Batter of the Year: Fort Wayne Wizards

Over a full season league, the requirements become slightly stiffer when evaluating our Batter of the Year. Seventy-five games is the threshold that drops some players out of contention – and I, the rebel that I am – hold that mark throughout the rest of our tour. A late surge by one player made this race a photo finish between three thoroughbreds.

Matt Lauderdale was the wild card, kicking up dirt over the last two months of the year to get in with the lead pack.

In all honesty, he wasn't so much as a blip on the radar at the midpoint in the season. But, the horse that takes the lead at the midway point doesn't often win the race to the finish line, and if monies were won then we would all have fared better at the racetrack.

Lauderdale was the backup. He sat behind Colt Morton (who also had an outstanding year) and saw the field on a limited basis while the much more heralded N.C. State alumni crouched behind the plate for much of the year.

Called "Laudy" with affection by the pitching staff, the catcher met the minimum requirements – if just. After seeing action in 15 games over the first two months of the year, Lauderdale took advantage of a Morton injury and cemented himself as the everyday catcher.

"My first outing, Laudy didn't really know what I threw in what counts but he called a pretty good game and in my next start we were on the right track, calling pitches I would throw in that count," Josh Geer explained.

During the final three months of the year, Lauderdale had 27 extra base hits, 39 RBI's and 28 walks to give him an on base percentage of .385 from July on. He also swatted a ridiculous .371 with runners in scoring position for the year.

And he wasn't even supposed to play.

Chris Kolkhorst has been groomed by the finest of stables and continues to do what got him to this point, stay consistent and a sure money draw.

"He gets on base, consistently," said Tye Waller, former Director of Player Development with the Padres.

Proving the point, Kolkhorst had an on base percentage of .392, tops among all players who were with the Wizards for 50-plus games. He also led the team in runs scored with 65.

He reached base safely in each of his last 20 games with Fort Wayne and that was his second longest streak of the year. He began the season by reaching base in 30 straight.

Kolkhorst also walked more times, 65, than he struck out, 57. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted above .290 in all but one month – May where he hit .223.

Peter Ciofrone, acquired in a trade last season, went from a bit of an unknown to Sleipnir – the mythological steed commanded by the Norse God Odin – used to win a wager with the giant Hrungnir.

Buoyed by a .384 average during the month of August, Ciofrone ended the year with a .301 batting average and a .391 on base percentage.

"He is a pretty good offensive player," Padres' Director of Player Development Grady Fuson said.

The infielder fell three walks shy of matching his strikeout total for the year (53). He also led the team in RBI's and was money in the clutch. Ciofrone hit .363 with runners in scoring position.

"A real nice line drive swing, he can just flat out hit," added Jeff Kingston, the Director of Baseball Operations.

The only problem seemed finding him opportunities in the field.

"We are trying to find the best place to play him," Tye Waller added.

He spent 56 of his 104 games as the designated hitter, ironically a spot he batted only .278 at. That should tell you how well he hit when he played in the field.

After laying it all out, the choice is clear. Peter Ciofrone wins Batter of the Year for the Padres' Fort Wayne Wizards affiliate.

While a case can be made for each of these players, and perhaps even more who were omitted, Ciofrone set career-highs in nearly every statistical category and began to live up to the expectations placed on him when he was drafted out of high school.

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