Ian Kennedy didn't lead the Minor Leagues in victories -- in fact, he fell well short.
He didn't lead the Minor Leagues in ERA, either.
Yet the whole that is Kennedy is much better than the sum of his parts. So much so that the California native was named MiLB.com's Pitcher of the Year, leaving Kevin Slowey in the unenviable position of bridesmaid for a second consecutive season. Kennedy finished the Minor League season with a 12-3 mark, posted a 1.91 ERA and dominated at three different levels before taking his act to New York.
While his work in the Bronx wasn't taken into consideration for this award, it is worth noting that he was 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts before a strained upper back put him on the shelf at the end of the regular season. He is expected to travel with the Yankees during the American League Divisional Series. If the Bombers reach the AL Championship series, the hope is that Kennedy will be well enough to be activated.
"For it being my first season, I think it went pretty fast," said Kennedy, New York's first-round selection in 2006. "I think moving helps you not realize how fast the season has gone. People say that your first season is going to be real long because you've never played this long. But for me, it went real fast. Obviously, I didn't expect all these moves."
Kennedy had a token outing with Staten Island of the New York-Penn League in 2006 after the Yankees grabbed him with the 21st overall selection out of the University of Southern California. Those 2 2/3 innings certainly weren't enough to gauge what the right-hander could do, so despite his impressive college resume, the Yankees had him start 2007 in the Florida State League.
The Sunshine State didn't hold Kennedy for long. He appeared in 11 games (10 starts) for Tampa, going 6-1 with a 1.29 ERA. He struck out 72, walked only 22 and held opponents to a .183 batting average. He was named to the FSL All-Star team and was tabbed as the league's Player of the Month for May, earning a promotion to Trenton of the Double-A Eastern League.
The jump from Class A to Double-A generally is considered the most difficult in the game, but Kennedy barely seemed to notice. He went 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA in nine starts for the Thunder, striking out 57 and walking only 17. Kennedy held batters to a .163 average and, though he wasn't there to see it to completion, played a big role in Trenton's run to the Eastern League championship.
Kennedy closed out his Minor League season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League, once again finding himself in a pennant race. And once again, he proved to be an integral part of that race, going 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in six starts for the Yankees. He was dominant once again, striking out 34 and walking 11 while limiting Triple-A hitters to a .205 average.
It became apparent over the final two months of the season that Kennedy had little left to prove in the Minors.
"We had some times when you'd get guys on at second and third, and you'd get out of it," he said. "That happened to me in Triple-A. Especially against that competition, you feel like, 'I can get out of this. I belong.' You feel real confident.
"Those are the kinds of challenges you have to meet, whether it's striking out a couple of guys or getting key plays by your defense. I think that's why I tried to make it a goal for every level I played at, whether it was developing a two-seamer [fastball] at Triple-A or throwing my curveball more at Double-A and getting more consistent."
Whether he pitches again this season remains to be seen. Odds are, however, he'll be in New York next year and with an MiLB.com Pitcher of the Year Award to hang in his locker.
"I just thank the Lord that He had this in his plans," Kennedy said. "It was a lot of hard work and trying to get better every day. It was amazing. There's no feeling like pitching up here and pitching with these guys. It was a dream come true. I don't want to count my playoffs out yet, but if nothing happens the rest of the season, it was an awesome year. That's all I can say."