Comeback Player of the Year

Each year, prospects come from the pits of prospect society to the glamor of prospect lore - a place many of them once held. And this season is no different as several prospects have been revitalized in 2006, showing why they were thought of so highly in the past.

1) Luis Cruz

Banished to the Mexican League last season because he was beyond innefective in Double-A, Cruz has re-established himself as one of the top prospects in the system. When you are loaned to Mexico, something just isn't going right, even if the Padres have a deal with the team down south. Cruz has used that knowledge to fuel his performance this season.

His rollercoaster ride began when he performed admirably in Lake Elsinore as a 20-year old and he is back on the map this year with a Southern League All-Star bid and a Futures Game invite.

Among the best fielders in the system, Cruz has flashed a mighty bat in Double-A, with extra base hits a common occurrence. He has struggled down the stretch but it is more mental at this stage than it is physical. Cruz has the makings of a big leaguer.

2) Daryl Jones

A sub-200 hitter last year for Eugene, he has been impressive since becoming a Buc's Bomber, named after roving hitting instructor Rob Deer. Jones pointed to eye trouble last season for his demise and it appears to be accurate based on his ability to catch a ball at first base and hit with regularity.

Jones remains raw but has benefitted from playing in a rotation in Fort Wayne, seeing time at first and at designated hitter to stay fresh. With his eye trouble behind him, the slugger has faced bouts of inconsistency, expected at his age and the level he is playing at.

Continued at bats will ensure his future stays bright and the glimpse we have seen this season is but a taste of what to expect in the future.

3) John Hudgins Hudgins was saved when the Padres acquired him in May from the Texas Rangers. He had posted a 6.38 ERA in Triple-A for Oklahoma before joining the Double-A Mobile BayBears.

Once in Mobile, Hudgins was asked to alter his approach from what Texas asked him to do. While the Rangers stress throwing hard, Hudgins' stuff was tailored to mixing speeds and spotting pitches. He lost some of that accuracy within the strike zone while in the Rangers' system but enjoyed a rejuvenation with the Padres.

Hudgins allowed two earned runs or less in all but two of his 11 starts before being sidelined with a strained right elbow for the rest of the year. With a renewed approach, the Padres expect they will see more of the pitcher in late May, June and July than the pitcher from April.

4) Jon Knott

Myriad in obscurity after a down season, Knott has flashed the mighty bat of a first round pick, despite his undrafted status. The year before he had made his major league debut and being sent down affected him adversely.

This year, it began slow - but no one had been hotter over the last two months and he is knocking in runs with every blink of the eye. Considered old to be in the minors is one of the battles he will fight at every turn and it was quite a shock that he did not draw more interest from an American League club down the stretch.

5) Ryan Klatt

He came back from Tommy John surgery last season but the rigors of relief work caught up with him and scrambled his mind. He took runs allowed especially tough and had a hard time focusing on the mound. This year, the right-hander has trusted in his stuff and anchored the eighth inning bridge to the closer quite effectively in the California League.

His two stints in Double-A weren't inspired but the challenge is something he relishes in and should get soon enough. Klatt has a solid repertoire and a knack for attacking hitters. That quality and his attitude on the mound, as long as it is suppressed from going out of control, will serve him well.

6) Tim Brown

He was in Independent League ball last season but he skipped over Kyle Blanks and the aforementioned Jones to get the first baseman nod with the Storm. While he had a decent start, it is the recent surge that has shown his true potential.

Brown is capable of hitting the long ball but his strength is in his ability to hit the gaps, hit for average, and draw some walks.

The change between this season and his first stint of professional ball with the Pirates is his approach - or, more precisely, the Padres approach with him. The Pirates wanted to see a power hitter and his swing became long and inconsistent. The Padres, meanwhile, asked him to be himself and have reaped the rewards.

Incidentally, Evan Meek would have topped the list. Here was the report on Meek, a Tampa Bay prospect now:

Evan Meek

The right-hander was out of baseball last year after being released by the Minnesota Twins and this year he is the envy of scouts around the globe. Early in the Lake Elsinore season, scouts would boldly ask "who is this guy?" They didn't like the answer they heard from the Padres - a street free agent signed for nothing.

Given the amount of walks he came from, averaging two per inning, Meek has looked incredible. When he is in the strike zone, he is near un-hittable. The tutoring will continue for the hard-throwing righty and many in the system believe he will continue to rise to the occasion.


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