Predicting a 2012 Pitcher of the Year Award for Matt Wisler would have been beyond bold. Yet the then-19-year-old with all of four professional batters faced, went out and outshined a variety of high-profile prospects in the Padres system, claiming the hardware last winter.
This year, the 2011 seventh-rounder came in with a much higher profile in the organization – even if many national rankings continued to ignore him. And, with the spotlight on him, he kept his foot on the gas all year.
Wisler started 2013 impressively for High-A Lake Elsinore, earning a quick promotion to Double-A San Antonio. Overall, he posted a 2.78 ERA and struck out 131 hitters in 135 innings, while maintaining remarkably low walk and home run rates. He then capped off his campaign by giving up only one run in 16 playoff innings.
So, while it’s much more predictable than last year’s announcement, Wisler claimed the 2013 MadFriars' Pitcher of the Year Award.
Even as Wisler continued his impressive rise through the minor leagues, however, he also remained focused on the things he’ll need to improve on.
“I had a rough first month in Double-A, adjusting to the hitters,” said Wisler from his home in Ohio. “At that level, all those guys can hit the fastball. At Low-A and High-A, I could get away with fastballs that were up in the zone or in the middle of the zone. So, I was really working on adjusting and making sure every pitch was down in the zone.
“I did a lot of work in my bullpens with [pitching coach Jimmy Jones]. Early on, I was up in the zone too much and guys were hitting those. Working with him, I really tried to smooth things out.”
The fact that he rebounded from the early hiccup for the Missions wasn’t a surprise in the organization. Before the season, minor league pitching coordinator Mike Cather spoke highly of Wisler’s ability to learn on the job.
“Situations that come up that test him don’t usually test him more than once before he makes an adjustment and figures stuff out,” said Cather in March. “He’s very intelligent, very astute.”
And not many situations have tested Wisler even once.
Wisler identified his performance against lefties as one area for improvement. While he’s been particularly devastating against right-handed hitters - holding them to a microscopic OPS of .482 between his two stops this year - the .254 average lefties posted against him is still solid. Such is the nature of a pitcher who doesn’t have major flaws.
“I struggled a little bit with lefties early on, because they were just jumping on my fastball,” said Wisler. “I’ve always had success as a fastball-change-up guy against righties, but I need to throw something inside to lefties more.”
Wisler’s other personal challenge has been sometimes trying too hard.
“I was trying to hold my velocity a little better this year,” said Wisler. “When I got to 0-2, I used to try to overthrow, and then I’d be up in the zone where guys could hit it. Working with JJ, once I got to 0-2, he wanted me to focus on throwing a good pitch down and away, not really worry about velocity.”
Given the success he’s had in his first two campaigns, Wisler will head into the 2014 season as one of the organization’s higher-profile minor leaguers. With another year to hone his craft, it’s entirely possible that at this time next year, he’ll be celebrating a successful big league debut.
If he gets there, he’ll likely be in line for another Pitcher of the Year nod as well.