Left-hander Robbie Erlin had a whirlwind season in 2011. He began the year with Myrtle Beach, the Texas Rangers' Class A Advanced Carolina League affiliate, and ended it with the Texas League champion San Antonio Missions -- the Padres' Double-A club.
Along the way, he struck out 154 batters while walking just 16 over 147 1/3 innings. After posting a 2.14 ERA -- and holding Carolina League hitters to a .132 average -- in nine starts, Erlin joined the Frisco RoughRiders at the end of May. Even as a 20-year-old in Double-A, his control never faltered, but he did show a propensity to give up home runs, allowing eight in his first six starts.
At Corpus Christi on June 26, Erlin fanned a career-high 14 batters.
With his parent club gunning for its second consecutive American League pennant, Erlin's name kept popping up in trade rumors. At the deadline on Sunday, July 31, the San Diego Padres acquired Erlin and Frisco teammate Joe Wieland for Major League reliever Mike Adams.
Once Erlin settled in with the Missions, both he and his team were virtually unstoppable. The California native posted a 1.38 ERA in six regular season starts for San Antonio and earned the victory in his lone playoff outing as the Missions rolled to the Texas League title. With Erlin in tow, MiLB.com honored San Antonio with the MiLBY Award for Best Overall Team in the Minor Leagues.
Though the 6-foot, 175-pound Erlin does not have overwhelming velocity, his pinpoint precision and ability to throw his fastball, curve and changeup in any count bode well for the southpaw joining the Padres in a more participatory capacity before long.
MiLB.com talked with Erlin in early November about his offseason plans, his 2011 season and his expectations for the future.
MiLB.com: What have you been up to since the end of the Missions' playoff run?
Robbie Erlin: I went to Arizona for a few weeks of strength training, then moved down to San Luis Obispo (Calif.). I've just been settling in and playing some golf lately.
MiLB.com: Do you golf right-handed or left-handed? What do you shoot?
Erlin: I play righty, but I'm ... not that good. I don't even keep score.
MiLB.com: What were the biggest things you learned about being a pitcher over this past season?
Erlin: Mainly getting used to the hitters at the higher levels. The guys with more experience have a better approach at the plate and I needed to learn how to deal with that and figure out how to exploit their weaknesses.
MiLB.com: How surprised were you at being traded at the deadline -- did it throw you at all? Did it help having Wieland there with you?
Erlin: I had a pretty good idea that it might happen, so I wasn't caught completely off guard. It definitely helped that I knew Joe already, but everyone in the Padres organization and the Missions team was great, which made the transition that much easier.
MiLB.com: How weird was it walking over to the other clubhouse in San Antonio when you had been scheduled to pitch against them that day?
Erlin: It was strange. It's one thing to be traded, but then to be playing against your old team right away was weird, yeah.
MiLB.com: You did start at Frisco a week later and had a strong outing: one run on two hits while fanning nine over six innings. Did having played with the RoughRiders for two months help you when facing their hitters?
Erlin: It definitely played a huge part. I had a pretty good idea what those hitters were doing and what they were looking for, so I had a little advantage.
MiLB.com: What was it like joining one of the best teams in the Minors and being a part of its championship run?
Erlin: It was awesome. It was a great team from top to bottom, both on the field and off. You could tell how good the chemistry was between the players by how well they worked together. It was fun being a part of it.
MiLB.com: Now that you're with a National League club, you've gotten a few turns at the plate. Is that something you look forward to? You went 2-for-6 with the Missions.
Erlin: I don't know -- I was okay in high school, but the pitching obviously doesn't compare at all. I was happy with the hits, but I think I'm definitely better off being on the other end of [the battery].
MiLB.com: You grew up in northern California. Were you a Giants or A's fan?
Erlin: I've been to some Giants games, but I was an A's fan. I've seen a lot of games at the Coliseum.
MiLB.com: You had a great season, especially for being in Double-A at your age, and obviously garnered a lot of notice both before and after the trade. Do you pay much attention to what people say or write about you and the expectations people have of you?
Erlin: No, I don't read into it too much. It comes down to what you do on the field, so I just try to concentrate on that rather than cluttering my mind with outside stuff. If I focus on improving and learning and fine tuning my pitching, everything else will take care of itself.