Summary:  While the Fort Wayne position players were dominated by players who spent most of the 2019 season in Fort Wayne, the opening day pitching staff was mainly comprised of 2019 draft picks who missed Low-A last year. While both Ethan Elliott and Matt Waldron were among the top starters in the High-A Central before their promotions, as a whole the staff struggled to a 4.66 team ERA, which placed ninth in the 12 team High-A Central.

Overview: We use a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. Even though both Waldron and Elliott were promoted to San Antonio, both had more innings with the TinCaps. Fourth-round draft pick Kevin Kopps cruised through three different levels, but the eight innings he worked in Fort Wayne were his highest total. 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: High-A is the second level out of the complexes. This is normally the first time both hitters and pitchers notice a huge difference between college and pro ball.  Pitchers often have the early advantage, due to the level and the cold Midwest weather. This is also the first level that players who dominated earlier levels with a dominant pitch, start to struggle as hitters make adjustments and learn how to lay off of it. In normal years, High-A is also the first year where starters are able to throw 120+ with fewer limitations.

We lean toward more of a middle-of-the-road evaluation, relying on a couple of questions to filter through it: (1) how old is the prospect compared to the competition; (2) how raw or developed is the prospect heading into full-season ball; and (3) is he making the necessary adjustments in terms of mechanics and approach?

The circuit formerly known as the Midwest League always played as a fair league, slightly skewing towards pitchers.  That trend continued in 2021.  The league lost two teams during the transition to High-A, and with the new schedule and travel policies, almost 70% of the TinCaps’ games were against the same five teams.

MadFriars’ Fort Wayne TinCaps Pitcher of the Year

Ethan Elliott dominated in High-A. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)

LHP Ethan Elliott (Charity, Conniff, Davey, Payne, Pond)
2-1, 2.95 ERA, 12 GS, 58 IP, 43 H, 19 ER, 13 BB, 71 K, 0.97 WHIP

The 2019 10th round pick, Ethan Elliott, jumped from short season Tri-City up to become the ace of the Fort Wayne staff. Elliott was the High-A Central, pitcher of the month in May posting a 1.46 ERA, .131 BAA, and a 0.69 WHIP.  While he slowed down a bit before his promotion, he still led the league in ERA at the time he moved up. He allowed more than two earned runs in only two of his 12 starts with the TinCaps.

Matt Waldron emerged in the 2021 campaign. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)

RHP Matt Waldron (Jay, Wilkens)
3-4, 3.24 ERA, 13 GS, 72.1 IP, 69 H, 19 BB, 72 K, 1.03 WHIP

Waldron picked up a knuckleball this year, and the new weapon made a big difference. In May, he was absolutely dominant, posting a 2.81 ERA with 27 strikeouts against just three walks in 25.2 innings as hitters were seeing the knuckler for the first time pitching. When it wasn’t working well, as in the final two starts of June, he struggled to throw a strike, walking eight and hitting four batters in 7.2 innings. Over his last three starts with the TinCaps, Waldron looked like an ace for the club, allowing four earned runs over 22 innings. Waldron was the only starter in the system to go at least seven in three consecutive starts. He gets the nod from his supporters because he worked 25% more innings than Elliott for the TinCaps.

Wen-Hua Sung in action with Fort Wayne. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)

Others of note: RHP Wen-Hua Sung missed large parts of the season but had a 16.56 K/9 and a 2.41 FIP working as a late-inning reliever. Armed with a wicked split-finger fastball, the 25-year-old from Taiwan held opponents to a .196 average. … 2021 Golden Spikes winner, Kevin Kopps threw eight innings with the TinCaps, and allowed just two hits and no runs, while striking out 10. …RHP Moises Lugo, 22, was one of the few pitchers to stay healthy and anchor the TinCaps staff all year. He ended up leading the team in strikeouts (93) and was second on the team in innings (75.1). … RHP Felix Minjarez led the way from the pen with 90 strikeouts and 42 games. … RHP Edwuin Bencomo led the team in wins, and flashed plus talent in between stretches of inconsistency. … After the promotion of Waldron and Elliott, LHP Danny Denz, who spent the first part of the year injured, was the anchor of the rotation, finishing with a 3.26 ERA over 12 starts. … LHP Erik Sabrowski missed the first and last months injured, but he was dominant when he was on the mount, posting a 1.86 ERA with 41 strikeouts over 29 innings.

MadFriars’ Top Pitching Prospect for 2021

Moises Lugo gave the TinCaps a chance to win with his start Thursday. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)

Top Prospect: RHP Moises Lugo (Conniff, Jay, Pond)

While three guys split the vote, age and ceiling became the difference-maker for the righty from the Dominican.  Lugo, who had sat in the low-90s previously, saw his stuff tick up as he started reaching back for 95/96 at times. More impressively his ability to consistently locate all his pitches netted a terrific 29.9% K rate in Fort Wayne in his first season with significant time out of the complex. His pitch mix is enough to profile as a starter and, at 22, he is also the youngest of the three by two years.

Kevin Kopps. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza)

RHP Kevin Kopps (Davey, Payne)

Of the three receiving votes, Kopps has the highest floor. Kopps led Division 1 with a 0.90 ERA in 89 2/3 innings with 131 strikeouts in 2021, then kept it going after the draft, allowing just one earned run in 12 2/3 professional innings. The right-handed reliever relies on an otherworldly upper-80s cutter that even in Double-A, hitters couldn’t seem to put solid contact on.  Kopps will throw it 60% of the time to incredible results.  Kopps is only marked down as he has already had Tommy John surgery, is 24, and his ceiling looks to be that of a dominant setup man.

Ethan Elliott continued to build on a strong May. (Photo: Jeff Nycz).

Runner Up (Tied): LHP Ethan Elliott (Charity)

There is a good chance that of the three, Elliott shows up highest in many national lists this winter. A 6-foot-3-inch lefty, his fastball has ticked up since being drafted and now sits 89-91 mph.  His changeup is his best pitch, and is a pitch that many sabermetrics guys love for its spin rate and vertical break compared to his fastball and slider.  Elliott is a strike thrower averaging just 2.02 BB/9 with the TinCaps.  Elliott has just enough deception in his delivery that every one of his pitches plays up. He finished the season hurt in San Antonio, but assuming health, he could be one of the first names in line if the Padres have to reach into the system for starting pitching depth again next season.

Posted by Ben Davey

Writer for MadFriars since 2011. San Diego raised. Grossmont alum. Die hard SD and sports fan. Currently keeping my day job as an AP Chemistry Teacher.

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