Name: Matt Bush
DOB: February 8, 1986
It was a lost season for the San Diego Padres number one overall pick in 2004.
After being targeted for Lake Elsinore with the hopes of boosting his confidence and giving him a more prominent hitter's league to advance his bat, Matt Bush suffered a broken leg during spring training, shelving him for a little over two months of the regular season.
Bush returned to Fort Wayne, yes Fort Wayne, on June 22 and after going 0-for-7 to open the year he rattled off a six game hitting streak with six runs scored and four RBI's. He would tally two runs scored and three RBI's over his final 11 games, losing ten games to a hamstring injury before coming back for two games and re-injuring the hamstring.
Bush would appear in one game for the AZL Padres as he attempted to come back before hurting his other hamstring. With a total of 21 games played, Bush's season was a lost year of development.
"It was a short time, but I think what he went through in spring training missing all that time I thought that I saw his approach and the way he went about it with a sense of urgency," 2006 Fort Wayne hitting coach Max Venable said. "He wanted to show that he could still play even though he missed all that time."
This was supposed to be the year he appeared on the map and began to validate his selection. That clearly didn't happen.
Bush did return to the field with an attitude, perhaps it was all the injuries he suffered, or the doubters tailing his minor league career. Unfortunately, the data present wasn't enough to say his .268 average was a product of a renewed effort to rework his swing.
The problem has always been Bush's approach to the ball. He had developed a poor swing where his bat would not be kept through the hitting plane and it would result in chopping the ball one day and adding lift the next – failing to find the balance and making it more difficult to square the ball.
Bush gets long to the ball instead of using a quick stroke the Padres have tried to instill in him, hoping he learns to hit singles and the power will come with time. He still holds his hands up high and that means a longer trigger to get to the ball.
He hasn't been particularly selective and will dive out over the plate to chase the ball low and away.
But three years into his minor league career, the heat is on. He has a .221 average in the minors, hasn't shown much power, and has a lot to prove – but is still only 21.
"There were improvements in his maturity, his field presence," added Venable. "It wasn't a whole lot of time to evaluate but that is what I saw."
Everyone knows he has a heck of an arm. There is no debate there. He is also an excellent defender with great range. He has smooth hands but his footwork and balance need to improve.
While his transfer from glove to hand is swift, his feet often aren't set when he throws, resulting in less then stellar results. With his rifle, Bush can afford to take his time and not rush through the fundamentals.
"I had Matt Bush up the middle with me, which helped me out a lot," second baseman Sean Kazmar said of playing with him in 2005. "[He] made me feel a lot more comfortable over there because we have such similar playing styles. He made it a lot easier on me and made me feel a lot more comfortable about myself over at second."
Bush has some speed and good first step quickness but is not well versed in diagnosing a pitcher's move. He gets caught on late jumps and not moving on the first move towards the plate.
Bush made it out to the Instructional League, with an eye on receiving plenty of at bats, but lost another week to injury and only received 30 at bats. He did make some progress there and may be penciled in at Fort Wayne again to begin this year.
"We are not going to give it to him, (he) has to earn it," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said of earning a spot on the Lake Elsinore club out of spring training.
ETA: The grace period for Bush to perform is almost over. Simply put, he has to hit or next year (or sooner) we might be looking at a pitcher. He wants to be a hitter and believes he can be one but the truth is he also needs to grow up. The game of baseball requires constant work and there are some who believe he is skating by on a big bonus. He needs to make a statement – and now.
The first such statement already occurred with Bush coming into camp 15 pounds heavier than last season and in solid shape. If his mental maturity catches up he might have a chance.