California League Prospect/Batter of the Year

The Storm was the Padres best minor league team in 2005, and arguably the most talented. They nearly walked away with the California League Championship, if not for some late season shenanigans by the San Jose Giants who brought down several Triple-A players to help them win the title. It's amazing; you can even loathe the Giants on a minor league level.

So who was the best of the best? The race came down to a choice between either first baseman Michael Johnson and catcher George Kottaras.

To me, Johnson's raw power combined with his growing plate discipline carried the day for me.

First baseman - Michael Johnson - .295/.618/.366, with 21 home runs and 76 RBIs.

Let's start out with the negatives on Johnson first; too old for the league (25), making his third trip through, limited to only first base and finally injured for good chunk of the season, as in the past. While all these facts may be true about Johnson, it's also true that next to Portland's Paul McAnulty he is the Padres best left-handed hitter and going into next year possesses the best combination of power and plate discipline of anyone within the organization.

Johnson, the Padres second round pick in 2003 out of Clemson, was a collegiate teammate of Khalil Greene. He held out in a bitter dispute with the Padres over his bonus and returned to Clemson for his senior year, which was not the best thing to do if your goal is to be a major league baseball player. After underperforming in his senior year, the team was able to sign him just before the start of the 2004 draft, at a significant discout from the original offer. The Padres skipped Johnson past the lower levels of their organization, with the expectation that he would advance rapidly up the system, as Khalil Greene did. Nagging injuries prevented that from happening, but Johnson still posted a combined .820 OPS for his career.

Because of a late start and his injuries, his status of a top prospect was declining.

Injuries hit Johnson again this year, but not to the same extent in years past and not before he was able to put some numbers that recaptured quite a few people in the organization‘s attention. He hit 19 of his 21 home runs in April and August, the only two months he was fully healthy. Additionally, in both months he had a slugging percentage over .700 with an on-base percentage that hovered near .400.

Obviously Johnson would have been promoted to Mobile if he hadn't been injured in mid-May, but is making up for lost time with some solid performances in this years Arizona Fall League.

George Kottaras, 22, who solidified his status as the Padres top catching prospect, earned a promotion to Mobile after hitting .303/.469/.390, with 29 doubles and nine home runs in 2005. The hallmark of Kottaras' high ranking has always been his base-on-ball to strikeout ratio (50/60) combined with his ability to hit the ball hard into the gap. This year Kottaras improved substantially defensively as a catcher.

"He has made progress defensively and is a much better defensive catcher this year. There was a lot of emphasis on that, and he has done that," said Joe Ferguson, the Padres roving catching instructor.

With catcher Nick Trzesniak, a six-year minor league free agent, signing with Texas, both Kottaras and Johnson could be destined for Portland next year because of their ability and the talent behind them – or in this case in front of them.

After Johnson and Kottaras, third baseman Brett Bonvechio, centerfielder Drew Macias and Fernando Valenzuela made up the heart of the Storm's offense.

Bonvechio has some of the strangest statistics of anyone in baseball this year. He struck out 163 times in 480 at bats, but also had a .385 on-base-percentage and a team leading 86 walks (which was in the top 10 for the California League).

"I think a lot of my problems at the plate this year was just being overly patient at times, which may have gotten me into some trouble. I'm really trying to work on for next year is when I get my pitch early in the count, to not to miss it. This past year I missed too many pitches early, which left me vulnerable to the low and away slider," said Bonvechio on his season.

Overall, it's hard to argue that Bonvechio didn't have a good year, a .848 OPS, .463 slugging percentage, to go along with 25 doubles, six triples and 19 home runs. He did commit 35 errors in 131 games, but every year since we have been doing these reviews, the third baseman on the Storm usually are one of the leaders in the system because of the field conditions.

A left-handed hitter with a smooth swing and strong arm, next year will be a big opportunity for Brett with the Padres on the verge of shipping Sean Burroughs out and already trading for the 38-year old Vinny Castilla. If Bonvechio puts up some numbers in Mobile, he could start appearing on the Padres' radar.

Drew Macias' biggest asset is his defensive ability, an asset that the Padres staff craves in their centerfield prospects. The big question with Macias, 22, has always been his ability to have his offense match his defensive ability. Macias put up solid, but not great, numbers this year in Lake Elsinore, .289/.396/.355, with 23 doubles, six triples and six home runs. In order for Drew to make himself more of a prospect offensively he must either increase his power or become more of a classic lead-off hitter, improving his walk rate and ability to steal.

Fernando Valenzuela Jr., 23, led the team in RBI's with 83 and like Macias, posted good, yet not spectacular, numbers hitting .296/.432/.373, with 28 doubles and 12 home runs. Fernando's biggest obstacle is he's going to have to hit with a lot more power to have a realistic shot of making the Majors. What the Padres decide to do with Michael Johnson, putting him in Portland or Mobile, will also have a huge effect on his future.

Three mid-season replacements, Adam Bourassa, Colt Morton and Chris Kolkhorst also made a noticeable impact on the Storm this year.

Bourassa, 24, was a nice pick up by the organization. He put up, with the exception of power, better numbers than anyone on the team, .356/.464/.428 and a base-on-balls to strikeout ratio of 25/13. Bourassa was easily having his best season before breaking his wrist at the end of July, ending his season with the Storm. He should be healthy for spring training and with everyone else could be making the big jump to Double-A in 2006.

Colt Morton, 23, finally started to realize part of the huge potential that the Padres had hoped for when they drafted him in 2003. Morton put up some good numbers in Fort Wayne, .261/.464/.362, with ten home runs and 46 RBIs, but some spectacular numbers in Lake Elsinore, .323/.646/.407, with nine home runs in only 96 at bats. Morton is one of the few guys that you meet in person who seems actually bigger than he is listed (6-foot-5) (David Jay swears he is closer to 6-foot-7). The biggest reason for Colt's success at both levels was that he was finally able to control the strike zone by shortening his swing and posting much better base-on-balls to strikeout ratios at both levels.

Chris Kolkhorst, 23, after putting up solid numbers in Fort Wayne in 2004, was sent back to Fort Wayne for most of the year. He put up solid numbers again, but like Colt Morton really shinned once he was promoted to Lake Elsinore hitting .327/.458/.419. Both Bourassa and Kolkhorst are the same type of players, so it should be an intense battle in spring training for the starting left fielder's job in Mobile.

A good team in 2005 in Lake Elsinore should be the core of the system's best team in 2006, the Mobile BayBears.

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