Melvin’s note: Welcome Will Cunnane! Will joins The Sacrifice Bunt to cover the minor leagues from an informative and entertaining perspective. Glad to have you on board, Will!
The first rumors of the Padres having interest in acquiring Miguel Tejada almost exclusively mentioned two names going over to Baltimore in the swap: Simon Castro and Cory Luebke. Although Castro has underwhelmed a bit in San Antonio, seeing his K/9 dip from 10.1 in 2009 at Fort Wayne to 7.1 in 2010 with San Antonio, the rest of his numbers are right in line with his career averages, and at the age of 22 he is undeniably one of the best arms in the Padres system. Luebke, since returning from an oblique strain that had him on the DL to start the year, has done nothing but impressed in 2010, with a 2.44 ERA and a sterling .905 WHIP that has earned him a promotion from AA San Antonio to AAA Portland and could see him pitching for the Padres once the rosters are expanded in September. Considering Tejada’s steep decline from 2009 and diminishing value defensively (which Ray covered in great detail below), fans familiar with the Padres’ farm system balked at the idea of giving up either of the top two arms for an aging infielder. Thankfully, so did Jed Hoyer.
Wynn Pelzer was drafted by the Padres in the 9th round of the 2007 draft out of South Carolina. From the start the Padres brass touted Pelzer’s makeup and work ethic. He has a live arm, throwing a heavy fastball that can reach 95-97 and sits around 93-95. He is essentially a two pitch pitcher, throwing an above average slider as well. The combination of Pelzer’s strong makeup, live arm, and inability to develop a 3rd and 4th pitch have all pointed to Wynn making a move to the pen and having a good shot to close. Until this year he had been used almost exclusively as a starter, and after a strong debut season in Fort Wayne, Pelzer had an even more impressive year in Lake Elsinore. Pitching in the hitter friendly Cal League, Pelzer posted his highest K/9 (8.8) of his career, striking out 147 batters in 150.2 innings, had less hits than innings pitched (134 allowed), and most impressively only allowed 6 home runs on the season.
This season has seen Pelzer struggle mightily in AA with the San Antonio Missions. Beginning the year as a starter he has since been moved to the bullpen after allowing 56 walks and 8 HBPs in only 94.1 innings. Scouts have wondered if he can repeat his delivery and he is clearly struggling to do so this year. Throwing in a pitcher friendly environment Pelzer has seen his hr/9 sky rocket to 4.5, a shockingly high number considering that in no previous year had he allowed a hr/9 over 1. His strikeout to walk ratio also fell to 1.48, by far the lowest of his career. At age 24 he’s certainly not young for AA, and his struggles this year have shown, at the very least that he won’t be a starter.
Although Pelzer’s career numbers are strong enough to suggest that his recent struggles are somewhat of an aberration, he was an extremely expendable prospect for the Padres. On the same San Antonio Missions squad alone he was outperformed by several other relievers who have the potential to close. Brandon Gomes, Craig Italiano, and Evan Scribner all have saves for the Missions, and all boast better peripherals than Pelzer. This made Pelzer expendable for the Padres, although Pelzer might just have the most electric arm and upside out of the bunch.
To put it simply, this trade was a low risk move by both sides. Two players who became expandable for the organizations in which they were in were traded because they offered more value to their new teams. Since Pelzer moved exclusively to the bullpen only a month ago, he certainly could learn how to clean up his delivery, find the strike zone consistently, and more effectively utilize his two above average pitches. His makeup, work ethic, and live arm make him a strong candidate to close, but in a Padres system rich with young, controllable relief pitchers, the loss is negligible. All in all, the Padres gave up about what you’d expect for a 36 year old player with limited defensive ability and a declining bat. Pelzer could wind up thriving in his switch to the bullpen, but his struggle to find the plate consistently may always hamper his ability to be a successful closer.