrated while others shift their gaze to the consistency of a performance.
I lean toward a more a middle-of-the-road evaluation, relying on a couple questions to filter through it: 1) how old is a prospect compared to the competition; 2) how raw or developed is the prospect heading into full-season ball; and 3) is he making the necessary adjustments in terms of mechanics and approach?
2018 Fort Wayne TinCaps Pitcher of the Year
RHP Luis Patiño: 2.16 ERA, 65 H, 98 K/ 24 BB, 83.1 IP (Barnett, Conniff, Davey, Pond)
Among 2018 starting pitchers in the Midwest League, no teenager had a higher swinging strike percentage, (16.0), or lower ERA, (2.18), than Luis Patiño. That’s right. Patiño outperformed the likes of MacKenzie Gore, Hunter Greene, and Matt Manning en route to one of the most impressive seasons among top 100 prospects in the lower minors. In fact, he allowed one earned run or less in 14 of his 17 starts while Gore and Greene accomplished that feat in only 16 of their combined 34 starts, which were often briefer appearances than Patiño’s.
Though excellent stats in the lower minors are not as meaningful as they are at Double-A or Triple-A, dominant numbers like Patiño’s should not be ignored, especially since he was just 18 years of age and facing off against the level for the first time.
Additionally, the young right-hander’s fastball reportedly hit triple digits late in the season, and he frequently maintained velocity deep into starts. The secondaries could all use substantial development, but both his breaking balls project to be average to plus, giving him a potentially, deadly four-pitch mix. In my estimation, Patiño should be on the top 50 prospect list of every major publication, and the only barrier in the way is the ridiculous knock on his size.
Others receiving votes
LHP Osvaldo Hernandez: 1.81 ERA, 104 H, 94 K/ 27 BB, 109.2 IP (Charity, Jay)
Hernandez, 20, is another international signee who joined the organization out of Cuba in 2017. In his second stint in the Midwest League, he was nothing short of dominant, maintaining the only ERA under 2.50 among pitchers who worked 100 IP. His strikeout numbers may not be as gaudy as Patiño’s, but he was a paragon of consistency as he held opponents to three earned runs or less in every start. The fact that he logged nearly 30 more innings than Patiño earns him the nod here from Kevin and David.
The fastball generally sat in the low 90s, but Hernandez occasionally dialed it up to 94 MPH. While it isn’t a big leap from last year in terms of velocity, the control and command exhibited by Hernandez was far more advanced. He effectively hit the corners and set up the high fastball in addition to working in an intriguing 12-6 curveball. In all likelihood, Hernandez will kick off 2019 in a loaded Lake Elsinore rotation.
Top Pitching Prospect
LHP MacKenzie Gore: 4.45 ERA, 61 H, 74 K/ 18 BB, 60.2 IP (Unanimous)
Despite a lingering blister issue and a couple of trips to the disabled list, MacKenzie Gore looked every bit as talented as advertised. The overall ERA may obscure that notion, but for any who saw him pitch live, there is little doubt why he was drafted so high. His diverse repertoire projects for four above-average to plus offerings, and his deceptive delivery pairs with it as a devastating combo for opposing hitters. Midwest League hitters posted a 15.9 percent swinging strike rate. This number could very well have been higher if the blister issues hadn’t hindered his fastball command early in the season.
Given an injury-free start in Lake Elsinore next season, the six-foot-three southpaw could find his way to Amarillo before season’s end, putting him on pace to arrive with the big league club in late 2020.
Other Pitchers of Note
After adding a biting, mid-70s curveball in the offseason, Nick Margevicius rolled through the Midwest League competition to the tune of a 10.26 K/9 and a 2.53 FIP before a second-half promotion to Lake Elsinore. His time in Lake Elsinore was a bit of a roller coaster, but Margevicius’s cerebral approach to pitching and dedication to honing his craft could continue to pay dividends for the organization, especially if the six-foot-five southpaw integrates a slider this offseason as he has implied he might.
In his road back from Tommy John Surgery, Travis Radke thrived in a bullpen role for the TinCaps, carrying a 12.16 K/9 despite working in the high 80’s with his fastball. The strikeout numbers didn’t hold up as he pitched at High-A, Double-A, or Triple-A, but his ability to alter his delivery contributed to a modicum of success at every level. Radke was one of the great stories of the year.
Mason Thompson was unable to make it through an entire season healthy again; however, he exhibited tantalizing growth after some early season struggles. His fastball climbed as high 96 MPH with some deceptive late life, and he frequently attacked the edges of the plate. Perhaps, the biggest flaw for Thompson was that he never seemed to gain confidence tossing his breaking balls, the curve or a new slider, against southpaws, leading to a paltry 35:22 strikeout-to-walk ratio against them.
While the 2017 draft class was heavy on high-school picks, college hurlers Tom Cosgrove and Aaron Leasher (12th and sixth-round selections, respectively) were both impressive in their first professional seasons, providing over 200 innings to the TinCaps as both starters and piggyback relievers. Leasher, the lefty, finished with a better ERA, but lefty Cosgrove struck out more than a batter per inning and walked one fewer per nine than his compatriot.
The Padres have cashed in on day-two picks from the Midwest under Mark Conner’s leadership as scouting director. Dylan Coleman carried a very tight workload after the club called him in the fourth round this summer, but the big righty from Missouri State could continue that trend. Held to short outings after a long collegiate season, the big man struck out 22 in 16.2 innings of work. He’ll move back into the rotation next year at the Low-A level.