Summary: It was a trying year in West Texas as the Chihuahuas finished with a 51-79 record, last among the ten teams in the newly-minted Triple-A West league. El Paso struggled to limit traffic on the basepaths, ranking seventh with both a 1.56 WHIP and 5.87 team ERA. The early season struggles of top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore, combined with the inhospitable environments of the former Pacific Coast League proved too much of a hill to climb as El Paso finished 24 games out of first place in the West Division.
Overview: 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. You can see our honorees from each level here.
Level: Triple-A tends to be light on impact prospects, with rosters frequently comprised of older, veteran players and former big leaguers hoping to get back to the MLB level. With the minor league restructuring, the former Pacific Coast League, which was founded in 1903, was replaced by the Triple-A West moniker. While the name changed, the park and environmental factors – especially with low-altitude parks in Iowa, Omaha, Nashville and Memphis were cleaved off – remained challenging for pitchers. Seven teams posted an ERA north of 5.00
2021 MadFriars’ Pitcher of the Year
RHRP Steven Wilson (Unanimous)
4-0, 3.43 ERA, 39.1 IP, 22 H, 15 ER, 14 BB, 63 K, 0.91 WHIP
After an early season injury setback forced a brief stint in the awfully-named Arizona Complex League, the 27–year-old University of Santa Clara product made his return to El Paso in mid-July and delivered dominant results. Among Triple-A West pitchers with 30 or more innings, Wilson’s 14.42 strikeouts per nine ranked second and his .156 opponents average led the league. The 6-foot-3 right-hander recorded at least one strikeout in 26 of 28 appearances and walked more than one hitter only three times across the campaign. Working with a fastball-slider combo that play off each other well, the righty frequently worked multiple innings out of the pen effectively, providing much-needed reliability for the Chihuahuas staff.
Others of note: MacKenzie Gore‘s post-pandemic season was not what he or anyone in the organization might have hoped. The talented southpaw continued the struggle with command that began at the Alternate Site last year amid a variety of efforts to tighten up his complex delivery. After six starts in which he allowed 11 runs and 12 walks over 20 innings, he headed to headed to Peoria for a reset. The organization ultimately chose not to have him return to Triple-A at the end of the year, but he was showing improved results and the talent is still undeniable. … Jesse Scholtens was the only El Paso hurler to exceed 100 innings, striking out 103. The 27-year-old righty’s .267 opponents’ average and 1.36 WHIP were both improved from his 2019 campaign in Double-A … Former big leaguer Parker Markel was plagued by walks, but did manage to post a 35.5% strikeout rate and an opponent’s average against of .183. … Right-handed reliever James Norwood, who was acquired from the Cubs in spring training and made a handful of appearances in San Diego, similarly struck out 37.2% with a fastball that touches triple digits. … While his place in Padres history will certainly outlast memory of his performance for El Paso, Daniel “Slamarena” Camarena posted a solid WHIP of 1.37 despite striking out just 62 over 83.1 innings.
MadFriars’ Top Pitching Prospect
LHP MacKenzie Gore (unanimous)
Despite the mechanical hurdles that the Whiteville, North Carolina native faced in 2021, there is still a lot to dream on. At his best, Gore’s combination of four above-average or better pitches in combination with his elite athleticism give him a ceiling that is unrivaled in the Padre system. While there are more concerns now with his overall profile, it’s worth noting that “prospect fatigue” in the eyes of some conflicts with the fact Gore will pitch all year in 2022 at the age of 23. His margin for error has certainly narrowed, with a lack of feel for elite spin rates and command questions, but his pedigree and makeup give him every opportunity to be an integral part of a future big league rotation.