The Lake Elsinore Storm featured a talented pitching staff that was headlined by LHP MacKenzie Gore, who was arguably the top pitcher in all of minor league baseball and Luis Patiño, who impressed all season long. The Storm pitching staff collectively led the Cal League with a 3.34 ERA and put fewer runners on base than any staff on the circuit.
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.
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 Pitcher of the Year
LHP MacKenzie Gore: 7-1, 1.02 ERA in 15 starts. 79.1 IP 39 H 20 BB 110 K (unanimous)
MacKenzie Gore, 20, wasn’t just the best pitcher in Lake Elsinore this season; his performance in Lake Elsinore was better than any starter’s at any full-season level. Gore finished his Storm tenure with a 1.02 ERA across 79.1 innings while striking out 38.2% of the batters he faced. No starter in the game bested those numbers.
When you look deeper into his body of work, his complete and utter dominance was staggering. In 15 California League starts, Gore allowed two runs once, one run seven times and had seven scoreless outings, including throwing seven shutout innings against Rancho Cucamonga in his final Cal League outing.
Gore led the Cal League with 12.47 Ks per nine innings. His FIP of 2.38 was also the lowest in the league. Gore allowed opposing hitters to bat just .135 off of him. By June, it was apparent that Gore was simply too good for the California League and he was promoted to Amarillo in July.
Gore has an excellent fastball that touched 96 mph but mostly sat in the 92-95 mph range, a very good curveball that he used to get strikeouts and a change-up that flashed plus as well.
The top prospect in the Padres’ system could contend for a rotation spot in San Diego this spring, although with just 21.2 innings at Double-A under his belt, it is much more likely that he opens next season back in Amarillo.
Runner-Up: RHP Luis Patiño 6-8, 2.68 ERA in 18 games (17 starts). 87 IP 61 H 34 BB 113 K (unanimous)
Patiño, 19, had a fantastic year that culminated in an appearance in the MLB Future’s Game. The Colombian’s 2.69 ERA ranked third in the league among pitchers who threw 70 innings and his 31.6% K-rate trailed only Gore’s.
The talented righty also finished in the top-five in the league in FIP and K’s per nine innings as well. Outside of Gore, Patiño’s performance in 2019 was arguably the best in the system.
The right-handed hurler has a fastball that touches the upper-90s and a fantastic change-up. Like Gore, he was promoted to Amarillo late in the season and is a fairly safe bet to open up the season there in 2020.
Others of Note
The Storm rode a fantastic pitching staff to the playoffs and there was much more talent than Gore and Patiño in Riverside County this season.
RHP Caleb Boushley, a former 35th-round pick, may have been the most valuable of the staff-members who spent the full season in Elsinore. The Wisconsin-born righty had the third-lowest walk rate in the league (1.41 per nine innings) and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was the third-best in the league. Boushley’s 3.69 ERA was solid but his FIP of 3.08 was eighth-best in the league. Boushley won’t overpower hitters but he commands a low 90s fastball well and has a curve that he can spot in the zone.
Fellow righty Elliot Ashbeck has always been a little old for his level, but he has produced since returning from 2016 Tommy John surgery. The 25-year-old finished second on the team in appearances (33) and innings (103.1). The former Bradley star bounced back-and-forth between the rotation and bullpen and had a 2.95 ERA with 102 strikeouts. Ashbeck is throwing the ball well in the Arizona Fall League and should be in Double-A next year. He is one of the many pitchers the Padres have in the system that will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
LHP Aaron Leasher led the team in innings (120) and pitched to a solid 3.15 ERA in 22 games (19 starts). The former Morehead State hurler faired very well at the Diamond, pitching to a 1.99 ERA in 58.2 innings. Leasher sits in the low-90s with his fastball.
Bullpen arms that thrived
RHP Jordan Guerrero led the club with 35 appearances, pitching to a 2.05 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 52.2 innings. Drafted out of junior college in Florida in the sixth round in 2015, Guerrero can touch 100 mph with his fastball. Listed at six-foot-five and 296 lbs., he is one of the largest humans in the entire system. … Evan Miller and his bowling ball sinker opened the year as the Storm closer, and dominated for two months before getting promoted to San Antonio. The Indiana-born righty allowed just four runs and a microscopic 0.70 WHIP while earning a spot in the All-Star game. … LHP Fred Schlichtholz averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, which ranked 4th among Storm pitchers who threw a minimum of 40 innings. The former Coronado High star was often deployed in high-leverage situations and outside of a rough June, he threw the ball very well. … High-octane reliever Hansel Rodriguez limped through another injury-plagued season, but posted a strong 32:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 24.2 innings between IL stints. The 22-year-old righty shows an electric slider, but his velocity was down through the second half and he ended his season on the shelf.