Players of the Month: Lake Elsinore Storm

The Lake Elsinore Storm have the best record of any team in the Padres minor league system and won the first half southern division in the California League. The Storm were led by solid hitting attack that featured all eight regulars, and a dominant pitcher in right hander Jared Wells.

Position Player of the month - C George Kottaras

Kottaras,22, had his best batting average in April hitting .323. In June, after a minor lull in May, he hit .304, but more importantly he slugged eight doubles and four home runs for a .521 slugging percentage, which was easily his most productive power month for the season. Although right now he has already hit four doubles for the month of July, so the best may be yet to come.

Although smaller in stature (6' 190 lbs) than other catchers in the system such as Mobile's Nick Trzesniak and Fort Wayne's Colt Morton, George seems to be getting stronger and playing better as the season goes on. Right now Kottaras is on track for his best year, and has already hit more doubles than he did in all of last year. Additionally, he had 7 home runs at the break which was his year end total for the two previous years. Most importantly, he is showing the same disciplined approach at the plate, controlling the strike zone with 13 base on balls to 15 strikeouts for the month of June.

Kottaras' defense has been solid, he has shown particular aptitude in blocking pitches in the dirt. Considering that he didn't begin playing organized baseball until he was 15, his progress has been astounding. Still what is most impressive about Kottaras, and what makes him a top flight prospect, is his bat and ability to hit in the clutch. A .346 batting average with runners on and two outs and a .310 average with runners in scoring position for the season.

Its doubtful the Padres will promote Kottaras, or should right now. Both Trzesniak and Hernandez are performing well at Mobile and Portland, and Kottaras should use this time to solidify his catching skills. He split time at catcher in Fort Wayne last year, so this will be his first full season behind the plate. He should put up some serious numbers by the end of the year, and is a near lock to be invited to the Arizona Fall League.

Keep an eye on him, he will easily again be one of the Padres top three prospects, and possibly even the first. George will receive a lot of attention in the national media and we should begin hearing other clubs ask about his availability in trades at the major league level.

That answer should be a resounding no.

Big months by outfielders Drew Macias,22, (.365) and Adam Bourassa,24, (.386) made up for some mediocre and poor performances by 1b Fernando Valenzuela,22, (.276), 3b Brett Bonevechio,22, (.231) and SS Juan Ciriaco,22, (.213). Macias and Bourassa are both versatile outfielders who can play all three positions, but profile more as leadoff/contact hitters and don't hit for much power.

Pitcher - Jared Wells (RHP)

Jared was 4-0 in five starts with a 1.89 ERA for the month, which is usually going to make you the pitcher of the month for any team. Wells, 23, a 6'4" power pitcher which is a rarity in the San Diego system, posses a big time fastball with a hard slider and an improving changeup. Wells has won 8 of his last 10 decisions, but has been very hittable all year, allowing 93 hits in 99 innings. However, he doesn't give up the long ball allowing only 6 home runs in 99 innings. While he doesn't have tremendous overall BB/K ratio (23/69), his walk rate per nine innings is good. What is unusual despite his great success in June, he walked more batters than he ever did (11) compared to April and May. We can quibble with some strange peripherals that Wells has, but the fact remains that he has been the dominant pitcher for the Storm this year. For his first start in July, he pitched a complete game shutout, allowing only four hits while striking out nine.

If you live near Lake Elsinore try to see him the next time he pitches, because there probably won't be many more opportunities.

The rest of the Storm starters benefited greatly from a strong offensive attack, with none of them possessing an ERA under 3.78. Right handed pitchers Javier Marintiez,22, coming off of two injury plagued years, and Eddie Bonine, 24,have both shown some promise.

Leo Rosales, 24,the closer, saved 4 games and held batters to a .204 batting average in the month, but a 4.15 ERA and a 7/11 base-on-balls to strike out ratio sends out some warning signs.

Commentary With the exception of Wells and first baseman Michael Johnson, who just returned to the lineup on July 5, there probably won't be that many members of the Storm advancing to Mobile, barring injury. The Storm, for position players, have a solid team, with the exception of right field where Jordon Pickens,24, still hasn't replaced Steve Baker's, bat.

When Wells is moved up the Padres may decide to move up right handed pitchers Clayton Hamilton22, and Michael Ekstrom,21, who are both putting up some excellent numbers in Fort Wayne.

The Storm should have a solid shot to win the division in the second half.


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