Now that the thrill of being the 2011 Cal League champs has settled, coaching moves have been made, and the cold winter months begin to fade into the unbearably hot summer weather, it is time to start talking about the 2012 Lake Elsinore Storm.  The 2011 version of the Storm was one expected to be led by hard throwing right hander Matt Lollis.  Unfortunately, after 19 mostly unsuccessful starts he was moved to the pen and ended with an ERA north of five.  In fact of the seven starters who had multiple starts for the Storm, five of them ended with an ERA of over five.

The 2012 version should see considerable improvements such as Madfriars #1 prospect Keyvius Sampson.  In addition, the 2012 Lake Elsinore Storm will benefit from increased depth at the upper levels, as a few pitchers that might normally be pushed to Double-A will be given another season in High-A to improve upon mechanics and hopefully put up better numbers.  So without further ado here goes the 2012 projected Storm rotation:

1)      Keyvius Sampson (12-3 2.90 ERA in Fort Wayne)
As great as it is for the Padres to say this… Sampson’s 12-3 record with a 2.90 ERA doesn’t show just how dominating he was for the TinCaps in 2011.  In fear of throwing too many innings, Sampson was limited to five innings in most of his second half starts.  With the 2010 injury in the past and 118 innings already under his belt, Sampson will be allowed to — finally — go deeper into games.  Sampson has been knocked on a few prospect sheets because scouts view his mechanics as “ugly,” and with an injury history, many wonder if he will be able to remain healthy enough to make it to the show and remain a starter.  Despite the criticism, Sampson was healthy all of 2011, and looks to show a few of the “experts” just how dominating he can be.  IF Sampson can stay healthy look for him to put up BIG numbers.

2)      Matt Jackson (5-1, 1.95 ERA in Fort Wayne)
Jackson was injured for a large part of the second half for the TinCaps, but that didn’t stop him from being named a MWL All Star.  Jackson doesn’t have anything ++ like Sampson, but he has four quality pitches each with good movement and good control.  The benefit for Jackson is that he is comfortable throwing any pitch at anytime in the count.  The biggest question for Jackson will be can he stay healthy, and if he does how many innings will the Elsinore staff let him throw (only threw 64.2 in 2011).

3)      Matt Branham (4-3, 4.98 ERA in Fort Wayne)
In 2010 Branham was in a Eugene rotation with top prospects Sampson, Portillo, and former high prospect Dexter Carter.  After the season was said and done, Branham was the pitcher of the year for Eugene going 6-3, 2.97 ERA.  Branham struggled a bit out of the gate in Fort Wayne and then got hurt.  He came back in August to Eugene where he got in 2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.  Branham might have been out of luck, but the trade of Zach Cates opened up a spot for the big 6’5” right hander.  He might still start the season in the pen or in Elsinore, but if healthy I think he has the potential and skill to be a mid-rotation pitcher.

4)      Mark Hardy (11-10 2.78 ERA in Fort Wayne)
The Canadian lefty was the swing guy for the TinCaps last year.  If a start was needed he was the guy, if help in the pen was needed he could go one inning or five.  Hardy ended up throwing the most innings, and throwing the only complete game of the year  Like Jackson, Hardy doesn’t have any ++ pitches, but has multiple solid pitches and great control.  A control lefty with a solid repertoire can go along way in the minors.

5)      Andrew Werner (MWL/CL 7-8, 3.23 ERA combined)
This fifth spot could go to any number of players.  Werner probably isn’t the most likely to be here, but my guess is that he will end up here.  Even with Nick Schmidt, Pedro Hernandez, Zach Cates, and Simon Castro all traded, the Padres will still have a couple of pitchers staying in San Antonio, which means there is a good chance at least one of Sullivan, Watt, Lollis, De Paula, Werner, or Fetter will be staying in Elsinore.  Originally I thought it would go to Chris Fetter who has big potential with his frame and fastball, but was injured for most of 2011.  Unfortunately with Fetter already 26 years old, there is a good chance he either gets pushed to San Antonio (probably in the pen) or just released.  SO… staying in LE is Andrew Werner who put up a good season but similar to Watt, is mainly organizational depth more than anything else.

Bullpen

Closer: Kevin Quackenbush (2-1, 0.84 ERA, 18-20 SV, 42 IP, 71 K)
 This was easy.  Quackenbush exploded out of nowhere to seize the closer role in both Eugene and Fort Wayne.   The 23-year-old has  the big game, back-of-the-pen mentality that could get him to San Diego in 2013, possibly even September of this year.  BAA of .172, 71 K/12 BB.  It’s hard not to love him.

8th inning: Adam Dominick (5-6, 3.59 ERA, 10 SV, 72 IP, 13 BB, 83 K)
Dominick had some problems early and eventually lost the closer’s role to Quackenbush.  Dominick has the raw stuff to be solid in the back of the pen, but struggled with allowing runners on base in close games.  Call it a lack of a closer’s mentality, but before Quack came to Fort Wayne it seemed like every save opportunity the collar got tighter and tighter.  After Quack took over as closer, though, Dominick settled down into his eighth inning role.  Dominick allowed runs in only one of his final nine appearance (12 IP, 17 K).

7th inning: Chris Franklin (2-2, 2.97 ERA 7 SV, 15 H in Fort Wayne)
Franklin might not have started the year as the back of the pen guy, but his post ASB numbers of 2-1, 2.33 ERA with a 2:1 GB/FB were solid.  Franklin did have some trouble early on with the home run ball, but didn’t allow a home run the entire second half of the year.  In the hot Cal League air Franklin could get in trouble if he leaves the ball up, but if the second half of the year was any indication of what’s to come he will make the game a six inning affair for the Storm.

Next up: the 2012 Texas League Champs San Antonio Missions, who should see quite a few returning faces and the additions of a few key players all ready to make the Missions go back-to-back.

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