AZL Padres 2006 Hitter of the Year

AZL Championship. Batting titles. Hitting streaks. On base streaks. And everything in between. As a whole, the Arizona Rookie League Padres hit .290 for the season. They led the league in hits, walks and runs scored. There simply was no shortage of impressive talent.

The easy pick here would have been Cedric Hunter. But it was tough to ignore the work Luis Durango put in from the leadoff position. For that reason we awarded a Co-Hitter of the Year for the first time this year, sharing the honors between Hunter and Durango.

The duo went 1-2 on top of the batting average leaderboard and were pivotal to the teams' success.

The Savage File:

With an Arizona Rookie League MVP and Padres Instructional League MVP tucked neatly into his backpocket, Cedric Hunter did it all in his first year of professional ball.

A left-handed hitter, Hunter never tried to do more with the ball than was given. If it meant going the other way with the ball he would meet that objective. If it meant taking extra pitches that was in his game too. There wasn't anyone better at recognizing what pitch he could handle and doing what he had to with it.

It wasn't until Hunter saw action in game number 49 that he did not successfully reach base at least once. His per game average of reaching base was an astounding 2.29 times per contest. And he didn't lead the league in on base percentage. His teammate did.

What you may not know is Luis Durango has now led his respective league in hitting two straight years. His success in the Dominican Summer League was no fluke and he carried that stateside, creating havoc at the top of the lineup.

Durango clipped Hunter by three percentage points in the on base percentage column and six points in average. The switch hitter worked things a little differently than his Co-Hitter.

An expert bunter, Durango showed flashes of Ichiro, slapping the ball past the drawn in third baseman. His strike zone savvyness and awareness on the field allowed him to hit the gaps the fielders gave him. It led to Durango reaching base twice a game and his 15-game hitting streak was second in the league to Hunter's 23-gamer.

We would be fools not to mention the contributions of Rayner Contreras. The second basemen did his damage with men on base and lead the league in RBI's. He hit an astronomic .427 with runners in scoring position.

Also, if it wasn't for heat exhaustion Jeremy Hunt would have been in the mix for the hitter of the year. This kid hit .444 during the month of July and despite a .194 August he still managed to bat .323 for the season.

Conniff Confidential:

When you hit .371/.467/.484, reach base safely in your first 48 games, and can play all three outfield positions're a pretty good player. Throw in the fact that Hunter will turn 19 on March 10, and the Padres have a top prospect as well.

Hunter was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft out of King High School in Decatur, Georgia. While not a home run threat, he does have solid gap power leading the AZL Padres in doubles (13) and triples (4). The Padres didn't feel the need to rush Hunter and kept him at the same level for the whole season, as they do with nearly all non-college prospects, before briefly sending him up to Eugene at the end of the year.

Last year, two of the Padres' position prospects jumped from the Arizona League to the Midwest [Fort Wayne], Kyle Banks and Javis Diaz with success. There is no reason to expect that Hunter shouldn't follow the trend, patrolling centerfield for the Wizards in 2007. Barring injury, he is simply too valuable not to be playing in a full season league next year.

The Arizona League Champions had quite a few top players, but when you have a team average of .290 that tends to be the case.

One of the brighter stars was switch-hitting outfielder Luis Durango, 20, in many ways resembles last year's star Javis Diaz, a speedy leadoff man who can steal bases and hit some balls into the gap [.448 slugging percentage]. The Panamanian native had a great BB/K ratio of 23/16 and a very good OBP of .470 [the best on the team among the regulars], but needs to slightly improve his success rate with stolen bases, being thrown out six out of 23 attempts [an 80% success rate is considered good].

Unlike other switch-hitters who tend to be much stronger from the left side, Durango hit better from the right side [.385] than from the left [.344]. During the year, Durango put up some ridiculous numbers hitting .643 with runners in scoring position and two outs and a more "pedestrian" .405 with runners in scoring position. Depending on the direction the Padres put Chad Huffman, Durango may get an opportunity to join Hunter in Fort Wayne for 2007.

Switch-hitting third baseman Felix Carrasco may have the highest ceiling of any prospect, and at times he showed it, hitting .293/.364/.446 in July but slumping to .208/.300/.340 in August. A .791 fielding percentage also raises some questions if he will be able to stay at third base.

Late round pick first baseman Jeremy Hunt, 22, out of Villanova hit well .323/.423/.500, but got stuck behind Craig Cooper in Eugene and played most of the season in Arizona. The Tampa native led the Big East Conference in home runs (15) and slugging percentage (.743) while batting .385 with 56 RBIs. Hunt, a former college pitcher, at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds has good size and power and may get some opportunities in the outfield to provide him with some other options besides first base.

Arizona League Padres Co-Hitters of the Year: Luis Durango and Cedric Hunter

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