That old baseball adage about good pitching always beating good hitting provides a reminder of just how valuable the young guns nominated below are to their respective organizations.
Their memorable performances this season make each hurler a treasure for fans too. Now those fans have the opportunity to voice appreciation for their favorite top pitchers, via casting a ballot in the 2010 MiLB Awards voting.
While many Triple-A nominees have shown flashes of brilliance in past campaigns, the likes of Memphis' Brandon Dickson and Oklahoma City's Michael Kirkman level had their best seasons yet. They also each hurled a scoreless inning in the Triple-A All-Star Game. Daniel Hudson used the 2010 season to show his remarkable 2009 was no fluke. He struck out 108 and walked 31 over 17 starts before a trade to Arizona gave him the opportunity to spend the rest of the year in the Majors, where he went 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA. Anthony Lerew, Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova all also earned Major League playing time with fantastic runs at the highest level of the Minors.
So far, Kyle Drabek's career has been impossible to ignore. For the second consecutive season, the son of former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek hit double digits in wins (14) and triple digits in strikeouts (132). The Fisher Cats' righty was among Eastern League leaders in innings pitched (162) and the pitching Triple Crown categories. He took home the circuit's Pitcher of the Year Award and made three September starts for Toronto. It's this litany of accomplishments that fellow Eastern League hurlers Tom Milone of Harrisburg and Rudy Owens of Altoona are up against. But their numbers also stand up. They each posted a dozen wins, a lower ERA (Owens, 2.46; Milone, 2.85) and more strikeouts (Milone, 155) or the same number (Owens, 132) as Drabek. Jacksonville's 1-2 punch Elih Villanueva and Tom Koehler combined to lose just six games in 56 starts en route to the Suns' Southern League championship. In the Texas League, Douglas Arguello was about as tough as they come for Corpus Christi, leading the loop with a 2.55 ERA and providing a searing bright spot in a rather dark season for the 63-77 Hooks.
Charlotte's Matthew Moore led all of the Minor Leagues with 208 punchouts, which he racked up over 14 2/3 fewer innings than his closest competitor in the strikeout race. Moore recorded double-digit whiffs in 10 of his 26 Florida State league starts, and he had two nine-strikeout games. Teammate Joseph Cruz was also instrumental in getting the Stone Crabs to the Championship Series, going 13-6 with a 2.85 ERA in the regular season. Clearwater's Austin Hyatt was the FSL Pitcher of the Year after posting a circuit-best WHIP of 1.09. In the Carolina League, Randall Delgado and Joseph Gardner handcuffed hitters every time they took the mound. Delgado fanned a league-leading 120 in 117 1/3 innings while putting up a 2.76 ERA. Gardner limited opposing batters to a .199 average with a 12-6 record and a 2.65 ERA. Pitching in the dry, mountainous air of the Cal League, Lake Elsinore's Anthony Bass surrendered a total of nine home runs all season and posted an ERA of 3.13, nearly 20 points lower than any other qualifying Cal League hurler.
Dodgers prospect Matt Magill, who graduated from high school in 2008 and played his first full season this year, gave up just 87 hits in more than 125 innings for Great Lakes. Midwest League batters hit just .194 off of Magill, giving him the lowest average against in all of Class A by far. But nobody in the South Atlantic League or the Midwest League could compare with the ERA posted by Hickory's Robert Erlin, whose 2.12 mark was third-best in all of Minor League Baseball. Jorge Bucardo, who won nine games and sported a 2.28 ERA in 19 games before being promoted, and Armando Rodriguez, who led the circuit with 152 strikeouts, were arguably just as dominant in the Sally League. Facing Erasmo Ramirez, who fanned 117 and walked just 21, or Ian Krol, who led the circuit in ERA (2.65), usually meant a very bad day for Midwest League hitters.
Josh Hungerman starved opponents of longballs this year. The 17th-round pick of the Rockies in the 2009 Draft, Hungerman refused to surrender a home run in 66 innings with the Northwest League's Tri-City Dust Devils (nor did he give up a roundtripper over 15 Sally League frames). In the New York-Penn League, Brooklyn teammates Yohan Almonte and Angel Cuan each stated his case for Best Starter. Almonte topped the league with a 1.91 ERA, and Cuan was second with a 2.03 mark and led the Cyclones with 64 strikeouts. Hudson Valley's Enny Romero, in the meantime, had a 1.94 ERA and was only beaten once. Great Falls' Spencer Arroyo was in control in the Pioneer and Appalachian leagues, combining to go 7-2 with a 2.28 ERA, and Marlins prospect Jheyson Manzueta blew through the Gulf Coast League, going 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA.