2004 Padres Awards: Portland batters

<b>2004 Padres Position Players - End of the Year Awards</b><br><br> It was a good year for San Diego's minor league system in 2004. Portland, Mobile and Fort Wayne all made the playoffs this year with Lake Elsinore just missing, and the less said about Eugene the better. The Arizona League is really a glorified extended spring training.

The premier team in the Padres minor league system this year was the Portland Beavers, featuring several potential major leaguers. Batters such as Xavier Nady, Jon Knott and Humberto Quintero all emerged as future major league players.

In the coming weeks, we will review the top position players and pitchers on each of the six Padres' minor league affiliates this year.

Position Player of the Year for Portland

Xavier Nady

2004 Season: The Padres decided they needed to do a few things to increase Nady's value, primarily increase his defensive versatility and refine Xavier's offensive game. Tye Waller, the Padres Director of Minor League Development emphasized, a need to "shorten Nady's path to the ball", or in other words to try to correct Nady's notoriously long swing. The Padres played Nady at a variety of positions, including CF and 1b to go along with his primary position as a corner OF. At the plate, Nady had his best year in the Padres system, his first good season since his debut in Lake Ellsinore in 2001, hitting .330/.391/.629, with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs in 74 games. Nady was called up by the Padres several times during the season, but failed to get consistent playing time. Nady was briefly given the starting CF job in July, and hitting .286 with a .810 OPS.

Background: After an outstanding career at Cal-Berkley, Nady was drafted by the Padres in the second round of the 2000 draft. A disappointing junior year and representation by super agent Scott Boras scared a lot of teams from drafting him. The Padres were able to sign Xavier Nady to a large signing bonus and a MLB contract. Xavier had his debut in SD in 2000 getting a hit in his first AB. In 2001, the Padres assigned Nady to Lake where he was the Cal League player of the year. In the offseason, San Diego sent Nady to the Arizona Fall League with the idea of re-converting him into a second baseman, his original position in college, but "Tommy John" surgery on his elbow ended that experiment. Unable to play the field, Nady returned to Lake Elsinore to open the 2002 season as the team's Designated Hitter. By mid-season when Nady was able to throw again the Padres assigned him to another new position, LF. Nady was able to ease concerns about his arm strength showing himself to be a capable OF.

In 2003, due to injuries to Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko, Nady was the starting right fielder. Xavier started out well, earning the NL Rookie of the month for May, but fell into a deep slump, which resulted in being returned to Portland. Xavier returned to the Padres in September and showed much promise, hitting .385 with power. However, in the offseason Kevin Towers elected not to put Brian Giles in CF, and the signing of Jay Payton, coupled with the desire to get him playing time, sealed Nady's ticket to Portland.

2005 Outlook: What to do with Xavier Nady presents the Padres with quite a few options; (1) He easily had the best year of any Padres position player who spent substantial time in the minor leagues. Nady proved that if given consistent playing time he could hit, and hit with power. Something the Padres definitely could have used more of this year, especially from the right side. (2) Once, again Nady showed that he was a capable defensive player at yet another new position CF. Right now, Nady probably has the ability to play 5 MLB positions, 1b, 3b and all three OF positions. The Padres had struggles at 3b and CF this year with offensive production. (3) "Sunk costs." So far the Padres have spent a considerable amount of time and money on Xavier Nady. (4) Finally, Xavier will be 26 going into 2005. He has nothing left to prove at the minor league level. His successful season in Portland and age probably rule out another return to Portland. Also, Nady has convinced the Padres if they are going to keep him they need to find an everyday position for him to play.

As with last year, his most natural positions are LF, RF and 1b, which are currently occupied by Klesko, Giles and Nevin, all veteran Padres with expensive long-term contracts. The best options for Xavier Nady might be CF or 3b. The first question Padres should ask themselves is if they are comfortable with the thought of Xavier Nady as the teams everyday CF? If Nady was able to hit around .275 to .280 with around 25 home runs, that would significantly improve the Padres offensive production out of that position. The big question is, could he handle the position defensively, and what are the Padres other options in CF? Another choice could be for the Padres to try to move Sean Burroughs, who ranked near the bottom of all MLB 3B this year in slugging percentage and OPS, despite hitting .297, and return Nady to his collegiate position, 3b.

It doesn't hurt that Towers has given Nady a ringing endorsement to end the year.

Runner Up:

Jon Knott

2004 Season: Knott followed up a good year in Mobile in 2003, with a better year in Portland. Knott hit .290/.376/.533 for the Beavers with 26 HRs and 85 RBIs. In Portland's playoff series Knot was a one man wrecking crew, batting .438 with 7 RBIs in four games. With the Padres Knott saw action in 9 games, hitting .214 with 3 hits in 14 at bats.

Background: Knott was signed by the Padres as a free agent out of Mississippi State University. A high ankle injury caused MLB teams to be cautious about drafting him. In 2002, Knott was the Padres minor league player of the year posting stellar seasons in Fort Wayne and at Lake Elsinore. In 2003, on a bad Mobile team, Knott hit 27 home runs, drove in 82 and led the Southern League in extra base hits. Jon plays both corner OF positions and 1b. He has a strong arm, and is a better defensive player than given credit for.

2005 Outlook: Knott should get a chance to stick with the Padres in 2005. Because of his age and ability, no real reason to keep him in the minor leagues. Again, a great deal will depend upon who the Padres have to keep on the MLB roster, notably Terrence Long and Jay Payton. If the Padres keep Ramon Vasquez as a utility infielder, a left handed hitter, Knott could make it as backup 1b to Nevin. In some ways, especially offensively, Knott may be a better offensive prospect than Nady. He is bigger, and is able to generate power more easily. However, Nady is much more versatile defensively, and seems to be the type of plus corner outfielder that Kevin Towers is seeking to develop. Still Knott has proven that he deserves an opportunity in the major leagues.

Comeback Player of the Year

Jake Gautreau

2004 Season: Nearly written off for dead at the beginning of the year, the Padres former number one pick in 2001 rebounded in 2004. Gautreau started off in Mobile and earned a promotion to Portland at mid-season. At Portland Gautreau hit nine Home Runs in only 168 at bats and finished the season at .274/.333/.500 with 35 RBIs in 48 games. The Padres moved Gautreau back to 3b in 2004, mainly to make room for Josh Barfield at 2b in Mobile.

Background: Gautreau was the Padres number one pick in 2001 out of Tulane. After a strong season in Eugene in 2001, Gautreau followed it up with a very good season in Lake Elsinore in 2002 where he was moved to 2b. At one time he had 55 RBIs in 66 games. The Padres thought they might have a left handed hitting Jeff Kent.

Unfortunately, Jake came down with colitis, a rare stomach disorder, which sapped much of his strength over the last third of the 2002 season. The problems continued into 2003, where he finished a mediocre .243/.324/.393, with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs.

2005 Outlook: Gautreau will probably start the season as the starting 3b for the Beavers, but probably not for the whole year. At the trading deadline, Gautreau was nearly traded to the Texas Rangers for Brad Fulmer, until Fulmer failed a physical. Gautreau would have trouble making the Padres because he plays 2b and 3b, but not shortstop, which is very difficult for someone trying to make it as a utility infielder. However, as a mid-season pick up, Gautreau probably could help the Padres get a solid middle relief pitcher, especially if he puts up good numbers for the first half of 2005.

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