Padres' California League Hitter of the Year

Adam Bourassa and Steve Baker very likely would have been the final choices had they continued their dominance over the long haul. But one was injured and the other moved on, preventing them from consideration. In one situation they may be calling for the executioner to come take my head. Let me explain. . .

You may recall the 75-game threshold this bozo decided on when looking at each full season squad. You may not realize the damage that this clearly irrational mind caused by such radical behavior.

Along with a 75-game bar came the exclusion of Michael Johnson – who had the finest season of his career and would have been the choice had he played in two – yes, two – more regular season games.

I could have broke my own law and pumped up Johnson incessantly in this space but years from now when I am staring out into the ocean I would know that I wronged the candidates who were able to stay healthy and play in 75 games or more.

Alas, the decision had its own consequences for me as the choice on who should win became infinitely tougher.

Four players stick out and there is no joy in excluding any of them from the winner's circle.

Fernando Valenzuela Jr. led the team in RBI's – 83 – the second straight year he has accomplished that feat – and was about as consistent a player as you would want – August notwithstanding. He was hitting .318 on July 31 but a .209 tailspin in August pushed him below .300 for the year. He hit under .300 just one other month during the season.

Valenzuela split time with Johnson at first base and was the primary designated hitter for the club when Johnson was healthy. And he hit better when he played the field, .310 to .278.

"I am trying to improve every year," Valenzuela said. "Last year, consistency was my biggest thing and I wanted to continue that. I hope to get better every year, average-wise, power-wise, everything."

The Los Angeles native 44 extra base hits during the year. But you come to expect more from a first baseman (Johnson had 46 in 73 games) who does not have the ability to change positions. Valenzuela also grounded into 17 double plays and hit .270 with runners in scoring position – below his season average of .296.

At the end of May, Juan Ciriaco was hitting .320 until a .213 month of June took him back to reality. But he did hit over .270 in every other month during the year.

The shortstop was exceptionally clutch, which is more than his .299 average with runners in scoring position indicates. Ciriaco had more game-winning hits than any other player on the team, including a grand slam in early May.

"I looked for my pitch and when I saw it I didn't want to let it go by without swinging," Ciriaco said through an interpreter.

His 77 RBI's placed him second on the team and he had to do a lot of the damage from the ninth spot in the order – where he played half his games. The 23 games he was slotted second in the order, Ciriaco drove in 24 runs.

In the field, he led the team and the California League in errors with 45 but showed off a cannon arm and solid range.

Manning the critical centerfield position, Drew Macias got it done with the bat as well as the glove. His 15 outfield assists were tied for the California League lead.

The California native's average didn't see his average dip below .283 the entire year and over the last two months of the season held it between .284 and .299.

Macias spent the majority of the year in the eighth and ninth slots in the order and still produced 66 RBI's to rank fifth on the team. He also placed second in runs scored with 79.

""I made progress," Macias said. "My goal each year is to do better than the year before. I try not to waste at bats and try to put the ball in play."

Macias hit .368 with runners in scoring position and two outs, the best mark on the team by far. And his .302 batting average with RISP was eclipsed by just one comrade.

"This year, my home run totals were down but I was trying to use my speed and hit line drives," Macias explained. "I am going to try and hit ground balls and when guys are in scoring position I am thinking ‘line drive up the middle.'"

That player is George Kottaras, the final entrant in today's proceedings. Kottaras led the team with a .319 average with RISP and ended the year with 50 RBI's in 90 games before his promotion to Mobile.

He also walked 50 times compared to 60 strikeouts, continuing his trend of plate discipline. His consistent stroke also led to a .303 batting average and an on base percentage of .390 to lead all Storm players who qualified.

"With the way that I swing my ball will occasionally carry out but it is not what I am trying to do," Kottaras explained.

Behind the dish, he remains a work in progress. He threw out 29 percent of the runners attempting to steal, 22-of-75, and has improved vastly in calling the game.

As much as this award is about who had the best year, it also takes into account expectations. Everyone knew Kottaras would hit .300. They felt the same way about Valenzuela. Ciriaco exceeded expectations but his defense made him a liability. Macias was solid on both ends of the diamond and raised expectations in coming year. His work this year earned him the award of Padres' California League Hitter of the Year.

And if you see Michael Johnson, don't tell him where I live.


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