Scouting Padres Prospect: Matt Bush

The number one overall pick in 2004 will always be under intense scrutiny. Some of it will be warranted and some will not. But that is the position he finds himself in as a high profile selection. His year in Fort Wayne had bright spots but a few too many lows, particularly on the hitting side.

Two years into his professional career, Matt Bush is already feeling the heat from pundits. But a .216 average over his first 155 games will start the derogatory comments.

Bush played for the Wizards in the Midwest League at the age of 19. After netting 29 games last year between two leagues after being drafted, the shortstop logged 126 games this year. He hit .221 with 13 doubles, three triples, two homers and 32 RBI's batting eighth for most of the year.

On July 14, Bush had a .250 average – his highest of the year. Unfortunately, he would not touch that average again as he would hit .167 the rest of the year.

That points to the stamina alluded to earlier. His start wasn't terrible but the finish left a lot to be desired.

Another area that became a strain was his work with runners in scoring position. He hit nearly 100 points lower with RISP (.129) than his season average, netting just 18 hits in 140 at bats in such situations.

Bush would be the first to say he lacked confidence at times and sometimes had trouble dealing with the mental blows of failure – especially when high school offered nothing but success.

"A lot of his struggles this year is because of his age and the league that he played in," roving hitting instructor Rob Deer said. "He's like a lot of high school kids, they'll come in and see A-Rod or Bonds and they will want to emulate them. Matty thought that he was more of a power guy and had more of a long swing. I tried to install in him that someday you might be a 15, 20, 25 homerun guy, but right now you have to get on base. So we tried to shorten him up. He had his hands up real high, and we made an adjustment in the Instructional League and it was like day and night."

What he tried to do with varying degrees of success was keep his swing simple and just try to get good wood on the ball. At times he does get a loop in his swing, trying to crush the ball out of the park. But his power will come in time and it won't be the result of an uneven swing.

The shortstop also had to get used to maintaining his weight through the season. That meant different eating habits and became a mental chore to fulfill. At 19, he will grow into his body and begin to see the results – but the pressure mounts after being selected first overall.

His defense is much debated. Slice it, dice it, anyway you look at it – errors drive the thinking behind his defensive prowess. And his 38 follies led the Midwest League and were fifth worst in the minors.

While no one questions his arm – he was an above average pitcher in high school with a mid-nineties fastball – his ability to corral the ball at shortstop is a topic of contention. Blessed with far reaching range and quick feet, Bush lacked some of the fundamentals and would find himself off-balance.

Roving infield instructor Tony Franklin was pleased, however, with his progress.

"I like Bush," Franklin began. "I like Bushie a lot. I really do. There is no one in this game right now that can throw as well as he can throw. There is no question about that. At 19, he has made tremendous progress. The errors may not indicate that but that is ok to some degree and the reason I say that is because he has made progress mechanically, fundamentally, with his awareness of what it takes to play the game of which he was not really informed.

"They can hear a lot about the game but until they can experience what this game is all about they have no idea. Bushie admitted it to me. He said, ‘I thought I knew a lot about baseball. I had to start all over.' I am very happy with Matt. He is going to be a very good player. He was an all-star shortstop this year. That says a lot. I thought that Matt would have a tough time at 19 in that league because it is a pretty good league. He held his own and I am pleased with what he has done."

The infield instructor clearly knows best and many echoed his sentiments through the year, hailing Bush as a solid defender. The errors are a cause for pause and until that number decrease he will never be known as the above average defender others claim he is.

The grace period for Bush is short because of his draft status but long because of his age – a veritable catch-22. There is a lot of room for improvement in every facet of his game.

The Padres may be feeling the heat as well. They want to look good to the rest of baseball and may push Bush along at a brisker pace than another player who showed the same credentials. That may not be a wise decision in the end. Ben Johnson came around but Bush hasn't shown that he can and may be best served repeating the Midwest League. The one positive about moving him up to Lake Elsinore is it is known as a hitter's paradise and could give the young shortstop confidence. It is another touchy subject and one that will play out soon enough.

"We are not going to give it to him (he) has to earn it," Bill Bryk, the Padres' minor league field coordinator, offered.


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