Position Player of the Year for Mobile

<b>AA - Josh Barfield - 2b</b><br><br> <i>2004 Season:</i> At first glance, a .248 batting average shouldn't merit "Player of the Year", but Barfield led the Southern League in RBI's with 90, hit 18 home runs and proved naysayers wrong that he couldn't play second base.

Additionally, Josh Barfield led the Mobile BayBears to the second Southern League championship in BayBears history, albeit a share of the Championships – it counts the same.

Essentially, Barfield was the best player on the best team in the Southern League.

Are there concerns about Barfield? Certainly.

He struck out 119 times in 521 at bats, which is nearly 20 percent of the time. He had a paltry on base percentage (OBP) of .313, in which his walk rate actually dropped from last year.

However, a few other stats stand out. Ninety RBI's to lead the league and nearly a third of his hits went for extra bases. If Barfield follows the usual progression of Padres prospects from Mobile to Portland: Khalil Greene, Jon Knott, Jake Gautreau, and Tagg Bozied, his numbers should take a big upturn in Portland.

Background: Josh was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 draft by the Padres. Although he is only 21, he turns 22 in December, he already has four full seasons in a Padres organization dominated by college players. Josh put up good numbers at Idaho Falls and Fort Wayne in 2001 and 2002, but his breakout season came last year at Lake Elsinore. At Lake Elsinore, Josh hit .337/.530/.389 (batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage), with 16 home runs and 128 RBIs in 135 games. Putting up numbers like that at the tender age of 20 will tend to get someone noticed quickly.

2005 Outlook: Josh is still the Padres top position prospect, although the team and other analysts would prefer to see a few more walks, a few less strikeouts and a better batting average.

All should rise at Portland in 2005. Barfield should spend a full year at Triple-A, but what happens next is up in the air. Arguably, the Padres best player the past two years has been Mark Loretta, and right now it is inconceivable that the Padres would simply replace Loretta with Barfield in 2006.

A more plausible scenario could see a shift of Loretta to third base, and the trading of Burroughs if he does not have a better year in 2005. As stated above, Barfield is the Padres only real legitimate top minor league prospect. A second baseman who hits for power, and excluding this past year, average is hard to find. Expect to see Josh starting in San Diego in 2006. Just who he will replace is the big question.

Runner Up

Tie: Greg Sain (1b) and Ben Johnson (OF).

In 2004 Josh Barfield, Greg Sain and Ben Johnson were the Mobile BayBears offense. Barfield led the league in the RBI's, while Sain set a Padres minor league record with 28 home runs and led the Southern League. In 2004, Greg hit .235/.338/.467, with 28 home runs and 74 RBIs. Johnson had even a better year posting a .251/.334/.482, with 23 home runs and 85 RBIs, which was second in the Southern League. As with Barfield, however, a big concern with both was their strike out rates. Johnson had136 and Sain whiffed 140 in 456 at bats.

Background: Sain was drafted by the Padres in the fifth round of the 2001 draft out of the University of San Diego. He battled injuries for his first two years in the system playing at catcher, third base, first base and as the designated hitter. In 2003, he put up solid numbers at Lake Elsinore hitting .274/.471/.336, with 19 home runs and 100 RBIs. The big problem for Greg was his defense at third where he led his position in the California League with 35 errors. In 2004, the Padres put Sain at first, where he vastly improved his defense.

Ben Johnson didn't even make Baseball America's top 30 prospects for 2004. Johnson was one of the players acquired in the ill fated Woody Williams for Ray Lankford trade that so many Padres fans look back in anger at. Always considered a very "toolsy" player, Johnson finally put together a complete season in his second year at Double-A. Still very young, Johnson played mostly right field this year, but can also play centerfield. His success at Mobile was a huge step in solidifying his potential path to the big leagues.

2005 Outlook I have always been a big Sain fan, but the path for a right handed hitting minor league first baseman to the big leagues is extremely difficult. Hell, it's even difficult for his next step within the organization. The Padres should have Tagg Bozied returning in 2005, unless a trade is made and probably will have Jake Gautreau returning at third, Sain's other position – unless another deal is made.

Sain had too good a year at Mobile to return to the Southern League, but where he will play in 2005 is a big question. The Padres conceivably could even try to convert him into a LF.

Johnson, if he can prove to the Padres that he can play centerfield, could have a shot at the big leagues. As with most young players with power, he is going to have to improve his control of the strike zone, take more walks, cut down on the strike outs while maintaining and increasing power. The good news for both players is their numbers, as do most players from the Southern League, will increase in Portland.

That is, if they make the squad.

John Conniff can be reached at conniff@sandiegosports.net

MadFriars Top Stories