This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
2011 was a completely different season for San Diego, as its affiliates tied for the sixth-best record in the Minor Leagues. San Antonio was far and away the best team in the Double-A Texas League, winning 94 games and taking home the league title.
The Eugene Emeralds took the short-season Northwest League by storm, and at 46-30, finished with the best record on the circuit. Both Class A Fort Wayne and Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore, with the Storm topping Stockton, 10-3, to take the best-of-5 California League Finals in four games.
Last December's trade of Adrian Gonzalez to Boston paid immediate dividends for the Padres as Anthony Rizzo turned heads in the Pacific Coast League before earning a promotion to San Diego. Casey Kelly, a former first-rounder, finished 11-6 for San Antonio, and Reymond Fuentes swiped 41 bases for Lake Elsinore. A fourth player, Eric Patterson, split the season between Triple-A Tucson and San Diego.
Catcher -- Jason Hagerty, Lake Elsinore (68 games), San Antonio (36 games): A fifth-round pick in 2009, Hagerty climbed two levels in 2011, batting .311 with eight homers and 47 RBIs in 68 California League contests for the Storm. He struggled at Double-A, posting a .633 OPS for the Missions. Randy Smith, the Padres' vice president of player development, praised the backstop's prowess behind the plate.
"With Hags, you have a switch-hitting catcher with good arm strength and a quick release," Smith said. "He still needs some work with his blocking and game calling, but that's going to come with experience. He's right on target as far as were concerned."
First base -- Anthony Rizzo, Tucson (93 games), San Diego (49 games): One of the key pieces acquired from Boston in the Gonzalez deal, Rizzo scorched the Pacific Coast League, batting .331 with 26 homers for Tucson. Despite spending significant time in the Majors, the Padres' No. 2 prospect finished second on the circuit with a 1.056 OPS.
"That's a crazy season he put together in Tucson," the former general manager said. "Those numbers projected out over a full year are ridiculous. He just flat out dominated the PCL and he's got a bright future."
Second base -- Jonathan Galvez, Lake Elsinore (128 games): The Dominican native continued to improve offensively, establishing new career highs with 13 homers, 86 RBIs, 37 stolen bases and 142 hits. Overall, the 20-year-old batted .291 with an .820 OPS, tops among California League second baseman.
"It was his first full year at second base and he had a really solid year with the power and the stolen bases. He hit 10-plus homers, 30-plus doubles and had 30-plus steals, it's a really good year," Smith said.
Shortstop -- Jeudy Valdez, Lake Elsinore (122 games): Valdez continued to make his mark on the organization, tying Jaff Decker for fourth with 92 RBIs and was seventh with a .295 average. The 22-year-old Dominican native slugged 15 homers, tying Stockton's Dusty Coleman for most among California League shortstops, and also stole 34 bases.
"It was his first year back at short since the Arizona League, but he did a good job making the transition," Smith said. "He's a five-tool middle infielder. He had a real slow April and they reworked his swing at the end of Spring Training. I thought he showed a lot of maturity sticking with it."
Third base -- Jedd Gyorko, Lake Elsinore (81 games), San Antonio (59 games): Gyorko firmly entrenched himself in the ranks of the Padres' top prospects with a big year in 2011. A second-round pick in 2010, Gyorko was second among San Diego farmhands with 25 homers and led the organization with 114 RBIs. He was also second with a .333 batting average and displayed a solid glove, committing 13 errors in 299 chances in the field. Gyorko went on to win the Arizona Fall League batting title with a .437 average.
"He had an amazing year. He started off the year hot in the California League and continued that right into the Texas League and into the fall league. He won the batting title in the fall league," the 48-year-old Smith said. "He hit from March until November. He's got great hands and good feet for a guy that doesn't have good speed defensively and does a good job at third. He hits the ball to all fields, drove in runs and showed power, there isn't much more you can ask for."
Rymer Liriano, Fort Wayne (116 games), Lake Elsinore (15 games): Despite struggling early in the season in the California League, Liriano enjoyed an incredible 2011 campaign, earning the Midwest League Most Valuable Player Award. He batted .319 with 12 homers, 81 runs and 65 stolen bases for the TinCaps. Liriano scorched the ball in the summer, batting .367 with 22 extra-base hits and 42 stolen bases in July and August.
"He's a beast. He's a five-tool guy and he's got a chance to impact the game in a lot of different ways. He hits the ball extremely hard, and I think you'll see his power numbers continue to rise. He was very hard on himself; pitch recognition really came together for him. He's got a very bright future."
Jaff Decker, San Antonio (133 games): Despite batting just .236 for the Missions, Decker tied for fourth in the Padres system with 92 RBIs and drew a career-high 103 walks -- one of two Minor Leaguers to crack the century mark in bases on balls. The 5-foot-10 outfielder slugged 19 homers and stole 15 bases for San Antonio. He also proved vital in the title run, going deep three times in the playoffs.
"That's a tough place to hit in the Texas League. San Antonio is a pitcher's park and he hit 19 homers, that's good," Smith said. "We'd like to see him be a bit more aggressive at the plate, he sometimes gets himself into a hole. He's a better athlete than he gets credit for. I think for a young guy at Double-A, it's a good year, certainly one he can improve. I think you'll see the average go up next year and I think he's done well. He's worked hard to get himself into good shape and that's a sign of maturity. That will bode well for his future."
Reymond Fuentes Lake Elsinore (124 games): Fuentes put his speed to good use, finishing fourth in the California League with 41 stolen bases and tied for third with nine triples. The 20-year-old Floridian racked up a career-high 188 total bases and scored 84 runs, second on the Storm.
"I think that's for us playing at Petco, speed is a very important part of putting together a competitive club," Smith said. "Rey can really go get the ball and has tremendous speed on the bases. We'd like to see him use his speed more -- bunt for hits. He's got enough power to keep the defense honest. He's an exciting player to watch."
Utility -- Matt Clark, Tucson (129 games): Clark did in 2011 what he has done his entire Minor League career, and that was mash the ball. He went deep 23 times for Tucson, his third straight year with at least 20 homers, and was second on the club to Rizzo with 83 RBIs. The 24-year-old batted a career-high .292 and cut his strikeout totals down by 30 despite making the jump to Triple-A.
"Clark is one of those guys that's gone out and quietly put up good numbers every year," Smith said. "He's another guy that got himself into better shape. We asked him to play more in the outfield than before. He can hit the baseball and he can drive in runs. He just keeps doing it every year. He's been kind of flying beneath the radar so to speak."
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Keyvius Sampson, Fort Wayne (24 games): Finally getting his first chance to pitch in a full season, Sampson rewarded the Padres' faith by going 12-3 with a 2.90 ERA for the TinCaps. The former fourth-rounder was third in the Midwest League with 143 strikeouts and fourth with a 1.10 WHIP and led the Padres organization with his 12 victories.
"He was another guy that maturity played a big role in his development," Smith said. "He got his fastball into the mid-90s, and he commands an excellent change-up. He probably only had a couple of bad starts throughout the year. He's got a great arm and he's a good athlete as well."
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Mark Hardy, Fort Wayne (27 games): Starting the season in the bullpen, Hardy finished the season as a mainstay of the TinCaps' rotation. The 23-year-old left-hander not only led the Midwest League, but also Padres affiliates with a 2.78 ERA and finished second behind teammate Sampson with 11 wins.
"He's a Canadian kid, a later-round Draft pick and he pitched well for us in 2010," Smith said. "This year he picked up where he left off. He seems to rise the occasion of every challenge we give him. A solid feel for pitching, he'll show you three pitches. He's a guy that might continue to improve and gain velocity as he gains experience. He's a good competitor and a tough kid."
Reliever -- Brad Brach San Antonio (42 games), Tucson (25 games), San Diego (nine games): A 42nd-round pick in 2008, Brach delivered his third straight year with at least 30 saves, notching 34 between the Missions and the Padres to top the organization. The 6-foot-6 right-hander limited Minor League batters to a .220 average and made his Major League debut in 2011, going 0-2 with a 5.14 ERA in nine games for San Diego.
"Brad works extremely quick and has very good command of his velocity," Smith said. "He's consistently around 93-95 mph, and his slider has improved. I think that's made progress. He gets the ball and he throws strikes and just continues to get the last out and continues to shake a lot of hands at the end of the game. He deserves a lot of credit; he's gotten better every year. He's continued to work with a great tempo, which is a huge advantage. He's fun to watch and it doesn't take very long, which is a good thing."