This year it came down to third baseman David Freese or outfielder Nic Crosta for the best player at two levels, and I gave the edge to Freese. Between Eugene and Fort Wayne Freese hit .317/.395/.569 with 47 extra base hits, played a solid third base defensively [he had a .963 fielding percentage in 53 games in the Midwest League] and may have answered the Padres desire for a power hitting right handed third baseman.
What is interesting is Freese is doing what first round pick Matt Antonelli was supposed to do, but didn't, be a right-hand hitting third base option. Freese, the 9th round draft pick out of South Alabama as a fifth-year senior was the Sun Belt Player of the year in 2006, mashing to a rate of a .414/.503/.661 in the Sun Belt Conference. He walked more times than he struck out [34/27] and knocked in 73 runs which was good enough for second on the all time Jaguar leaders list, surpassed only by Arizona Diamondback Luis Gonzalez.
So why wasn't Freese selected higher than the 9th round? First at 23 he is considered old for a prospect and advancing all the way to the Midwest League this year was huge for him. Second, may scouts were unsure if he could stay at 3b, which comes along with a collegiate .922 fielding percentage. However, so far he appears that he can handle the position with a good fielding average and a strong arm [Freeze even pitched in relief for the Jaguars this year going 2-0 with a 4.37 ERA in 22.2 innings pitched. Although with the opposition hitting .295 against him so he probably won't be returning to the mound soon].
This year he accomplished two things, proved that he could hit for average and power at the lower levels of professional baseball and that he is a better defensive player than he was given credit for. Freese will start next year at Lake Elsinore and because of his age and the lack of a big time prospect at third base in Portland [I know, I may finally be off the Brett Bonevechio bandwagon], there is a possibility, if Chase Headley performs well at San Antonio, the Padres could move him up to the Texas League with Headley going to Portland.
There is a possibility that the Padres could go into 2008 with two legitimate third base prospects, but that is a big speculative jump right now.
As has been discussed in many of these season-end player of the year summaries the Padres have been very successful in scouring the Independent Leagues, picking up other organizational castoffs and signing minor league free agents. If we gave an award for the best pick up, it would be Nick Crosta.
After a checkered college career at the University of Texas and Santa Clara University, Crosta was signed by the Padres in the off-season. Despite playing only a half-season his senior year at Santa Clara because of personal reasons, Crosta, 23, didn't appear to have much rust, he tore up the Midwest League. In Fort Wayne Crosta hit .382/.490/.667, hitting .476 with runners in scoring position.
Crosta's stats took a surprising dive when he went to Lake Elsinore, hitting .267/.342/.438. He still hit with good power, but had a little more problem controlling the strike zone with a BB/K ratio of 29/71. Crosta is a decent player defensively and can play either corner and how well he does at AA will allow us to find out if he's a pro prospect. He plays a tougher position to advance than Freese and his bat is going to have to be the tool that will carry him to the pros.
The Savage File:
As John so eloquently put before me, this was a two horse race between Crosta and Freese. Each dominated the first league they saw and had success in the subsequent higher level league.
In the end, David Freese edged ahead to win by a nose.
Now easily viewed as the steal of the draft, Freese ran hot for most of the season. He demolished Northwest League pitching, recording eight multi-RBI games over 18 contests with the Eugene Emeralds and hit a robust .478 with runners in scoring position. Three weeks into the season he was promoted to the Fort Wayne Wizards.
The fire of Freese continued over his first month, as he hit .344 with 12 extra base hits before he cooled for the first time all year. While he hit .263 the rest of the way he still wound up with 70 RBI's in 71 games played and no one provided as many clutch hits over the course of the season for two squads.
He works the count well and is never afraid to go after a pitch he believes he can hit. Oftentimes, Freese gets the fat part of the bat on the ball and drives it into the gaps or over the wall. His addition to Fort Wayne was a driving force behind their success late in the year.
After a successful spring training, Crosta had a hit in 30 of his last 35 games for the Wizards, including 14 of his last 15, before his promotion with 20 extra base hits in 37 total games played. He hit well in every situation and worked the count in his favor to crush the ball. His success merited the promotion to Lake Elsinore for the remainder of the season.
Where Crosta differed with Freese came to the forefront with the Storm. He has a natural lift to his swing and would pop up a lot of balls where the Padres would like to see him hit the top of the ball to pound it down, believing they can squeeze a few more hits out of their players if they keep it on the ground. So he spent a majority of the year in Elsinore working on his swing after letting his given talent propel him through the Midwest League. That led to some inconsistency as he worked on becoming comfortable with the changes.
"When I got to Lake Elsinore they let me swing my way for a couple of weeks and I had some success but it is more, as I was informed, about me making adjustments that are going to allow me to hit at the big league level and ultimately that is where you are trying to go," Crosta explained. "It is great to hit .400 in Fort Wayne but I want to hit .300 in the big leagues. I have been making adjustments all season."
In the end, Crosta still had a great year with 74 RBI's and 52 extra base hits. It was hard to match the production of Freese.
2006 Tweener Hitter of the Year: David Freese