Best of the System: The Top 5 Shortstops

The Padres have a shortstop, in case you didn't notice, and thus aren't necessarily in the market for one this year or next, but that doesn't mean they won't need one in the future. Youth is served in this week's Top 5, three of the five are 20 years of age or under. <b>#5) Ronnie Merrill</b> has be the picture of inconsistency with the glove. His errors seem to come in bunches and between spurts of very above average defense.

The bat on the other hand has been pretty consistently average.  He hasn't hit .300 since Lo-A in 2001 and has never finished with more than 12 home runs in a season.  He has decent speed, makes decent contact, but doesn't project much higher than the Double-A level he finished last season at.  If he's going to continue to move up it's going to be by playing more consistent defense, and doing it at more positions than just shortstop.

#4) Matt Bush was the #1 overall pick of the 2004 draft by the Padres, and started his pro career just a little differently than the Padres had hoped.  An arrest in Arizona and questions about his work ethic surfaced before he even put on a uniform, and once he finally did he spent the majority of the year in the Instructional League.  He was bumped up to Eugene for eight games and hit only .222, finishing with more strikeouts than hits.

Still, the talent is undeniable.  He's got a cannon arm and pop in the bat, above average speed and most importantly, time to develop.  When most thought the Padres would use their first pick on Florida State University (and brother of Major Leaguers J.D. and Tim) shortstop Stephen Drew, the Padres decided on prep prospect Bush.  The end result, Drew is still unsigned after being taken 15th overall by the Diamondbacks, and Bush has a long way to go, but is in a Padres uniform.  He's still probably three years away, but Drew may never play a game in the Diamondbacks organization.

#3) Sean Kazmar has been described as a mystery but then again when you were 20 weren't you?  Coming out of Southern Nevada Community College he was viewed as a solid defensive shortstop who might have trouble with the bat.  After a stretch in '04 where he committed eight errors in 14 games the Padres started scratching their heads.  When he was hitting balls all over the gaps at home they started scratching their heads more.  When he hit less than .200 there wasn't much hair left.

Kazmar might never see this list again, but that has less to do with his skills as it does with a possible move to second base.  Last year in nine games at second base he committed only one error (he made 27 at short in 61 games) and the Padres will have him working at both positions this Spring.  At just 20 he's got a lot of time to figure things out, and a lot of things to figure out.  He'll have to work on the defense obviously, but he'll also have to work on his plate discipline (61 strikeouts in 70 games).  Neither problem is particularly unusual for a young player, and neither is so bad as to suggest they can't be fixed.

#2)  Luis Cruz came to the Padres from the Red Sox organization and blossomed after a somewhat unexpected promotion in 2004.  After hitting just .231 in the Lo-A Midwest League in 2003 Cruz was still bumped up to Hi-A Lake Elsinore in '04 and apparently the Padres confidence in him was justified.  He set career highs in batting average (.277), RBI (77), doubles (35) and struck out only 56 times in more than 500 at bats.  His defense, while not impeccable, is improving, and like Kazmar he's just 20 years old.

The Padres think they got a steal when they moved Caesar Crespo to the Red Sox for Cruz, and with Khalil Greene installed at short for many years to come they feel they've got more than enough time to smooth some of Cruz's rough edges out.  As if his potential wasn't already high enough, they also love his 6'1"/180lb frame, specifically the possibility that his frame could fill out substantially and turn Cruz into a 15-20 homer player.

#1)  J.J. Furmaniak really shouldn't be on this list.  Then again, he really shouldn't be in the Majors either, and he's got an outside shot at making the Padres coming out of the Spring, which brings us back to why Furmaniak shouldn't be on the list.  He's the best shortstop in the organization, he's also one of the three best second basemen after a trip to Mexico over the winter to learn the position, and one of the top 3rd baseman after spending the majority of the '02 season at the hot corner.  

Taken in the 22nd round of the 2000 draft out of Lewis College he's been scrapping his way up the ladder since, and the most common quote heard from coaches and scouts is, "Nobody works harder."  When he felt he wasn't hitting for enough power he hit the weights and put on 15 pounds of muscle, when the Padres suggested he play third he learned it, and when they said second base might be his home he went south of the border without hesitation.  You get the sense this isn't the kid who'd take your laundry to the cleaners, this is the kid who's sew you new clothes.  

The Padres like the determination, and love the versatility, a great Spring puts him on the roster, a good one gets him sent to Portland, where he will be on Kevin Towers' speed dial and perhaps the first to come up if the need arises

James Renwick can be reached at



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