Position Player of the Year for Eugene

When the Padres first draft players they are assigned to "short season" leagues, which usually begin in June and last through the summer. The Padres maintain two teams in the short season leagues, Eugene in the Northwest League, where the Padres tend to send players with college experience and Peoria, the sight of their spring training complex in the Arizona League, where they send high school draft picks and young players from Latin America.

Two of the Padres "mini outfielders", Chris Kolkhorst and Matt Thayer stood out for the Eugene Emeralds this year. In selecting the players of the year for both levels, we imposed a criterion of selecting players in their first year within the organization.

Position Player of the Year for Eugene

Chris Kolkhorst
Outfielder
5-foot-9, 180 pounds
Birthdate: 3/7/82

2004 Season: Chris played at three different levels for the Padres in 2004 after being drafted out of Rice University, and ended up in the Midwest League where he hit .340/.429/.532 (batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage) in 47 at bats with the Wizards. At Eugene he .352/.496/.429 in 91 at bats, and after a slow start in the AZ League, mainly due to an abdominal strain he suffered during the collegiate season, he hit .280/.400/.486 in 25 at bats.

Kolkhorst played all three outfield positions for the Padres in 2004, but the Padres have placed him in CF to take better advantage of his speed. Although he is a not a home run hitter, he has shown the ability, as his high slugging percentage will attest, to be a very competent gap hitter. A left handed-hitter, Kolkhorst could develop into the Padres leadoff-hitter of the future. He's not a base stealing threat as is Freddie Guzman, but his on base percentage, control of the strike zone and gap power has gotten him noticed within the organization. Kolkhorst and George Kottaras were the only two players with significant playing time in the system to walk more times than they struck out on the year. Chris drew 27 walks while striking out 24 times this year. He was also hit by eight pitches, giving him a .474 on base percentage in his first year within the Padres' system.

Background: The "Grit Man" was drafted by the Padres out of Rice University in the 10th round of the 2004 draft. After a year of junior college, Chris put together three solid seasons at Rice University, hitting over .340 for each of his three seasons while posting a career .900 OPS. In his last two years at Rice, Chris walked more than he stuck out and also demonstrated an ability to get extra base hits, posting slugging percentages of .475 and .466 in his last two years. Additionally, Chris was an important part of Rice University's 2003 championship team.

2005 Outlook and beyond: Its going to be tough to replicate his first season, but Kolkhorst seems well on his way. Because of his small stature and speed to progress in the Padres system it's going to have to be in centerfield, not one of the corner outfield positions that he played in college. Based on his athletic ability, speed and not making any errors in any of the games he played in this year, he should be able to handle the position.

Chris played very well in his brief call up at Fort Wayne in 2004, and should open the season as their starting center fielder and leadoff hitter. If he is able to maintain his performance from college and his first year as a professional, he should rise quickly within the Padres system. It isn't inconceivable that he could end 2005 in Mobile, which with his age, 23, is where the Padres should hope he finishes 2005.

If you are a Fort Wayne fan, make sure you see him early, he probably won't be around for long.

Runner Up

Matt Thayer
Outfielder
5-foot-10, 175 pounds
Birthdate: 2/21/82

2004 Season: Thayer put together a nice year for the Padres hitting .284/.354.388, for Eugene and appearing in one game for the Fort Wayne Wizards. As with Kolkhorst his game is built around getting on base.

Background: Thayer is the rare left-hander who is a right-handed hitter. Matt had a solid career at UCLA hitting .323/.475/.420 in his last year. He was drafted in the 31st round by the Padres in 2004.

2005 Outlook: Thayer is a nice player, but will have a long road ahead of him. My guess is that he will open the year in left field with the Wizards batting second. Like Kolkhorst, if Thayer is going to make the major leagues, it will probably have to be from centerfield and right now Kolkhorst is simply a better prospect.


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