Padres' Position Players of the Month - May

The month of May has come and gone but the remnants of successful hitters has lingered. In each leg of the Padres' minor league system, a player, and even two, has carried the torch and put together a solid month.

Portland Beavers
Jack Cust
Left Field
261/.500/.441

The Padres signed Cust, 27, a nine-year veteran of the minor leagues from the Oakland A's organization in the off-season. Cust, a left-handed hitter, has always been a darling of various minor league stat heads because of his ability to draw walks and hit for extra bases, regardless of how many times he strikes out. Unfortunately, an indifference to playing defense and serious questions about how well this approach could and has worked in the majors has evolved Cust into the quintessential "4-A" player - despite a .292 lifetime batting average in the minors and a .520 slugging percentage.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus stated on Cust, "He can't play defense. At first base he's a lawn ornament, in the outfield he's worse. He may have some use in the American League as a DH, but even there you tend to want guys that can play other positions. In the big leagues he's going to get challenged more, and he's already had two or three looks."

Although our friends at the Unofficial Portland Beavers Web Page, had an alternative perspective:

http://www.pdxbeavers.com/commentary/index.php?id=85

Others of note: After being written off in this column last month, Jon Knott returned with a vengeance in May. Knott hit .268/.608/.321 with ten home runs and 24 RBIs to move into a tie for fourth in the PCL with 13 home runs. Despite a strong month, Knott is still going to need a break to get another opportunity with the Padres, who are not sold on his ability to play either first base or left field at the next level.

Disappointments: After a huge month in April Justin Leone, 29, plummeted back to earth, as his average dove to .211/.337/.296 from 386/.469/.723 in April.

Prospect Watch: Both Ben Johnson, 25, and Paul McAnulty, 25, spent time with the Padres in May. Johnson was sent down because the team wanted to get him more at-bats but also more playing time, particularly in center field, which was also one of the reasons behind the trade of Freddy Guzman. After returning to Portland in mid-May Johnson hit .348/.674/.448, with four home runs in 13 games. Johnson will be back with the Padres later this year, or at the latest in 2007, but this time as an everyday player. He just has too much talent not to be in the lineup.

Mobile BayBears

Luis Cruz
Second Base
.316/.553/.350

Catcher George Kottaras, 23, had a good month, but second baseman/shortstop/third baseman Luis Cruz, 22, had the best month of his career, with a team leading four home runs and 22 RBIs. Cruz had a tough April and an even worse 2005, which saw him get shipped from Mobile to the Mexico City Red Devils. He has re-emerged as a legitimate infield prospect with his bat, but his defense (five errors in May, 9 overall) is going to have to tighten up.

Disappointments: Steve Baker, 26, with the addition of Steve Smitherman, 27, Vince Sinsi, 24 and Joey Gomes, 26, may be the next in line to be released with overall numbers of .234/.313./.313, which aren't going to cut it for an older corner outfielder.

Prospect Watch: Kottaras had his second strong month hitting .322/.467/.440. Some of Kottaras' detractors have been noting that his strikeouts have gone up, which is true, but his numbers are still impressive. He has struck out 21 times in 25 May games, he also walked 18 times to go along with 29 hits.

Throw in the fact that he is second in the Southern League in OPS, and we'll go out on a limb and state that the focus on the increased strikeouts are a little overblown.

What the Padres are looking for now in Kottaras is more of an improvement in the intangibles of catching, calling a better game, recognizing different game situations and having more of take charge attitude, which may be more of a challenge for someone with the laid back personality of George.

Kennard Jones, 24 showed improvement from April in Mobile hitting .292/.344/.415 in May. It is no surprise that Jones earned the promotion with the trade of Guzman, but he has to become more of a threat on the basepaths (in four steal attempts he was caught three times).

If you can get past the strikeouts with third baseman Brett Bonvechio, 23, (21 Ks in 19 games) he had an OPS of .870 this month and cut his errors down from seven to four, although he did miss some time.

And as a final note, BayBear pitcher/Madfriars correspondent Sean Thompson 23, posted a .375 average for May, begging the question why isn‘t Gary Jones asking him to pinch-hit?

Lake Elsinore Storm

Tim Brown
First Base
.344/.527/.474

Still another player who rebounded from a tough first month to lead the Storm with a 1.001 OPS for May. Brown, 23, was signed out of the Independent Leagues by the Padres in the off-season after previously being with the Pirates system. At 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, Brown is a big left-handed hitter who could become a force, but again Double-A is a big test.

Prospect Watch: One of the most promising developments within the Padres organization in May is the performance of switch-hitting third baseman Chase Headley. Headley rebounded from an April that saw him hit .238/.321/.337, to a May of .303/.505/.386. In addition, he's also made only five errors on one of the toughest infields in the minors. Right now his big weakness is getting at-bats from the right side, where he is only hitting .211.

Disappointments: After starting out with a blaze in the first three weeks in April, catcher Colt Morton, 24, saw his average go from .367 on April 20 to .259 on May 3 before going on the disabled list. Morton's always been a very streaky player, but he's going to have to start putting together consecutive good months to convince the Padres he is ready for the next level.

Fort Wayne Wizards

Nic Crosta
Left Field
.400/.640/.510

The best month of anyone in the organization. Crosta, 23, is another player that Grady Fuson had been trying to acquire for years with the A's and the Rangers, but finally succeeded with the Padres. At 6-foot-1, 215-pounds, he is another one of the increasing trend of physically big farmhands who can hit for power and average that is beginning to populate the system.

Look for Crosta to be one of the first of the top prospects sent up to Lake Elsinore after the draft because of his performance and age.

Prospect Watch: There are more potential prospects in Fort Wayne, Kyle Blanks, Daryl Jones, Will Venable and Nick Hundley, than at any other level within the organization, and few others that are on the cusp. The brightest still has to be Kyle Blanks, 19, who continues to bash the ball at a .328/.448/.423 clip. It would be nice to see a little more power from Blanks, but to do what he is doing at 19 in the Midwest League, where he is in the top five in OPS, is impressive.

"I love Kyle Blanks, he is so big and athletic, but he's very raw," said Goldstein. "It's going to take a little while for more power to come as he begins to recognize what pitches he can turn on and pull."

Catcher Nick Hundley, 22, had started to pick at .259/.414/.397 before going on the DL.

Disappointments: After hitting .351 in April, Seth Johnston, 23, saw his average plummet to .196 in May. He still finished third on the team in RBIs for the month with 12, but a .196/.284/.272 line isn't going to move you up the ladder. Johnston also had five errors at second base and has been moved to third base.

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