Catcher Austin Hedges is one of the top prospects in the Padres' minor league system, posting a .288 batting average this past season. Cherished Memories
Summary: The Storm missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years but there were still some interesting players just up the I-15. The Storm were particularly strong up the middle with Austin Hedges at catcher, Cory Spangenberg and Jace Peterson in the infield and center fielder Travis Jankowski. Without the pitching to match the position talent, Lake Elsinore wasn’t able to capitalize on the talent assembled, and finished 18 games under .500.
We use a simple formula for the awards. A player is eligible with whichever team he appeared for the most. 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: The San Diego Padres High-A affiliate in the California League is mainly comprised of second and third year players. While Lake Elsinore is a pitcher’s park by Cal League standards, that’s more a reflection of how many stadiums on the circuit are more similar to an X-box game than typical ballparks.
Player of the Year: SS Jace Peterson .303/.382/.454
The script on Peterson has always been that he is a great athlete and a good baseball player. This year, the baseball player began to catch up, especially in the second half when he hit .318/.414/.494. He finished fourth in the Cal League in triples with 13 and also clubbed 17 doubles. On the base paths he stole 42 out of 52 bases along with a significant improvement in his defensive range.
Although it is an overused term, Peterson really is a leader on the field and is an ideal lead-off hitter. He was a little old for the Cal League at 23, but because of his football career at McNeese State, he is also a little behind others in the number of games and at-bats under his belt.
Runner-up: CF Travis Jankowski .286/.356/.355
Jankowski,22, led the Cal League and the organization in stolen bases with 71 in 85 attempts. The fleet centerfielder also played terrific defense, running down everything in his path. At 6’3” and 190 pounds, he is going to have to get stronger to improve his ability to pull the ball and keep defenses honest. He’ll also need to cut down on 96 strikeouts in 547 plate appearances. Still, it was a very good first professional season for last year’s star of the College World Series’ Stony Brook Seawolves.
Player of the Year: Jace Peterson
Peterson was the closest thing the Storm had to an all-around player. He hit for average (.303), power (13 triples, 7 homers), on-base percentage (.382), and was a solid contact hitter (only 58 strikeouts in 483 PA). He also has impressive speed (42 stolen bases). He was the Storm’s one dependable starter, and proved to hit both righties (.293/.366/.442) and lefties (.337/.438/.495). Jace is starting to hit for more power, while still being a contact hitter, and improving his stolen base percentage. We had him ranked 15th in the Padres system coming into the year, and he should find himself higher next year.
Runner-up: C Robert Kral .286/.426/.528
The “Player of the Year,” should go to the person that best helped the team win. While for the entire year, that was Peterson, no one helped the team win more than Kral. He filled in when Hedges went on the DL and immediately hit the cover off the ball. His 13 home runs gave him the team lead, even though he only played in 80 games. Kral also led the team in walks, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Kral, 24, was old for the league, but considering he never had an at bat in Eugene or Fort Wayne, Kral made the most out of his opportunities and will be given a chance to start next year.
Player of the Year: SS Jace Peterson
Peterson was one of the club’s top offensive performers while playing very good defense at a premium position. He was the best offensive player in the league in June, and was performing even better in August when a fluke foot injury shut him down. As he gets more at-bats, his strikeout rate continues to drop, and his great strikeout-to-walk ratio portends growth in his production in coming years.
Runner-up: C/1B Robert Kral
Although the phrase “patiently aggressive” isn’t still used much around the Padres’ system these days, it describes Kral’s approach well. The 2011 10th-rounder not only didn’t give away at-bats, he rarely gave away pitches. At 24 years old, Kral has fewer than 600 professional plate appearances, so his window is incredibly narrow, but his impressive run in the Cal League this year will earn him another chance at San Antonio next spring.
Others of note: OF Kyle Gaedele, 23, is one of the better athletes in the Padres’ system and, despite 128 strike outs in 493 plate appearances, showed some flashes of his ability with 26 doubles, 9 triples and 13 home runs. Like others, he is going to have to work on strike zone discipline at Double-A to have a legitimate shot. Left fielder Jeremy Baltz, 22, was this year’s winner of the golden ticket from Fort Wayne, and hit much better in the sun with the Storm than in the rain and cold of the Summit City. Baltz had 31 extra-base hits in 67 games with Lake Elsinore and should battle for one of the starting outfield jobs in San Antonio next season.
2013 MadFriars’ Lake Elsinore Storm Player of the Year: Jace Peterson
Top Prospect: C Austin Hedges
In many minds, Hedges became the Padres’ top position prospect the day he signed his $3 million contract to bypass UCLA in 2011. Blessed with a rocket arm and very good athleticism - not just “for a catcher” - if he can hit he will be a great fit behind the plate at PETCO for years to come. After getting off to a brutal start this season, he was sidelined for a month after getting hit by a pitch. When he came back, he hit for a much more respectable .288/.348/.460 line, including a torrid June.
The Padres promoted him to San Antonio, some say prematurely, in early August with the thought that he would struggle initially. They decided to begin the adjustment process now rather than later. After a 1-for-12 start at the plate, he did pick it up and was a big part of their championship run this season. Look for him to return to San Antonio for the full season in 2014 and he could be in the majors the following year.