Players of the Month: June in Fort Wayne

The Wizards finished in the middle of the pack within the Padres organization for winning percentage, although they were much closer to the Portland Beavers and Lake Elsinore Storm, than to the Mobile BayBears. Finishing up the first half at 38-32, the Wizards were led by the strong pitching of starters Michael Ekstrom, Clayton Hamilton and closer Matt Varner combined with the offense of catcher Colt Morton and left fielder Chris Kolkhorst, both of whom made the Midwest All Star team.

So far the second half hasn't started off well for the Wizards who were in dead last in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League with a 4-13 record at the time of this writing.

The two bright spots for June at the plate were infielder/designated hitter Peter Ciofrone, who has been a solid run producer the entire year, and LF Chris Kolkhorst, a.k.a. "The Grit Man". Both Colt Morton and Matt Bush struggled at the plate in June after their all star selections.

On the mound, Matt Varner continued to impress, and starting pitchers Michael Ekstrom and Clayton Hamilton experienced their first sub-par month.

Position Players of the Month: DH/3b/1b Peter Ciofrone and LF Chris Kolkhorst

Peter Ciofrone, 21, is one of the players in the San Diego system that has been acquired from the Boston Red Sox in recent trades, along with Portland relief pitcher Brad Baker and Lake Elsinore third baseman Brett Bonvechio. Ciofrone, who has been used mainly as a DH this season instead of as a second baseman, joined the Red Sox organization straight out of high school like Baker and Bonvechio. He came over as one of the infamous "player to be named later" in the trade of relief pitcher Brandon Puffer last July.

Ciofrone, a left-handed hitter is already is a veteran of three minor league seasons at 21 and hit .261 with limited power in 42 games for the Wizards.

In 2005, after a bad April, Ciofrone has put together a solid season hitting .297/.380/.384 (batting average/ on-base percentage/slugging percentage), with three home runs and is second on the team with 39 RBIs, despite missing several games with a strained hamstring. His most impressive statistic though is his excellent control of the strike zone, sporting a 1-to-1 base-on-balls to strikeout ratio (30/30) for the season.

For June, Ciofrone and left fielder Chris Kolkhorst were the main drivers of the Fort Wayne offense. Ciofrone hit .327 with a .400 OBP and led the Wizards in RBIs, despite having a slugging percentage under .400. One of the reasons for Ciofrones' success as a run producer is his ability to produce with runners in scoring position (RISP), hitting .356 with RISP and .346 with RISP and two outs. Even though he isn't the prototypical power hitter in the number #3 slot in the order, his ability to deliver has made him one of the best players for the Wizards this season.

Chris Kolkhorst, 23, had a horrible May but came back with a strong June hitting .290 with a .418 on base percentage. Last year Kolkhorst was only one of two in the Padres organization to have more walks than strikeout (the other was Lake Elsinore catcher George Kottaras), and in June returned to last year's form walking 22 times against only 14 strikeouts.

The "Grit Man" can play all three outfield positions, and has made only two errors in 81 games. After a strong season last year, and with the exception of May, it's somewhat surprising that the Padres haven't been a little more aggressive in promoting Chris to Lake Elsinore.

Catcher Colt Morton and first baseman Lachlan Dale were the leaders in home runs and RBI's for June. Morton slammed three out of the park and added 12 RBIs and Dale notched four home runs and 13 RBIs. That all or nothing approach in June led to Morton batting .206 and Dale hitting an even worse .176.

On the season, Dale is hitting .193 with 102 strikeouts. Despite some truly awful numbers, he leads the Wizards in home runs (12) and total bases (110) and is third in RBI's. With runners in scoring position he is hitting .130 in 92 at bats. If Dale could hit an overall .250 he might have some really impressive numbers. To say he needs to improve his ability to make contact is truly an understatement.

Pitcher of the Month: (RHP) Matt Varner

After a dreadful first appearance in the closer's role, where he surrendered six runs and was only able to lower his ERA to 9.00 by month's end, Matt Varner, 23, has posted two consecutive months with an ERA under 1.60 with 16 total saves between May and June. Varner is the Midwest League leader in saves with 24.

When reviewing his peripheral statistics, Varner has given up a decent number of base on balls per innings pitched with 10 in 29 innings pitched, but he has only allowed 25 hits over the same span, which is a very solid ratio.

For June Varner was 1-1, with eight saves, striking out ten in 11.1 innings while allowing ten hits. Despite his league leading save numbers, there are some questions about his ability to get out left handed hitters, who are batting .348 against him, compared to right handed hitters who have only been hitting .149.

Right-handed starter Vern Sterry, 23, put up some solid numbers for June, going 2-0 in three starts with a 3.43 ERA for June. Most impressive was his excellent K/BB ratio of 16/2, but batters still managed 22 hits off of him in 21 innings. He is currently on the disabled list due to soreness in his elbow.

Right-handed starting pitcher Luke Steidlmayer, 25, also put together a nice month going 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in four starts earning a promotion to Lake Elsinore.

Michael Ekstrom (RHP), 21, went 3-2 in six starts in the month of June with a 6.82 ERA. Even though he posted a solid 24 to 8 strikeout to base-on-ball ratio, he gave up 41 hits in 34 innings while batters hit .299 against him.

Clayton Hamilton (RHP), 23, went 1-3 in six starts with a 4.46 ERA. Hamilton was victimized by the home run giving up 6 in 34 innings pitched.

Matt Bush Update:

The good news is that Matt Bush made the All Star team and by all accounts has been making some spectacular plays at shortstop despite having 29 errors in 83 games. Again, it is important to remember when evaluating Bush that he is a little more than a year removed from Mission Bay High School and playing in a full season minor league, compared to the short season Arizona League (Peoria) and Northwest League (Eugene), where most of the Padres draft picks, who have just played three or four years of college baseball, are playing.

Bush's bat has shown signs of improvement, but he has yet to hit above .253 for any month, and in June hit .224, his lowest yet. Bush may be a better hitter than his numbers indicate. Leading off the innings he hit .348 and with the bases empty .269. Where he is running into trouble is with runners on base when he seems like he is trying to do too much, as indicated by the statistics listed below.

Bases Loaded: .189
RISP: .151
RISP/2 outs: .209

These statistics seem to indicate that Bush may be putting a little too much pressure on himself, still trying to live up the billing of not only the number one pick by the Padres in 2004, but the number one overall pick in the draft.

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