Lake Elsinore Storm 2006 Hitter of the Year

Finding a hitter in Lake Elsinore was equal to finding one in the New York Yankees lineup – there were plenty to choose from. Four players hit over .290 and each of the four posted an on base percentage above .385.

When senior writers Denis Savage, John Conniff and David Jay compared notes it became clear that one stood out above the rest. Chase Headley secured Lake Elsinore Batter of the Year honors.

"It is a real honor," Headley said. "I think we had some pretty good hitters in our system and in Lake Elsinore. Tim Brown is a name that comes up. He had a very good year, obviously, hitting right around .300 and having a really high on base percentage. Even to be thought of for the award is a real honor because we had some pretty good hitters. Peter Ciofrone had a great season as well."

The Savage File:

What swayed me more than anything else was the progression of Headley from the start of the year to the end. He started off slow after essentially skipping a league (he played in four games with Fort Wayne last year) but picked up his game as the season wore on. Not only did his hits increase, he also displayed the patience at the plate that defined his college career.

In a touch of irony, the Padres were considering heaving his left-handed stroke and making him a permanent right-handed hitter. Boy are they glad that was just something talked about and not implemented. Headley tore the cover off right-handed pitching and actually struggled off southpaws – the only area of his game that wasn't consistent.

He ended the year with hits in 17 of his last 18 games and was invited to the Arizona Fall League, a testament to the Padres belief in his abilities.

Combining a great makeup with a hard work ethic, Headley is looking to add more muscle to his frame this off-season with an eye on increasing his power numbers. Given his sure-hands on the field, it may just be a matter of time before he is in the bigs.

Not far behind Headley in the most tightly contested race were Peter Ciofrone, Tim Brown, and Josh Howard. Ciofrone is a professional hitter in a similar mold to Paul McAnulty. He may not have the same power but drives the ball with authority and is a clutch performer. Brown combines patience and a slick stroke that is conducive to doubles. His goal is to seek out the long ball a few more times next year. Howard just got on base. A catalyst for the offense, he scored 50 times in 66 games.

Conniff Confidential:

Chase Headley was the best prospect and player at Lake Elsinore this year. The switch-hitting third baseman led the team in hits and was in the top three in nearly every other offensive category with the Storm, finishing second in OPS at .823. More importantly Headley had a fielding percentage of .945 at third base, the toughest position to play defensively in the whole system because of the sun-baked field of the Diamond.

The Padres took a minor gamble and promoted Headley from Eugene [he was briefly in Fort Wayne at the end of last year] to Lake Elsinore. He struggled at the beginning of the year [.238 in April], but was the most consistent member of the Storm for the remainder of the season.

There has been a lot of hype about him, and deservedly so, but there are still a few questions, such as will be able to hit for enough power for the position, can he hit left-handed pitching, is he a better third base prospect than Fort Wayne's David Freese and most importantly will be able to hit in Double-A, which is the toughest test for minor league hitters before the majors?

Next year in San Antonio, quite a few of these questions may be answered, but so far you can‘t help but be excited for what the answers may be.

First baseman Tim Brown was another one of the refugees from the Independent Leagues that the Padres took a chance on that paid off. Brown hit .299/.427/.460, hitting .311 with runners on base to lead the Storm in RBI's. He had a nice year, but at 23 the left-handed Brown in going to have to hit for a lot more power to have a shot at the big leagues as a first baseman.

Left fielder Peter Ciofrone produced a solid campaign, .292/.396/.426 but doesn't hit for enough power to be an outfielder. It was his first year in the outfield after moving aside for more nimble second basemen, such as Storm second baseman Sean Kazmar .250/.327/.376. Ciofrone watched his average plummet from .329 on July 30 to .292 at the end of the year, while Kazmar, as he did last year in Fort Wayne, provided a teaser of how good he can be by leading the Storm in August RBI's and tying for second in extra base hits with nine that month.

Jay's Journal:

When Grady Fuson came on board in 2005, he worked hard to drive his vision of plate discipline throughout the organization, including the scouting department. When Billy Merkel saw Chase Headley become the all-time walks leader at the University of Tennessee, he recognized the switch-hitter's smart approach as a perfect match.

With no significant prospects ahead of him, the Padres went aggressive with Headley, pushing him up to the California League to begin his first full professional season. After a slow start in April, Headley rolled for the rest of the year, finishing second on the club in average, doubles and home runs.

Headley will have to improve from the right side of the plate, where his average was nearly 100 points below his numbers as a lefty, but his strong work ethic and off-the-charts makeup should help him out-perform players with bigger raw skill sets at every level, including the big leagues.

While Headley stands out as an overall prospect, in many ways the most impressive offensive season for the Storm was turned in by Tim Brown. After not making it out of Low-A in four years with the Pirates, the big lefty spent last season in the Independent Frontier League where super-scout Mal Fitchman spotted him and brought him into a tryout camp. The 23-year-old came on to lead Elsinore in average, doubles, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Not bad for a one dollar investment!

Still young enough to be considered a prospect, Brown will take his bat and reliable glove up to Double-A next year and try to become yet another success story for the Padres' Independent League salvage program.

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