Ethan Elliott came through as a productive late-round pick for the Dust Devils in 2019. (Photo: Mike Wilson)

Summary

The Dust Devils had a staff ERA of 3.94, which put them in the middle of the Northwest League without any top pitching prospects. Thirteen different pitchers started a game for the club this year. With a bevy of just-drafted college arms on pitch limits, Tri-City was able to make it to the championship series by mixing and matching starters to keep the team in games long enough have a puncher’s chance.

The strength of the pitching staff was in the bullpen where Mason Fox, Dan Dallas, and Wen-Hua Sung combined to strike out 136 in 92.1 innings.

Overview

We use a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we take into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.

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 to wood bats, though many of them are on strict pitch and innings limits. 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.

2019 Tri-City Dust Devils Pitcher of the Year

 

Taiwan’s Wen-Hua Sung was among the top pitchers for the Dust Devils in 2019. Photo: Mike Wilson.

RHP Wen-Hua Sung 3.05 ERA, 32H, 59 K, 14 BB in 41.1 IP (Charity, Conniff, Pond)

Wen-Hua Sung was part of the heralded international class of 2016, becoming the Padres’ first amateur free agent signee out of Taiwan. Injured in 2017, he struggled to a 12.80 ERA in 20 innings last year. Finally healthy and in good shape, his numbers picked up considerably this year. Despite working exclusively in relief, the righty, who turned 23 during the postseason, led the Dust Devils in strikeouts and was fourth in innings pitched.

Sung shows a three-pitch mix, including a splitter that induces some ugly swings. Because of his age and role, he could jump a few levels next year. He should continue to work in multi-inning, high-leverage situations and could still see a bit more velocity as he gets further removed from his heavy workloads as an amateur.

LHP Ethan Elliott 1.77 ERA, 27 H, 38 K, 4 BB in 35.2 IP (Davey, Jay)

Ethan Elliott in action with the Dust Devils. Photo: Mike Wilson.

A 10th-round, $5,000 senior sign out of Division II Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, Elliott made the most of his opportunity in the Northwest League, posting a 1.77 ERA that led Dust Devil starters and a stellar 38:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The highest-drafted Railsplitter ever, the 6-foot-3 left-hander came up big in August when he gave up only three earned runs and held the opposition to a .185 batting average across five starts. While the 22-year-old lacks velocity, he fits a demographic with which the Padres have done well, as a long-limbed lefty with multiple looks and high spin rates.

Top Pitching Prospect

RHP Mason Fox 0.95 ERA, 11 H, 32 K, 10 BB in 19 IP (Conniff, Davey, Jay, Pond)

Mason Fox, 22, started the season in extended spring training and finished in the Calfornia League playoffs, a remarkable climb for the 2018 21st-round draft pick from Gardner-Webb University. The hard-throwing righty, who works with a fastball/slider combination, quickly pitched his way out of the Northwest League and finished the year with a microscopic 0.55 ERA in 32.2 innings across three levels. A recent conversion from the outfield, Fox logged a 56:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the year as opponents only managed to hit .142 against him. He didn’t allow a regular season run after July 1.

He should be in the bullpen next season for the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm with a solid shot to move up to Double-A Amarillo by the break, which is quite a climb from where he was at the end of Spring Training.

RHP Nick Thwaits 4.66 ERA, 70 H, 47 K, 18 BB in 58 IP (Charity)

Nick Thwaits was one of San Diego’s top 2018 draft performers last summer. (Photo: Mike Wilson)

Thwaits put together a solid debut year in the AZL after signing as an over slot-signee last summer. After spending the early spring in extended to work on honing his mechanics, the Ohio native led the Dust Devils in innings pitched and showed a feel for three solid offerings. When he was on, he put together a strong stretch in August, allowing three runs over a 19 inning stretch. When he wasn’t, he gave up loud contact. His manager Mike McCoy likes his feel for pitching but he’s going to need to add velocity if he’s going to have a run at the upper levels.

Others of Note

Ignacio Feliz could become another one of AJ Preller’s lower minors steals. Photo: Mike Wilson)

Like his fellow righty Thwaits, Ignacio Feliz relied more on guile than raw stuff to get through the year. The 19-year old Dominican struck out 55 in 57.1 innings against 27 walks. He was nearly two and a half years younger than his opponents and his athleticism and frame give some reason for optimism that there’s more in the tank. Feliz came over for righthander Walker Lockett, in last year’s 40-man roster crunch. … LHP Jason Blanchard, 22, made 10 starts and posted a solid 41:12 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding the opposition to a .187 batting average. Going forward, the 6-foot lefty profiles better out of the pen. In the second half (21.2 innings), Blanchard didn’t give up a single run. … Big righty Connor Lehmann didn’t throw more than three innings in any of his 12 appearances after a heavy workload in his senior year at St. Louis University, but he showed well in his limited exposure. The New Jersey native had Tommy John surgery back in 2016 and didn’t sign until after his redshirt senior season, so he’s already 23, but he has a chance to impress as a starter in Single-A next year. … LHP Dan Dallas, 21, struggled early in Fort Wayne and was sent back to Tri-City where he once again was dominant with 45 strikeouts in 32.1 innings for a 1.41 ERA. The key for him going forward will be the effectiveness of his secondary pitches.

You can also read our Northwest League position player wrap-up, and subscribers can read an interview with Ben Sestanovich tomorrow. All our level-by level coverage over the coming weeks will be available here. If you’re not already a subscriber, join now for the top coverage of the Padres minor league system.

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, Amarillo Globe-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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