Scouting Padres Prospect #46: Juan Ciriaco

Playing shortstop in the San Diego Padres' system has its disadvantages – namely Khalil Greene. And perhaps it is why the depth at the position isn't strong. But Juan Ciriaco made a name for himself with a solid season in Lake Elsinore, showing off clutch hitting and a cannon arm.

Entering the year with a .274 career on base percentage, Juan Ciriaco was an afterthought – a plug that would fill the gap with the Storm.

By season's end, he was a leader that was heavily leaned on in times of need. It began with a .341 month of April and by the end of May he had amassed 34 RBI's in 38 games with 18 extra base hits.

His average took a dive in June before he leveled off, hitting .279 the rest of the way.

He made strides in every facet of his game. In 120 games, Ciriaco bested his two-year totals in runs scored, hits, doubles, homers, RBI's, walks and stolen bases. It was a transformation and coming of age.

"I tried to stay aggressive," Ciriaco said through a translator. "If I saw a pitch I liked, I swung at it."

A free swinger, his on base percentage ended up at .331 for the year, 54 points higher than his previous season-high.

"He came out of the Dominican program and put up some numbers with the bat," Bill Bryk, the Padres' minor league field coordinator, said. "I think he has a chance to be an everyday major league shortstop."

The 22-year old Dominican Republic native's biggest attribute was coming through in the clutch. While he hit .299 with runners in scoring position, 18 points higher than his average, it was his ability to come up with the game-winner that had Storm manager Rick Renteria smiling.

"He was our best clutch hitter all season," Renteria admitted.

And, perhaps ironically, it was Ciriaco who hit a pinch-hit grand slam when Khalil Greene was rehabbing up north in early May.

Ciriaco then went on to win a share of the Tony Gwynn MVP Award in the Instructional League, in recognition for his on-field production and off-field work ethic and leadership.

It capped an impressive season that saw him reshape and redefine his career, specifically at the plate.

He became a better contact hitter in 2005, cut down on his strikeouts to one every 5.55 at bats and doubled his walk output. He could use a little more patience at the plate as he would go first pitch swinging in the California League, something he corrected in the Instructional League.

The real concern for Ciriaco is his fielding. The shortstop paced the California League in errors with 45 and placed second in the entire minors to B.J. Upton in miscues in the field.

The sleek right-hander has above-average range but is prone to rushing his throws and not properly setting his feet.

"They are going to make mistakes and when you are a young player such as Juan – they have a tendency to miss a few more balls than what we like," roving infield instructor Tony Franklin said. "That is part of the learning process. Hopefully, next year, he will be better. If he can cut his errors down from 45 to maybe 20. And I still think that is too many.

"What I try and emphasize, and have always done with these kids, is we want to make the manager feel extremely comfortable, whether that is Rick Renteria or Bruce Bochy. When that ball is hit to you I want them to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this ball is going to be caught. You have to do that with basic fundamentals and quite a bit of concentration. They are young players so the emphasis is on catch the baseball, the routine baseball, every time it is hit to you. That is how you become a Major League player."

"Sure he is still making errors but so do shortstops in the bigs – that is glove stains," countered Bryk.

Forty-five, however, is a pattern. He made 44 the year before with Fort Wayne, an average of one every 19.8, innings which he improved upon this year to one every 23.8 innings.

Ciriaco is still maturing and growing stronger. He has the potential to hit 15 homers on a yearly basis with lots of doubles along with some triples. He has speed but is sub par on the basepaths and must refine that part of his game. He also is not an advanced as a bunter, something that would add an extra dimension to his game. His work at the plate earned him positive notice but he must now do it consistently before being crowned.

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