SAN DIEGO -- It's been nearly a week since the San Antonio Missions, the Padres' Double-A affiliate, won their 100th game of the season -- a victory that clinched the Texas League title -- yet director of player development Randy Smith is still beaming with pride.
"They had to rewrite the Texas League record books," Smith said earlier this week from Arizona, where 45 Minor League players were going through an instructional league. "It is the most victories since the Texas League went to a 144-game schedule in 1961.
"They really had a phenomenal season."
The championships by the Missions and then by Class A Lake Elsinore of the California League were the highlights of a Minor League season that saw San Diego's Minor League teams post a .515 winning percentage, good for a tie for sixth among all 30 Major League teams.The Padres also had 12 players make their Major League debuts with the team in 2011. "I thought we had a tremendous year from a development standpoint -- two league championships, the sixth-best winning percentage in the Minor Leagues," Smith said. "We felt we had a very successful year on all fronts." Making San Antonio's title run even more impressive was the fact that the roster wasn't anything close to being static. In fact, of the 12 players who have made their big league debuts with the Padres, seven spent part of the season with the Missions. Smith said that a lot of the credit goes to the coaching staff, starting with manager Doug Dascenzo. "Doug did a great job, and I think pitching coach Jimmy Jones is a little unheralded for the job he did with that pitching staff," Smith said. "It was a really good staff working well together.
"Those players ... the names changed, but the attitude and confidence never did. They expected to win every night."Smith said that while no one could have predicted a team winning 100 games, it wasn't entirely surprising given that 17 players who saw time with the Missions in 2011 were part of the '10 team with Class A Fort Wayne that won 101 games. Starting pitchers Casey Kelly, Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland were part of San Antonio club that defeated Arkansas in the championship series. The three recently joined the Padres, though not to pitch but to observe life in the Major Leagues, as well as throw on the side in front of manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley. Kelly, a right-hander who was part of the December trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston, spent the entire season with the Missions. He went 11-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 27 starts. "It was so much fun. We worked hard, and we had a lot of great players," Kelly said. "It was a good group of guys who jelled well." Erlin, a left-hander, and the right-handed Wieland joined the team after the Padres picked them up in the July 31 Trade Deadline deal that sent reliever Mike Adams to Texas. Erlin was a combined 9-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 26 games (25 starts) this season, going 1-0 with a 1.38 in six starts for the Missions. Wieland was a combined 13-4 with a 1.97 ERA in 26 games (25 starts). He was 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA in five starts for San Antonio. Smith also cited the performances of a handful of Minor Leaguers who had impressive seasons. Fort Wayne outfielder Rymer Liriano, who turned 20 on June 20, hit .319 with 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and 65 steals. "It was finally getting the performance to catch up to the tools," Smith said of Liriano, who is regarded as a five-tool player. Smith also pointed to the performance of right-handed pitcher Keyvius Sampson, who was 12-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 24 starts for Fort Wayne as a 20-year-old. Then there was third baseman Jedd Gyorko, who hit a combined .333 with 25 home runs, 74 extra-base hits and 114 RBIs between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio. "What a fantastic year," Smith said of Gyorko. "And he played a really good third base."