Name: Jack Cust
DOB: January 16, 1979
Jack Cust has been around the game for quite a long time. His career began in 1997 when the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the first round. By 2001, Cust was in the major leagues.
Since then, he has flirted with the majors, spending most of his time in Triple-A with various clubs. If we could only get a chance to see what he could do over a full season has been the thought process but never implemented.
The problem that many perceive is his lack of defensive skills in the outfield. A designated hitter. The boon would be his ability to get on base.
"I feel fine in the outfield," said Cust. "I've felt fine in the outfield the last (few) years, it is just a matter of getting someone who will let me go out there and play in the field."
"Obviously, he needs to improve defensively," said current bench coach and 2006 Portland manager Craig Colbert. "I think it is something he has to get better at and I think it is something he worked hard at this year and did get better at. There is still room for improvement. I would never say that everyone doesn't need to improve anymore. Jack's defense must improve to have a chance to play every day in the national league game."
San Diego envisioned his bat wreaking havoc in Triple-A and made a hard push to sign him as a six-year free agent a year ago. Cust believed that the Padres would allow him to be the type of hitter he has always been, patient with pop – a Sandy Alderson/Grady Fuson staple.
And he delivered for the Portland Beavers.
Cust led all of baseball this year with 143 free passes. Only Barry Bonds has had more in a full season over the past seven years. He backed that up with a .293 average, which included 30 jacks, 23 doubles, 77 RBI's and 97 runs scored.
He led the league in on base percentage at .467, was second in runs scored, second in homers and fifth in slugging percentage. For his minor league career, Cust has an on base percentage over .425.
"There is nothing wrong with being that disciplined," Portland hitting coach Jose Castro explained. "There are times when there are pitches he should be able to his because he is so strong but again he hit his 30 and hit .295 so what do you not like offensively? He did a great job. He has great strike zone awareness, power to all fields and has a good eye. He has a lot going for him. What he did – he had an outstanding year.
"He has a good bat, there is no question about that," added Colbert. "I have never seen a guy that is as patient as he is that can take pitches that look like they are hittable pitches. I think sometimes it might work the other way for him where he takes a pitch that he can be driving with guys in scoring position. He is so in tune with his knowledge of the strike zone that you can't fault him for that."
It is easy to see why teams continue to be eager to give him a chance. His success ultimately led to a spot on the 40-man roster and big league call up in September where he went 1-for-3 with a run scored and saw two innings of work in the outfield.
All the success has the Padres wanting to keep him close.
What we learned over the course of the season is that Jack Cust is good for the rest of the lineup. What that means is his patient approach at the dish, especially at the higher levels, has taught other players to look for their pitch to hit.
There is a reason Cust tallied a 28-game on base streak this past season with Portland and 38-game home on base streak.
Cust isn't ashamed of all the walks. His best attribute lays in his consistent approach. He waits for his pitch and if it isn't there he still winds up on first base. It is one of the reasons that a player with zero stolen bases on the season wound up second in runs scored.
There are those who have asked him to swing more often to up the RBI totals but that isn't his game and the left-handed swing that has been so sweet starts to have holes.
Cust remains a player that is awaiting his chance. Many believed it would come in the American League. Could it be the Padres are smitten with the New Jersey native? While that has yet to play itself out, Cust is a legitimate ballplayer who will give exactly what the initial prognosis was – patience and power. Just don't try and change his game.
"If you are one of those hitters that has that knowledge of the strike zone you are not going to swing at bad pitches," said Colbert. "You can learn the strike zone as you come up through the minor leagues and it is something that is very beneficial if you can but on the other side there are some guys that don't have that ability and it is tough to get that ability. Sometimes they don't stay aggressive enough to do that."
ETA: The Padres retained Cust on the 40-man roster because they feared losing him. Will that also mean a chance at a big league job – in the National League? It is conceivable but he may be the injury insurance policy they have on file, usable in an emergency only.