The 2010 Fort Wayne Tin Caps pitching can be seen primarily as a disappointment. Unlike the previous year where they had all star pitchers (Castro/Latos/Bass), and an all star closer (Brach), the 2010 team faced turmoil nearly every turn through the rotation. 14 different pitchers got the starting nod over the course of the season, and the Tin Caps never had the dominant ace pitcher that every team needs until Matt Lollis stepped in well after the ASB. While the back end of the bullpen was fairly solid with Mikolas and Schumacher the middle relief could have earned the dubious title of “gas can.” BUT 2010 is in the books and 2011 is on the horizon.

2011 promises to be a very different and very promising year for the Tin Caps. The rotation alone has a chance to boast an entire rotation of dominanting pitchers. And while the bullpen for any A ball team is a question the Tin Caps have a lot to be optimistic about.

The Rotation:

Despite only pitching in Ft Wayne for 1.5 months it seems like Lollis will begin the year in Elsinore and will not be included.
1) Keyvius Sampson– Sampson went down with an injury that prematurely ended his 2010 campaign with the Ems. Before the injury though, he was every bit the dominant ace type pitcher the Padres were hoping for when they took him in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft. If you take away his last 3 starts where he didnt look the same Sampson posted 3-0, 33.2 IP, 22 H, 7 ER, 11 BB, 46 K, 1.87 ERA. Sampson will turn 20 in Jan, and provided that he is healthy should prove to be every bit the ace the Padres think he might end up being.

2) Zach Cates– Cates signed right at the deadline last year and didnt get a chance to pitch in proball in 2010. Despite not playing in either Eugene or Peoria it looks like Cates will be starting in Fort Wayne and could very well be the TIn Caps #2 starter. Like Sampson, Cates has an overpowering fastball that consistently sits in the mid 90’s topping out at 98 mph. Cates has a solid change and a breaking ball that is a work in progress. Despite being erratic at times Cates has tremendous upside and has a chance to shoot through the Padres system.

3) Adys Portillo– Happy birthday Adys! Portillo turned 19 on Tuesday (the 21st). That’s right….Portillo turned 19 on Tuesday! No player is as raw or has the tremendous upside that Portillo has. Big FB, big braking ball, you name it and he has got it. Portillo has progressed nicely since signing in July of 2008. His BAA dipped 80 points (to .241) and his K/9 went up from 7.52 to 9. He can be tremendously erratic (40 BB in 62 IP) but WOW will he be some prospect in the next year or two. Here is to hoping that just like Castro, Fort Wayne is the turning point for this top prospect.

4) Matt Branham– Branham was a bit old for Eugene and at 23 will be old for Fort Wayne. Despite this Branham put up great numbers in Eugene going 6-3, 2.97 ERA, 60.2 IP, 56 K. He might not have the upside of any of the previous guys, but at 6’5″ 220 lb, Branham is a big guy who should do well in Fort Wayne.

5) Josh Spence/Dexter Carter/Mark Hardy/ Pedro Martinez/James Needy/Chris Wilkes– This is an extensive list of 6 names all of which could get the nod. Needy is the top prospect but missed all of 2010 with injuries. Even if he is healthy they might keep him in extended then to Eugene. Josh Spence would be next on my list as the crafty lefty makes low ball hitters look ridiculous (42 K, 7 BB, in 24 IP in AZL/Eug/FW). He might start in Elsinore either in the pen or rotation. Wilkes was another guy with high upside but missed all of 2010 with injuries. Carter has been hammered at 2 different stints in 2010, but was a top prospect when he was with the Chi Sox and the Padres brass likes him. Mark Hardy is an interesting Canadian prospect who saw time in any and every minor league stop last year. Pedro made the jump from the DSL to Eugene where he pitched well until something happened. Not sure what but in his last 2 starts he went 2.2 IP (combined), 4 H. 8 ER, 9 BB, 3 K. Then was done for the rest of the year. Hopefully he is ok, but he might be inline to repeat Eugene next year.

The bullpen

The pen will more than likely be anchored by a lot of the guys who miss out on that #5 starting rotation but look for the closer to be the same person that opened the 2010 season as the Tin Cap’s closer… Rafael Arias. Arias pitched 4.1 IP, 5 ER, 6 BB, 6 K with the Tin Caps before being placed on the DL for the rest of the year. He came back with the AZL/Ems and pitched 7 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 10 K. Arias has filthy stuff with a FB in the mid to upper 90s and an above average slider. But of course, like most DSL prospects he suffers from a lack of finding the strikezone. He has been working diligently with the staff on improving his control and hopefully we will see the breakthrough in 2010.

Joining Arias and the #5 leftovers will be Chase Marona, Robert Sabo, and Maurico Tabachnik. As far as the rest of the pen goes….well minor league camp will determine who stays and who goes.

The 2009 Tin Caps had a tremendous season with great starting pitching, a great pen, and an amazing offense. They were so good they had the best record in the minors and were named the top milb team of 2009. As great as that team was, at least pitching, the 2011 team will be just as good if not even better. Provided the team can stay healthy, Tin Cap fans have a lot to look forward to in 2011.