Padres Prospect Pulse: On the rise

A few days ago we chastised ourselves for having to come down hard on a few Padres' prospects but this week we get to hail the players who have earned our respect with strong showings in 2005.

Injuries aside, Michael Johnson had a monster year with the Lake Elsinore Storm. With his power and commitment to cutting down on strikeouts, Johnson figures to be in the mix for a move to Portland next year, skipping Mobile entirely.

For the third year in a row, he toiled in Lake Elsinore but there were some obvious differences.

In fewer games played than a year ago, Johnson had more homers, more extra base hits, more runs scored and more RBI's. With a career minor league average of .266, he bested that mark in a hitter friendly league – batting .295.

The two months he was healthy for, Johnson swatted 19 out of the park and knocked in 61 in 48 games. And his numbers are skewed by a hand injury that adversely affected him at certain points during the year.

Everyone knew he had offensive ability but one of the major differences in his game was his defensive prowess. Minor League Fielding Instructor Tony Franklin called Johnson one of the most improved defenders in the system.

Johnson was invited to the Arizona Fall League and he has gone from forgotten star to central on the radar.

Two years ago Drew Macias was a defensive specialist – a whiz in centerfield. Since then he has gone on a run with his bat – providing a little pop and working the gaps efficiently.

Slowly the expectations are rising for the left-handed hitting outfielder. After he tailed off at the end of 2004, his batting average dropping from the .290 area to .266 in the final month of the year, Macias was tasked with bettering his conditioning for the stretch run. This year, he again slumped in August.

But an overall average of .289 in 128 games was more than the Padres had hoped for, especially given his penchant for driving in runs. Despite hitting eighth and ninth in the order for a majority of the year, Macias knocked in 66, care of a .302 average with runners in scoring position.

He is a kid that the Padres have described as one of the prototypes for centerfield in PETCO. His defensive range is excellent, he uses the gaps well, has some speed that he must learn to use and plays hard each game out. Word is the club would like to see him add weight this off-season to increase his power numbers.

The forgotten man. That was the story being told on Colt Morton but the oxygen tank is full again as he exhales to let everyone know of his coming out party.

In his first two trips to Fort Wayne, spanning 58 games over two years, Morton was weak with the stick, hitting .158. He was even sent back to Eugene in 2004 where he batted .239. In his third year with the Wizards, Morton hit .269 and struck out fewer times than games played for the first time in any league he appeared in.

He moved up to Lake Elsinore for the final month of the year and hit .323 with nine homers and 19 RBI's in 26 games.

Morton was working on throwing out runners, an area of his game that did not improve with the rest. As important, if not more, was his ability to handle the staff. Countless pitchers praised his work behind the plate and knowledge of the game.

Morton has a shot at beginning the year in Mobile, but all decisions will be based around George Kottaras and where he ends up. Morton has proven he can get it done in the box and with an emerging game behind the plate he has gone from what could have been to what is.

If not for another slow start, Leo Rosales may have joined the elite. When a pitcher has a 1.70 ERA in 89 games through two years in the system, how much rising can be truly accomplished?

With pitchers, there is always some measure of hesitation with success in short season and Low-A. It isn't until a pitcher reaches the California League in the Padres' system that the true measure of a pitcher's heart can be determined.

After the sluggish start, Rosales put it all together starting July 1. Over his final 29 appearances he posted a 1.50 ERA to give him a 3.18 ERA for the year. He also limited the opposition to a .219 average against.

The 2005 season marked the third straight year he has whiffed more batters than innings pitched.

His slider will ultimately be the pitch that determines his fate. If he can continue to master it and control its direction, his security in the closer's role will continue and his status as a top relief prospect will continue to grow.

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