Eugene Emeralds 2006 Hitter of the Year

The Northwest League, and subsequently the Eugene Emeralds, has traditionally been a place where prospects in the San Diego Padres system bats go to die. This year, however, was different.

After hitting .252 as a team in 2001, the Eugene Emeralds squads from 2002 through 2005 never topped the .250 marker and twice notched averages of .238. One of those .238 years came in 2005. But this past season the Ems were inundated with more talent than ever in recent history and responded with a .256 batting average with two regulars topping .300 – two of just six in the entire league – and another hitting .286, which fell in the top ten. With three regulars registering an on base percentage over .400, the decision on the 2006 Eugene Emeralds Player of the Year was hotly contested. In the end, MadFriars.com chose Chad Huffman. "It was a great experience for my first time in pro ball," Huffman admitted.

Conniff Confidential: The two best teams in the Padres organization this year were Eugene and Arizona. Each short-season squad benefited from being stocked by not only a particularly strong draft, but also some very good free agents and draft-follows signings.

Third baseman David Freese, 23, and left fielder Chad Huffman were the two top hitters for the Ems. Since Freese's stay in Eugene was limited to 18 games, although it still gave him enough time to dismantle the Northwest League with a 1.241 OPS [.379/.465/.776], I gave it to Chad Huffman who was in the Northwest League for most of the year.

Huffman, 21, a former football/baseball star at Texas Christian University, tore up the Northwest League. A right-handed hitter, who hit righties [.331] nearly as well as he did lefties [.381], Huffman showed the power that the Padres believed him to have when they drafted him in the second round of this year's draft [.343/.439/.576]. Twenty-seven of his sixth-eight hits were for extra bases while demonstrating an impressive plate discipline, a BB/K ratio of 25/34.

He is a good athlete who played the infield in college and moved to left field in professional ball. He should begin the year in Fort Wayne.

Former Notre Dame first baseman Craig Cooper, a rare left-hander who bats from the right side, was another source of power for the Emeralds, putting together a very solid .320/.418/.485 opening professional campaign. Like Freese and Huffman, Cooper showed good plate discipline 32/44 in the BB/K ratio, but not quite as much power as Freese and Huffman. He should begin the year at Fort Wayne, but it is a long hard slog to the majors if you are limited just to first base, especially for a right-handed hitter.

First round selection Matt Antonelli, 21, had a good opening professional campaign. He demonstrated a very good ability to get on base with a .426 OBP, but a nagging hand injury seemed to affect his power [.360 slugging percentage]. Right now 9th round pick David Freese appears to be on the fast track at third base that the team envisioned for Antonelli. He should begin next year at Fort Wayne, but it could be at either third, second or the outfield.

The Savage File:

When looking at the success of a hitter sometimes it behooves one to look at the things no one else will touch. It was in that deep, dark corner that Huffman became the obvious choice.

For instance, Huffman was plunked 14 times during the year. Either pitchers hated him or were going to walk him anyway and why not get some satisfaction out of sending a fastball into his butt?

"I don't know what that is," Huffman said of getting hit by so many pitches.

It doesn't end there, although perhaps the facetious attitude does.

Huffman cracked seven sacrifice flies to lead the team. It may seem a tad silly but you always hear the phrase "productive outs". What could be more productive than a sac fly?

A converted infielder, Huffman made the transition to the outfield smoothly and it never affected his bat – he led the Northwest League in on base percentage, placed second in average and second in slugging percentage. That is a good mix. Then there was the .393 average in August – Huffman did it all.

Craig Cooper made things interesting with his .320 average, placing in the top five in the Northwest League in four different offensive categories. His elixir of patience and power is intriguing.

Matt Antonelli walked more than he struck out and had a consistent approach at the plate. He also thieved nine bases in ten attempts.

David Freese flexed his muscles with 26 RBI's in 18 games, including 13 extra base hits. He would have been a shoe-in had he kept that pace up – and not been moved to Fort Wayne.


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