In affiliated baseball’s return to the Texas Panhandle for the first time since 1982, the Amarillo Sod Poodles won the Texas League championship in dramatic fashion. At an elevation of 3,600 and built on a postage-stamp lot, the Soddies’ home ballpark HODGETOWN proved to be a haven for offense as Amarillo and their opponents combined for 50% more home runs in the new ballpark than in road games. The pitching staff featured plenty of high-profile arms at various times in the season, but injuries and promotions meant most of those top prospects saw limited action for Amarillo.
We use a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. So, you’ll have to wait for a mention of Andres Muñoz until we get to El Paso. 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.
It’s often said that the jump from Hi-A to Double-A is one of the toughest to make in the minors. By the time they get to this level, pitchers can rely more consistently on multiple pitches in any count, forcing batters to do damage on quality pitches rather than simply hunt mistakes. The circuit – even with Amarillo replacing the flyball graveyard that is San Antonio’s Wolff Stadium – is generally a pitcher’s league. The Padres have shown a willingness to pull prospects, especially pitchers, directly to the big leagues from the Texas League.
2019 Sod Poodles Pitcher of the Year
Lake Bachar 3.98 ERA, 128 H, 126 K/58 BB in 126.2 innings (Davey, Jay)
In a year when no clear-cut ace stayed with the staff, Bachar stepped up with a strong enough campaign to get the nod here. The one-time Division-III collegiate punter and kicker led the staff with 126.2 innings pitched and was the only one of the 12 Sod Poodles to start at least three games who finished with an ERA below 4.00. Working with a lively fastball and one of the higher breaking ball spin rates in the system, the righty struck out a batter per inning and managed to offset a high walk rate by holding opponents to a .259 average. Away from HODGETOWN, the 24-year-old was especially impressive, posting a 3.23 ERA and .217 opponents’ average. On a staff that desperately needed some stability, Bachar worked at least six innings in nine of his final 10 starts.
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES:
David Bednar 2.95 ERA, 49 H, 86 K/18 BB, 58 IP, 14 S in 15 opportunities (Charity)
Ronald Bolaños 4.23 ERA, 71 H, 88 K/30 BB, 10 HBP in 76.2 IP (Pond)
Kyle Lloyd 4.34 ERA, 119 H, 100 K/35 BB in 110 IP(Conniff)
The split of votes indicates the range of ways pitchers contributed to a staff that had 20 different players toss at least 20 innings this season. Bednar was a bullpen workhorse, striking out a team-best 35.8% of the batters he faced before a September big league call-up. The hard-throwing righty was especially dominant in the second half when he posted a stellar 46:4 strikeout ratio after assuming the club’s primary closer role.
Though he didn’t arrive in Amarillo until June, Bolaños was the rotation’s best performer through the second half of the year. While his ERA lagged Bachar’s, advanced metrics showed much better for the Cuban righty. With the ability to modulate his pitches well and dial up his fastball to the upper-90s, Bolaños struck out 10.33 per nine innings. Lloyd, who turned 29 after the season, tossed 110 innings in a swing role for the club, posting the most extreme home/road splits on the club. In Amarillo, opponents hit .326 against him and collected 18 homers in 53.2 innings. On the road, he allowed just 12 runs total in 56.1 innings.
2019 Sod Poodles Top Pitching Prospect of the Year
Adrian Morejon 4.25 ERA, 29 H, 44 K/15 BB in 36 Innings (unanimous)
The talented lefty has impressed when he’s been on the mound since signing for a club-record $11M bonus in 2016. Unfortunately, that’s been an all-too-uncommon place to find the 20-year-old. Morejon left his fourth start of the year with an injury and, though he returned in three weeks, managed to work more than two innings in just one more outing before joining the Padres. Working with a nasty curve and changeup to complement a mid-90s fastball, Morejon has the building blocks to be stellar big-league performer, but he’ll have to figure out a way to stay on the mound and work deep into games to reach his ceiling.
Others of Note
For the second straight year, Michel Baez was late to break from spring training because of what was described as a minor injury. Once the giant righty arrived in Amarillo in mid-May, however, he overwhelmed opponents. The 23-year-old Cuban posted a 2.00 ERA and struck out 38 in 27 innings in his conversion to a multi-inning reliever, earning a big league promotion just two-and-a-half months later. Reggie Lawson was healthy to open the year, but hit the shelf after six starts and wound up receiving PRP therapy and missing the remainder of the season. Now 22, the Southern Californian has the potential to be a front line starter but has struggled to put the pieces together consistently since the Padres drafted him out of high school in 2016.
Nick Margevicius surprisingly opened the year in the big league rotation but wound up getting hit hard as opponents gained familiarity. The lefty returned to Amarillo in late June. On the road, he was quite effective, posting a 3.32 ERA in 38 innings. At home, he gave up 11 homers and 41 hits in 31 innings on his way to an ERA more than two runs higher. His role going forward is going to be dependent on his performance. Behemoth reliever Dauris Valdez struggled in the first half despite his triple-digit fastball, but cleaned up his mechanics in the second half and showed promise. Now 24 years old, the righty sported a 1.91 ERA after the break, cutting his walk rate and missing more bats in the process. Travis Radke‘s arsenal and physicality aren’t nearly as imposing, but the lefty (whose postseason means we cover him here rather than with El Paso) produced the top FIP on the staff. A 26-year-old late-round pick who underwent Tommy John surgery back in 2016, Radke’s deceptive delivery and impressive production earned him the right to be on the mound to close out the Texas League Championship.