Batter of the Year take III: AZL Padres

When the Padres took Kyle Blanks, a 6-foot-6, 270 pound 17-year old out of Edgewood, NM in the 2004 draft, he was notable for his size – even as a 42nd-round pick. After he posted league-leading offensive stats and earned a national defensive player of the year award for Yavapai (Ariz.) Community College as a draft-and-follow prospect, the Padres gave him a hefty bonus to sign the week before the 2005 draft.

When he showed up in Peoria, still a few months shy of his 19th birthday, Kyle Blanks was eager to impress, and it's safe to say his seven homers in the season's first three weeks did, indeed, impress.

Although he slumped for a month in middle of the season and didn't hit another homer on the year, he surged at the end, going 13-38 in the final two weeks of the year. His adjustments at the plate also led to a very respectable 36K:24BB ratio over the remainder of the season (after only one walk and 13 strikeouts in the first two weeks). His .420 on base percentage was good enough for sixth in the league and he was fourth with a .500 slugging percentage.

He's still growing (now up over 280 pounds and anchored by size 16 feet), but already the young man who calls himself "Big Nasty" and we call "Gigantor" has left his mark in the organization. With his size and athleticism, Blanks has already snuck into top Padres' prospect list (Shh! Don't tell the boss I gave one away.)

Two years older, and at least 100 pounds lighter than Blanks, outfielder Javis Diaz put up totals of .352/.425/.510 before his promotion to Eugene after the Arizona League season. He also stole 19 bases while he was caught only five times on the year, and his speed translated into six triples as well.

A product of the Padres' once-meager Latin American development program, Diaz stood out in his first stateside season, and is one to keep an eye on in Fort Wayne next year.

Other impressive performances at the lowest rung of the Padres system include William Venable (son of former big-leaguer and current Padre minor league instructor Max), who hit .322/.385/.508 before a promotion to Eugene, and undrafted rookie free agent Josh Howard, whose all-out style of play earned him a jump all the way to the Cal League after he hit .354 in 23 games in the desert. He reached base in every contest, with hits in 21, for Peoria. His 12 stolen bases in 14 attempts and solid command of the strike zone made him a very pleasant surprise for the team.

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