Padres’ Donn Roach Proves Pitchers Can Survive The Cal League

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—Three Lake Elsinore players earned starting nods for the California League in the all-star game: righthander Donn Roach, second baseman Cory Spangenberg and center fielder Rico Noel. Of the three, Roach experienced the most success in the first half, going 10-1, 1.94 in 14 starts—though one of those starts began in the second inning following a rehab stint by Huston Street. He leads the Cal League in wins and innings (88 1/3) and isn't far off the pace in WHIP (1.03) or opponent average (.231).

Roach, who worked as a reliever last year prior to shifting to the rotation this season, also leads the league (and ranks second in the minors) with a 3.77 groundout-to-airout ratio, as calculated by Minor League Baseball. "I go up there trying to get a groundball in three or less pitches—you know, pitch to contact," he said prior to the all-star game. "My sinker has been a great pitch for me this year. Opponents have been putting the ball in play a lot against me and my teammates are making the plays." In fact, the Lake Elsinore defense has converted roughly 68 percent of batted balls into outs this season, a rate that only Bakersfield has bettered by a significant margin.

The Padres acquired Roach (and Alexi Amarista) in the May trade that sent Ernesto Frieri to the Angels. The Angels drafted him in the supplemental third round of the 2010 draft from the JC of Southern Nevada, where he was a teammate of Bryce Harper. One of Roach's goals this season is to improve the consistency of his breaking ball. "I think my split is probably my second best pitch," he said. "I'm trying to develop my curveball and figure out what I want to do with it to throw it for strikes consistently. But my sinker and split have been the two that worked for me. That's how I've been doing so well because that's what I've been using."

The 22-year-old Roach pitched at 88-90 mph with a mid-80s split in the all-star game, striking out one batter during a clean first inning.

The 10th pick in the 2011 draft, Spangenberg signed early and hit .381 during his final month with low Class A Fort Wayne, earning the 21-year-old a bump to the Cal League this season. While the early results were mediocre—he batted .291/.333/.388 with a homer and 11 doubles in 268 at-bats during the first half—Spangenberg says he's still learning what he can and can't do as a hitter. "I'm just trying to stay within my approach, stay inside the ball and just hit it where it's pitched," he said, adding that he doesn't feel like he has taken full advantage of the friendly conditions of the Cal League because he's not a power hitter (though he showed plenty of loft and distance to his pull side during batting practice.)

The lefty-hitting Spangenberg's biggest area for improvement in the second half will be his performance versus lefthanders, against whom he's gone just 16-for-73 (.219) with three extra-base hits. "Usually I hit better than I am now against lefties," he said. "They've really been going after me hard in, soft away."