Wizards Player of the Year: The other guy

All year, the Ft. Wayne Wizards could turn to one person in their lineup for consistent production. They got 18 home runs, 91 RBI and an .853 OPS out of that spot in the lineup – all of which were easily good enough to lead the team. So, why did the source of all this productivity get so little attention?

Because, while that output came from a single position – catcher – it took the tandem of Colt Morton and Matt Lauderdale to put up those numbers.

Many who watch the Padres' farm teams are familiar with Morton, the high-profile (literally and figuratively) catcher the Padres took with their third draft pick in 2003. But Lauderdale – who stands eight inches shorter and was taken six rounds later – remains relatively unknown. Despite their many differences, both made big contributions to the Wizards throughout the year.

Morton got off to a fast start, collecting a .348 batting average and six homers in the first month of the year. But, just as he started to cool off, Lauderdale began to contribute more. When Morton went down with a hamstring injury in early July, and then got promoted to Lake Elsinore at the end of the month, Lauderdale kept performing.

In a franchise that features more depth at catcher than any other position, Lauderdale's numbers match up with anyone in the system. His .498 slugging percentage was better than George Kottaras', and his .282 average beat those of Morton, Nick Trzesniak, and Nick Hundley.

The production, combined with his ability to step up and help his team when they really needed him, earns Lauderdale my pick as hitter of the year for the Padres' Midwest League affiliate.

Although the Wizards were in the bottom quarter of the league in most offensive categories, several other players deserve recognition for their individual performances.

Matt Thayer, who shuttled between Ft. Wayne and Elsinore, had a .921 OPS in 136 at bats, drawing 21 walks against only 25 strikeouts. Chris Kolkhorst, playing the type of aggressive baseball you'd expect from a guy who calls himself "Gritman," collected a .392 on-base percentage and swiped 19 bases. And Sean Kazmar, playing second base the entire season, knocked 26 doubles and 10 home runs for a team sorely lacking in power.

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