Fort Wayne Wizards 2006 Hitter of the Year

Filled to the brim with young talent, the Fort Wayne Wizards offense was the perfect cup of coffee to save the day. No disrespect to any of the other applicants – this was a unanimous decision by TKO.

Will Venable was far and away the best hitter to suit up this year for the Fort Wayne Wizards.

Conniff Confidential:

Going into this season, Will Venable would not have been a pre-season selection to have the type of year that he did. Venable, a Princeton graduate who was better known as a basketball player in college, was a 7th round selection by the Padres in the 2005 draft, which was fairly high for a basketball player.

Still, with a father who coaches in the system, the Padres took a flyer on the type of player that you aren't supposed to in the draft, a "toolsy", but raw college player.

Venable hit well in the rookie Arizona League, but struggled when called up to Eugene, hitting .216/.295/.324. After a full year of Instructional Leagues and concentrating only on baseball for the first time in his career, he came back to be one of the top players in the Midwest League this year, finishing second in the league in batting average [.314], RBIs [91] and fourth in doubles [34] and total bases [225].

Venable showed good control of the strike zone a BB/K ratio [55/81] but is going to need to hit for a little more power and show that he can play CF to have a real shot a pro career. The chances of him doing this are good. He's an excellent athlete that needs to improve his arm strength and five of his 11 home runs came in August, showing that he was starting to recognize the pitches that he could drive. He easily made the most progress of any Padres' farmhand in 2006.

Folk legend "Gigantor" a.k.a. Kyle Blanks made a big jump from the Arizona League to Fort Wayne, bypassing Eugene and had a nice year. Blanks hit .292/.382/.455, which, for a 19-year-old, is an extremely good year. Just ask Matt Bush. A solid defender with good strike zone discipline, Blanks is another hitter who is going to have to hit with a little more power to handle the power requirements for first base and also get in a little better shape.

Third baseman David Freese and outfielder Nic Crosta were both big parts of the team, albeit briefly. Crosta was promoted to Lake Elsinore in early June and Freese arrived from the University of South Alabama and Eugene in early July. Both gave the Wizards some big time right-handed power [Crosta a .617 and Freese a .510 slugging percentages to lead the team].

Second baseman Seth Johnston [.275/.329/.413] finished fifth in the league with doubles [33], but needs to become more consistent after hitting .351 and .304 in April and July but slumping to .196 and .217 in May and August.

Mike Sansoe emerged as a solid leadoff man and quality defensive centerfielder this year, leading the team in stolen bases with 21 and posting a solid OBP of .381. His strikeouts were a little high [54 in 276 at-bats with 37 walks] and he's going to have to hit with a little more pop [17 extra-base hits] and draw a few more walks, but it was an impressive year.

Jay's Journal:

It's amazing what happens when you let a natural athlete with a strong grasp of the game's intangibles actually focus on baseball for a full year!

After amassing just 317 at-bats in three years at Princeton thanks largely to his impressive basketball skills, Will Venable became the Padres' seventh-round selection in 2005.

After an impressive showing at instructs last fall and a great spring camp, the 23-year-old earned a chance to head out to the Midwest League to work with his dad as hitting coach. All the younger Venable did there was rank among the league's top five in a slew of offensive categories, including a second-best .314 average. Just for good measure, he swiped 18 bases in 23 attempts.

Although he was relatively old for the league, Venable's ceiling is still well above his impressive production from this year. He'll head to Hawaii this offseason and should not have to spend the entire year at Elsinore next year.

While Venable was consistent throughout the year, Nic Crosta was dominant before his promotion to Elsinore. The big righty, who signed a contract with no guarantees after twice turning down significant signing bonuses when Grady Fuson took him for the A's and Rangers, demolished Midwest League pitching before moving up in May. And, although an ankle infection sidelined him for the last six weeks of the season, 19-year-old Kyle Blanks remained a daunting threat in the middle of the Wizards' lineup. He and fellow first baseman Daryl Jones will continue to move up together next year and represent two of the better power prospects in the system.

The Savage Files

You always wonder how long it will take for a player with tools to develop. Sometimes it takes longer. Not this time.

Will Venable hit early, hit late, and hit often. It wasn't that he used just one tool as the season progressed – he used them all. Perhaps he was old for the league but when you put it together so completely it really doesn't matter.

And it wasn't just that he hit. He continually got better. He took lessons and put them into application. If they asked for more patience, Venable delivered. When it finally became clear that he was comfortable, the doubles started turning into homers.

Second in the league in hitting, second in RBI's and runs scored, third in hits, fourth in doubles and fourth in on base percentage. It was a good season. He is only getting better.

Kyle Blanks performed well in his first year of full season ball before an injury derailed his year. Nic Crosta smashed the ball during his short stay in the Midwest League. David Freese delivered clutch hits – same as he did in Eugene. Mike Sansoe may have been the team's MVP down the stretch.

Fort Wayne Hitter of the Year: Will Venable

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