Fort Wayne Wizards Season Preview

The Fort Wayne Wizards of the Midwest League (Low Class-A) is the lowest full season minor league affiliate within the San Diego Padres farm system. The Wizards will play a schedule of 140 games, with the season divided into two halves. The Wizards will once again be managed by Randy Ready.

What Happened Last Year: Fort Wayne played much better in the second half than in the first. Two of the Padres best prospects in the minor leagues this year, catcher George Kottaras (top ten, #3 in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook ("BA")), pitcher Travis Chick (top ten, BA#4) and Sean Thompson (top ten, BA#8 ), were major contributors to the Wizards in 2004.

Projected Lineup Starting Pitching
1b - Lachlan Dale 1. Clark Girardeau
2b - Sean Kazmar 2. Clayton Hamilton
SS - Matt Bush 3. Michael Ekstrom
3b - Brett Dowdy/Peter Ciofrone 4. Fabian Jimenez
OF - Chris Kolkhorst (a.k.a - "the Grit Man") 5. Luke Steidlmayer
OF- Yordany Ramirez- (BA #23) Bullpen
OF - Tom Vincent/Ruben Mora Matt Varner (closer)
C - Colt Morton Henry Perez (setup)

Who to Watch: Obviously, Matt Bush, the Padres number one pick in 2004, will be under considerable scrutiny. From all reports that have come in about Bush since his difficult debut last year, he has retooled both his swing and attitude. Yordany Ramirez, another young player with great tools, who has been sidelined by injuries the past three years, won't be 21 until July of this year. He should patrol centerfield this year for the Wizards and show off an outfield arm that is reputed to be the best in the system. Watch him on the basepaths as well. Because of their ages, both Ramirez and Bush should be in Fort Wayne for the whole year.

Chris Kolkhorst, who was the only other Padre minor leaguer than George Kottaras to have more walks than strikeouts, will begin the year in Fort Wayne. The "Grit Man" is the prototypical leadoff hitter and probably won't be in Fort Wayne for long, both because of his age and the weak outfield in Lake Elsinore. Also look for the Padres to finally find out if Colt Morton can make consistent contact. An excellent defensive catcher with very good raw power, Morton hit 17 home runs in Eugene last year, but must improve on the 75 strikeout in only 243 at bats if he is going to progress further.

On the mound, the Wizards returned Clark Girardeau to Fort Wayne, who should move up fairly quickly to Lake Elsinore. Vern Sterry easily had the best year of any starting pitcher below Fort Wayne last year but the early word is he will begin the year in the bullpen. Sterry is another in a long line of college pitchers who relies on control and changing speeds to be successful. The big question is does he have enough "stuff" to succeed at higher levels. Luke Steidlmayer is healthy again and is another candidate to move up quickly. Fabian Jimenez, at just 18, faces the toughest challenge. He will be in his first full season league, but the Friars love his arm.

2005 Projection: This will really be two teams, the one in the first half featuring players such as Colt Morton and Chris Kolkhorst, and the second half team which will incorporate more of the Padres younger minor leaguers such as catcher Billy Killian, first baseman Daryl Jones (pending his health), pitcher Ben Krosschell and players acquired in the draft. Both Bush and Ramirez should be mainstays on the Fort Wayne team in 2005. This team has a nice mix of speed and potential. They should make a run at a playoff berth for the second year in a row.

This year at Fort Wayne, followers of the Padres minors will begin to see the transformation of the system to younger players, from the previously college heavy ranks of the past.

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