Justin Lange had an up-and-down season. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

Summary 

The ACL Padres churned through 46 different pitchers in 58 games, and while there was plenty of talent on the roster, the club didn’t have any dominant performances. Headlined by 17-year-old Victor Lizarraga, 2020 competitive balance pick Justin Lange, and a stable of intriguing arms who will get more visibility in 2022, the club finished in the middle of the pack in their return to action.

Overview 

Each player is considered at the level where they appeared the most. So, while several draftees got underway in Peoria, they will be evaluated in our looks at Single-A affiliates in the the coming days. While the Pitcher of the Year will highlight the best overall performance for the team, the top prospect takes into account other factors like age, ceiling, development, and potential impact to the big league club.  

Level 

As noted in our look at position players, in its first year with a new acronym, the ACL opened with a mix of international free agents from the 2019 and 2020 classes and draftees who didn’t see official action last year. The Complex Leagues have always been more about development than game results, but that was especially true this year as players emerged from a lost 2020 season. Thanks to extremely tight pitch counts for young pitchers just getting into the rhythm of professional baseball, mound time is limited at this level.  

MadFriars ACL Padres Pitcher of the Year for 2021:  

Garrett Hawkins in action with the University of British Columbia. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics Photo)
***MANDATORY CREDIT***

 RHP Garrett Hawkins 3-1, 2.35 ERA, 1.109 WHIP, 27:2 K:BB in 15.1 IP 

Hawkins, a 6-foot-5 righty originally from Saskatchewan, was the Padres’ ninth round selection despite barely seeing the field in his last two years at University of British Columbia. After impressing in the inaugural Draft League, the 21-year-old continued to rack up strikeouts in his professional debut, fanning 27 batters in just over 15 innings of work in the desert. With an intimidating mound presence and ability to pound the zone with a fastball that already reaches the mid-90s, Hawkins is a prototypical power pitcher who exemplifies organizational priorities of minimizing walks and preventing hard contact.  

Hawkins mixed his fastball, which he commands excellently, with a well-regarded splitter and a slider. The pitch mix helped him get out of the gate quickly in the organization, as he worked three innings without allowing any hits or walks while striking out six across his first two outings. In fact, he did not walk a batter until the fifth of his seven appearances, helping to hold his WHIP to 1.11 for the short campaign.

Ryan Bergert made a solid debut in the desert after being drafted out of West Virginia. (Photo: WVU Athletics)

Other Players Of Note:  No one threw more innings at the complex than Wilton Castillo. The 21-year-old Cuban, originally signed in 2018, went 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA and a 49:12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36.2 innings across 15 appearances. … Last year’s 34th overall pick Justin Lange flashed some of his upside, striking out 29 batters in 22 innings, but struggled overall as he posted a 6.95 ERA in nine starts. … The youngest player on the roster, Victor Lizarraga was 0-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts, with 35 strikeouts in 30 innings. … Lefty Ryan Bergert did not allow a run in 11 innings. The 2021 sixth rounder out of West Virginia, working back from elbow surgery last fall, struck out 14 without issuing a walk. … Mexicali native Jose Luis Reyes, who turned 19 in August, struck out 25 and held opponents to a .210 average across 22 innings, but walked 13. … Righty Joshua Paulina had a solid professional debut after signing out of high school as an undrafted free agent last summer. The 6-foot-6 from Pennsylvania struck out 45 in 33 innings, but he’ll need to find the zone more consistently going forward. … Brayan Medina, one of the headliners of the 2019 international class, opened the year stateside, but struggled in just three outings before going to the Dominican Summer League. The Venezuelan righty will be back in Peoria as a 19-year-old for the 2022 campaign.

Top Prospect

Justin Lange 0-3 6.95 ERA 29 K, 15 BB 1.50 WHIP in 22 innings pitched (Charity, Conniff, Davey, Payne)

Justin Lange finally made his pro debut in 2021 for the ACL Padres. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

Lange came to the Padres in the 2020 draft as a raw high school fireballer. With a fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-90s but has reached 100, secondary pitches will be a focus of his development. Now that he has had a chance to begin his professional career in earnest, Lange’s slider remains inconsistent, but has shown development as a potential out pitch, if he can continue to tighten it up as he develops. Standing 6-foot-4, Lange added muscle heading into the draft, and has the build and fastball of a pitcher with a very high ceiling at age 19.  

Victor Lizarraga 0-4 5.10 ERA 35 K, 15 BB 1.33 WHIP in 30 innings pitched (Jay, Pond, Wilkens)

Victor Lizarraga is the Padres’ youngest player in the ACL. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

 Like Lange, Lizarraga has the build to project as a starter, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 180 pounds at age 17. One of the top pitchers in last year’s international class (he was born in San Diego and actually pitched at Montgomery High School before moving to Mexico to establish his eligibility), his fastball sits in the low-90s, showcasing a lot of potential as a primary offering as he continues to develop, and his curveball and an impressive changeup keep hitters off balance. Lizarraga stands out as a young pitcher with an advanced approach for his age, working in the strike zone with repeatable mechanics.  

Posted by Mark Wilkens

Born in San Diego and raised in Escondido, Mark now calls Phoenix home. Prior to MadFriars, Mark had multiple articles featured on Bleacher Report and SI.com covering the Padres, Angels and Clippers.

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