Lake Elsinore had a fantastic season, finishing with a 73-65 record. The Storm made the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and ultimately fell in the Cal League Championship to Visalia in four games. The Storm offense finished fifth in the eight-team circuit in runs but did strike out less than any team in the league.
Eligibility for the awards is simple: We consider a player at whatever level he made the most regular-season appearances. So while Xavier Edwards finished strong with the Storm, he was part of our TinCaps coverage. 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 big leagues.
A mere 75 miles from Petco Park, Lake Elsinore provides the best opportunity for Padres fans to see prospects coming through the system before they reach the big leagues. While The Diamond is a pitchers’ park by Cal League standards, that’s more of a reflection on how offense-heavy the game can be at other sites across the league. The High-A (or Advanced-A) league features a range of players in their second to fifth professional campaigns.
2019 Storm Player of the Year
C Luis Campusano .325/.396/.509, 15 HR, 81 RBI, 137 H, 31 2B, 1 3B, 52 BB, 57 K, wRC+ 148 (unanimous)
Campusano, 21, had a breakout year for the Storm, winning the batting title and finishing near the top of virtually every offensive category. The former second-round pick was named Co-MVP of the California League and was the most consistent player on the Storm roster. Campusano also had the lowest K-rate (11.7%) among qualified Cal League batters while walking in 10.7% of his plate appearances. Campusano typically looks to be “selectively aggressive” at the plate.
“[It’s getting myself] in a position to hit and staying aggressive,” said Campusano during the Cal League All-Star game in San Bernardino. “[It’s] about knowing what I can do with the pitches that pitchers give me. I worked with [Storm hitting coach] Doug Banks a little last off-season on just being in a better position to hit and putting backspin on the baseball and using my tools as best as I can.”
On top of his offensive prowess, Campusano also did a fantastic job of managing the Storm pitching staff that led the league in ERA (3.34) and allowed the fewest hits. The young backstop saw time briefly in the Arizona Fall League but was pulled with a minor hip injury. He finished the year playing in the instructional league and is a safe bet to open 2020 in Amarillo.
Runner-up: INF Gabriel Arias: .302/.339/.470, 144 H, 21 2B, 4 3B, 17 HR, 75 RBI, 25 BB, 128 K, wRC+ 120 (unanimous)
Arias, 19, had a breakout offensive season, flashing power and improved approach at the plate. Arias finished fourth in the Cal League with a .302 average and his wRC+ of 120 was just outside of the top-ten in the league. If there is a knock on Arias’ game, it is that he only walked 25 times in 502 plate appearances.
In the second half of the season, Arias homered 10 times and reduced his strikeout to a very manageable 20%. On top of Arias’ improvement at the plate, he is a fantastic defensive shortstop who has a plus arm and excellent range.
“There was a lot of growth with Gabriel this season,” said Storm manager Tony Tarasco. “The first part of his growth was really understanding to minimize the movement in his swing mechanics. That was his focus at the beginning of the year.
“As we moved along until the first third [of the season] he started to concentrate more on a two-strike approach. He’s grown even more since then because now I am asking him to be more selective early in the count and have a good two-strike approach. I think that the objective is that we teach our hitters that big league hitters go to the plate, they get one pitch they are looking for and they swing one time and square it up when they get it. So that’s where his focus has been.
“He plays very exciting. He’s a very polarizing player; he affects the team in a lot of positive ways and when he is having bad days, the team vibes off of that. That’s probably the biggest phase: realizing the responsibility that comes with that power.”
Luis Campusano (Charity, Davey, Pond, Conniff)
Campusano is an up-the-middle defender with the ability to provide value in both facets of the game. He has the pedigree and performance you look for at the top of a system and showed impressive growth in both measurable and intangible aspects of his game in 2019. As he continues to turn his hard contact into over-the-fence power, Campusano is among the top catching prospects in the game.
Gabriel Arias (Jay)
While Campusano is surely the more polished of the two and his consistency likely gives him a higher floor (assuming he has no further concussion issues), the dynamism Arias possesses at the plate and at shortstop give him the slight nod for me. The advances the talented 19-year-old made in his approach and his maturity were impressive and gave us a second-half look at the sort of all-around star he could be.
Others of Note
Former Rule 5 draft pick Allen Córdoba had a relatively healthy season and put up strong numbers. The 23-year-old amassed a full season of plate appearances for the first time in his six-year career and hit a solid .301/.367/.412 with 32 stolen bases. Córdoba also played all over the diamond for the Storm, seeing action at third base and in the outfield. He will once again be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter.
Infielder Eguy Rosario repeated the Cal League in 2019 and broke out in the second half. Over 70 games after the break, the 20-year-old hit .319/.370/.485 with five homers and 55 RBI. In addition to his increased prowess at the plate, Rosario handled all four infield positions but is best suited for second base. Like Córdoba, he will be available in the Rule 5 draft, if not added to the 40-man roster.
Outfielder Jeisson Rosario led the California League in walk rate at 16.6% and his .372 on-base percentage was good for fifth on the circuit. The 19-year-old outfielder did his best work down the stretch, hitting .304/.453/.446 with seven extra-base hits, including two homers in August. The talented outfielder needs to be a little more aggressive at the plate but his ability to get on base, paired with excellent defense in center field, makes him a legitimate prospect.
Arias and Campusano paced the club in homers in 2019 but outfielder Jack Suwinski was the only other player to reach double-digit homers with Lake Elsinore with 12. The outfielder has a sweet, left-handed stroke when he is on, but overall he hit just .208/.303/.350 with a 30% K-rate. He is still just 21 and the organization remains bullish on him.
Coming into the year, outfielder Tirso Ornelas found his name on the back-end of some national top prospects lists and firmly in the mix on our Top 20 list. But the lefty from Tijuana struggled mightily to incorporate some mechanical changes and was completely lost at the plate when the organization sent him all the way back to Peoria in July. Rather than sulk, the 19-year-old reset and showed well when he returned to the Cal League in August. While it was a disappointing season, the ultimate success in making changes and performing over the final month are a positive indicator that this will go down as a blip in his development rather than an unrecoverable downturn.