Fort Wayne Wizards 2004 Preview

The Wizards of ‘04 should resemble the team of 2003, strong on pitching with limited offense as seen by the first two games of the young season. The offense on the 2004 team, however, could be better than last year with hitters such as Billy Hogan, Brian Wahlbrink and an improved Colt Morton, if he can stop striking out. The pitching staff will be led by Sean Thompson and Jared Wells.

Projected Line-Up

1b - Fernando Valenzuela SP - Sean Thompson (LHP)
2b- Peeter Ramos SP - Jared Wells (RHP)
SS- Juan Ciriaco SP - Eddie Bonine (RHP)
3b - Skip Adams SP- Clark Girardeau (RHP)
C- Colt Morton SP- Daniel Moore (LHP)
RF - Brian Wahlbrink RP -Chuck Bechtel
CF - Drew Macias RP -Aaron Coonrod (RHP)
LF - Mark McRoberts Closer-Ryan Klatt (RHP)
DH - Billy Hogan 


Pitching - This will be the strength of the Wizards in 2004. Both Sean Thompson and Jared Wells will be the two most highly rated Padres' prospects by Baseball America in Fort Wayne this year. Thompson, 21, one of the Padres few high school picks, had a big season at Eugene winning seven games while only losing one. He struck out 97 batters in only 80 innings while holding batters to a .204 average. His signature pitch is a big curve, with a very good changeup. The questions on Thomson are his relatively slight stature, 5'11" 160 lbs and lack of a big fastball.

Jared Wells, 22, is the exact opposite of Thompson. Wells is 6'4", 200 lbs and posses fastball that can make it up to 97 mph, but is usually in the range of around 87-92 mph. He has a decent slider and change, but didn't get a chance to pitch much after a long season with San Jancinto Junior College. Wells was ranked above Thompson because scouts believe he could rapidly rise in the Padres system because of his blazing fastball. His first start of the year saw him take a loss, but he allowed just one earned run.

Clark Girardeau and Eddie Bonine also had nice seasons at Eugene should fill out the rest of the staff. Bonine, 22, might be the most intriguing of the last two, a pitcher with two types of knuckle balls, a floater and one that is like a hard sinker, good fastball that ranges from the high 80's to low 90's and the ability to start or relieve. He already earned opening night duties and was hurt by shoddy defense.

The bullpen should be led by Ryan Klatt, who simply put up some amazing numbers for the Idaho Falls Padres in 2003. Klatt struck out 51 batters in 29 innings while saving or winning over half of Idaho Fall victories last year. He also walked three batters total. Klatt, 23, posses a hard fastball and a nice slider. Aaron Coonrod, 22, will also join Klatt in Fort Wayne's bullpen this year. Coonrod has a much bigger fastball than Klatt, but also the control problems that come along with it. Coonrod has the best fastball in the entire system, but his secondary pitches will need some work.

Position Players - Billy Hogan, 21, will probably be the best position prospect for the Wizards in 2004. Hogan is 6'3", 210 lbs and really hit's the ball hard. He tore up the Pioneer League with a powerful .344 batting average, but slowed down slightly in Eugene. There are still a few questions about Hogan's defense and whether or not he will be able to play 3b. Right now, he is listed as an OF/DH.

Colt Morton, last year's number three pick, a gigantic catcher at 6'6" and 240 lbs should see the majority of time behind the plate. Morton is a very talented defensive player, who had put up some solid offensive numbers to go along with his suburb defensive play at Eugene .278/.557/.346 but struggled in a brief call up to Fort Wayne in 2003. The big question about Morton rests in his offensive abilities, especially his long swing. If Colt can hit, he should be promoted quickly to Lake Elsinore.

Brian Wahlbrink probably had the best overall season at Eugene, finishing off at .303/.382/.437, with 4 home runs, and 34 RBIs, in 69 games. Although Wahlbrink played well, he is also going to be 24 years old in this March, so it is hard to foresee him progressing far in the system. He does have good size, listed at 6'3", 200 lbs and plays the outfield.

Drew Macias is a 6'3" left handed center fielder. Macias is only 21, and was a drafted out of Chaffey College. Macias has a solid, if unspectacular, all-around game. He is making the jump from the Pioneer League and is hoping to use his speed to make the Wizards lineup more dynamic.

George Kottaras, who is also the starting catcher on the Greek national team for the Olympics, also has a chance to be a good player. Kottaras, a left handed hitting catcher from Canada, is the probably the best position prospect at Idaho Falls this past year. He had a decent debut season showing some power, 7 home runs to finish at .259/.348/.476. He has a nice eye, and is supposed to be very good behind the plate. His potential left handed power, position and youth made him the top prospect at Idaho Falls last year. Kottaras should see time at catcher, first base and DH this year.

MadFriars.com Top 40 Prospects - Six - #8 Sean Thompson, #10b Jared Wells, #30 Colt Morton, #31 Billy Hogan, #34 Daniel Moore, and #40 Ryan Klatt.

Baseball America's Top 30 Prospects - Five -#13 Jared Wells, #14 Sean Thompson, #21 Billy Hogan, #22 Aaron Coonrod and #29 George Kottaras. Also keep an eye on catcher Colt Morton, center fielder Drew Macias and right handed pitcher Eddie Bonine (Baseball America's #31).

Wizard's Insider Commentary "The Padres think that Jared Wells could make a huge jump up," Jim Callis of Baseball America said. "He is a guy that did not make my top ten, but he could jump up. Billy Hogan, one of the draft picks from last year, has some defensive questions but has a real nice bat. Eddie Bonine is a guy who they are going to put in the rotation and see if he can develop his changeup and continue his success. He is a guy that should be really interesting this year."

Prediction - Fort Wayne may have the best one two pitching punch in the Padres' system with Thompson and Wells, the big question is whether they can hit. The Wizard's will be an interesting team to watch this year, a number of players could develop into prospects such as Drew Macias, Eddie Bonine, Ryan Klatt and especially Jared Wells could become the next big thing if he lives up to even half of his potential. If Morton, Hogan and Wahlbrink hit, the Wizards could challenge in the Midwest League.

John Conniff can be reached at conniff@sandiegosports.net

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