Fort Wayne Players of the Month for May

Mike Ekstrom and Clayton Hamilton have dominated, Matt Bush has disappointed, and Colt Morton has showcased himself in the early part of the season.

Position Player - Colt Morton, Catcher

Not really a great month for any of the position players at Fort Wayne, but Colt Morton, is the Padres' best prospect at Fort Wayne even though he's cooled off a little bit right now.  At the end of the first week of June, Morton was batting .301/.394/.536 (batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage), with 8 home runs and 34 RBI's, the overall leader in RBIs for the Wizards. Although Morton only hit two home runs and added 12 RBI's since we last visited him in April, he is demonstrating that he can put up consistent numbers over an extended period of time. For Colt maintaining his excellent strikeout to base-on-balls ratio (34/20) is crucial after having so many strikeouts in his two previous years of professional baseball.. Now we just have to work on his 10 past balls, which is a concern for a 6'6" catcher.

Third baseman Brett Dowdy has put together a nice month, but he is also entering into his third year of professional baseball, previously rising as high as Jacksonville in the Southern League (AA) with the Dodgers. Dowdy is hitting .275 overall for the Wizards, and so far this season has hit 8 triples.

Pitcher - Mike Ekstrom (RHP) and Clayton Hamilton (RHP)

The pitching situation for the Wizards is a little more promising than for the hitters. Ekstrom has won seven and lost one for the Wizards, while Hamilton is not far behind with a 7-3 record. Ekstrom, a righthander out of Oregon State University, briefly pitched for the Wizards last year after spending the majority of the season with Eugene. So far this season he has posted a good strikeout to base-on-balls ratio (43/13) while holding opposing batters to a .212 batting average combined with a 1.43 ERA.

Tye Waller, the Padres Minor League Director of Player Development stated, "Ekstrom has been dynamite. We will make a decision {on his promotion} about the {time of the} break."

Hamilton, out of Penn State, has been nearly as impressive in his eleven starts. Hamilton has struck out 55 while walking only 21 in 64 innings. Batters hit a lowly .215 against the 6'5" righthander with a 3.08 ERA. Luke Steidlemayer has also posted good numbers, going 6-2 with a 1.90 ERA with a 42/15 strikeout to base-on-balls ratio. Luke is in his third go around with the Wizards, so maybe this year is the charm.

While both Ekstrom and Hamilton have pitched well, the Midwest League is full of former college pitchers who can change speeds and dominate a young league because of their experience. Both pitchers have so far shown they can pitch at this level, the California League will help answer more questions about their respective ceilings.

Closer Matt Varner, out of the University of Houston, continues to impress notching his 16th save, while striking out 21 batters in 19 innings.

Matt Bush update - Matt's bat and defense have begun to stabilize after a rough first month. He is hitting .241/.280./.307, with 2 home runs and 20 RBIs in 54 games, not bad for a kid just out of Mission Bay High School, but far below the expectations of a number one overall draft pick. The Padres will tell you they are pleased with Bush's progress and that we must be patient, but when compared to other high school high draft picks from 2004 such as third baseman Billy Butler of Kansas City, who is dominating the higher level California League at .355/.440/.650, with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs, or shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Seattle) of the Midwest League who is hitting .305/.373/.419, he comes up lacking.

Commentary - So far into the season Colt Morton, and to some extent second baseman Sean Kazmar, have established themselves as the best position prospects on the Fort Wayne team. The key for Morton is to continue to demonstrate that he can control the strike zone while maintaining his power. Defensively, Colt has a very good arm, handles pitchers well with his only problem being 10 passed balls so far this season.

Ekstrom and Hamilton give cause for excitement because of their gaudy statistics, but are also reminiscent of pitchers Gabe Ribas and Brian Whitaker in 2003, two college pitchers whose careers stalled once they reached the Southern League (AA). Hopefully they will prove me wrong, but right now its easy to be a little skeptical based on others past performances.

The information on Matt Bush continues to come in, and most of it is disappointing. Right now Bush is playing more like a low draft pick, than the highly rated dynamo by the Padres and draft experts at Baseball America before last year's June draft. Maybe he will be able to turn things around in the second half.

Want to bet the Padres aren't going to take another high school player that early?

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