Best of the System: The Top 5 Left Fielders

There's something about left fielders. Maybe it's the legacy of playing the same position as Teddy Ballgame and Barry Bonds or just the fact that these guys tend to mash the ball. continues it's breakdown of the <b>Best of the System</b> with the Top Five Left Fielders.<p>#5)</b>&nbsp; Peter White came to the Padres as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV, and frankly little was expected from him but a solid season in the Arizona Rookie League nudges him onto the list.

The upcoming season is as important as any White will ever play, because 23 year olds (White's age last season) playing in the Rookie Leagues are few and far between.  Even more scarce are Major Leaguers who were playing in the Rookie League at 23. 

Now 24 White will get a chance to rise as quickly as his skills will allow.  He faces an uphill battle as he moves to the outfield for the first time in his career, but has enough arm and speed to allow it.  The adjustment will be the first step, but if he transitions to left field quickly his better than average speed and better than the average Rookie League batting eye could make him a name to watch.

#4)  A .667 average at Lo-A would normally be knock your socks off good.  Alas that was in only three at bats for Matt Thayer, the Padres' 31st round draft pick out of UCLA, but none the less it has to give Thayer a confidence boost, and something to build on when he heads back to Lo-A Fort Wayne to begin 2005.  The type of player who coaches get all warm and fuzzy about because he runs every ball out, is the first one at the park/last one to leave, hustles on every play and virtually every other baseball cliche you can think of, Thayer used 2004 to get his feet wet, and get his name mentioned all over the organization.

Thayer was's runner up for Position Player of the Year at Eugene after hitting .284 in his first year of pro ball.  While the mid .280s doesn't usually light up hardened scouts eyes, what did was the .326 average, and .422 on base percentage he posted while hitting leadoff.  Even more impressive was the fact that he put those numbers up hitting leadoff for essentially the first time in his life.  Thayer will get start his season at Fort Wayne, but with the dearth of leadoff caliber hitters in the Padres organization (and baseball in general for that matter), and the ability to play all three outfield positions, a hot start could earn Thayer a quick promotion.

#3)  It's pretty black and white when you look at Jordan Pickens.  He started 2004 as a hitter without a position and the Padres sent him to Fort Wayne to test his body as much as his bat.  Injuries have hindered Pickens development, but 2004 saw him take at least two major steps forward.  The first was simply being on the field.  Pickens had more than 400 plate appearances for the first time in his four year pro career, and found the initials 'LF' next to his name more than 'DH' for the first time too.

At 6'2" and 190 lbs Pickens' body still had room to grow, which could make his power numbers (17 homers in 392 at bats in '04) rise dramatically, but even at this size his bat speed is well above average.  As with most young power hitter his strikeouts are well above average also (112 Ks in '04) and while most Major League teams will trade strikeouts for bombs, he'll have to bring the batting average up from .240 to move up in the organization.  The goals for '05?  Stay healthy, make contact, keep growing.

#2)  Jon Knott got a little taste of the bright lights in 2004 getting in nine games with the big league club with 14 at bats and his first run batted in.  It was about time.  At Triple-A Portland Knott had a fantastic year, tearing up the Pacific Coast League to the tune of .290/26/85 in 113 games.  That followed a Double-A 2003 where Knott went .252/27/82 and became everybody's defacto choice to replace Ryan Klesko when his time was up.

A classic power hitter, Knott is a surprisingly good outfielder.  No one is going to confuse him with Mike Cameron, but his range is average, his arm is strong enough for left and shows above average accuracy, he hits cut off men and did we mention 53 homers in his last two minor league seasons?  With the Padres continuing lack of power production, and questions still lingering about the number of miles on Klesko's engine, Knott deserves, and with a good start to the season should get, a chance soon.

#1)  Paul McAnulty just keeps doing what is asked of him.  Back in 2002, his first year as a pro he won a batting title at Idaho Falls and showcased an uncanny eye walking 49 times in 235 at bats.  Still, he didn't show the kind of power most big league clubs expect out of a first baseman.  Big and lumbering, the Padres didn't see much opportunity for advancement in McAnulty's future unless he could find another spot to play.  They offered him left field, and McAnulty treated it like a hanging curveball, he crushed the opportunity.  Slimmed down and far more mobile McAnulty might not win Gold Gloves in left, but he's gotten gold stars from the Padres organization and continues not simply to improve, but to shock scouts with his increasing range.

Meanwhile those questions about power got answered too.  After a solid but unspectacular '03 in Fort Wayne where he hit .273 with just eight homers in 455 at bats (mostly as a first baseman) the new fit and trim McAnulty got to Hi-A Lake Elsinore and lit it up.  He played some first base and right field, but found his comfort zone in left and finished '04 with a .297 batting average and a 'Did I Read That Right?' 23 home runs.  Sure, that's the hitter friendly California League, but nearly tripling his previous best in dingers is a major step forward no matter what league you're playing in. 

With the big league club's corner outfield spots filled for now, and Knott ahead of him on the depth chart, the 23 year old McAnulty will get as much time as he needs to find his groove at Double-A Mobile this season.  Another dominating season like last year's though could find him on the fast track to the Majors.

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