Eugene Emeralds Player of the Year

The San Diego Padres Northwest League affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds, is usually the first place where we see the top picks of this year's draft who cram 76 games into three months after long college seasons. They are joined by veterans of the AZL and other escapees from extended spring training.

It's great to watch the games in the NWL and become excited about what the future may hold for the organization, but at the same time it's important to remember it's not a definitive judgment. To really have a handle on what a player or pitcher may become, it's better to see their performances after an off-season and spring training.

Eugene Emeralds Summary: Despite the Padres having eight of the first 87 picks and signing two highly regarded draft-and-follow pitchers from last year, Mat Latos and Jeremy McBryde, the Emeralds limped in with a 34-42 record to finish last in the western division of the NWL – predicated on injuries that ravaged this team to help others within the system.

Grady Fuson on the Eugene Emeralds:

Kellen Kulbacki really got hot as the season progressed in Eugene, ending up with a big month in August. What did you think he would do in his first season of pro ball and has he met your expectations?

Grady Fuson: "He met my expectations. We really don't have a lot of expectations for guys in the fist summer. We hope the college guys taken in the higher rounds go out and play well, but we really start to evaluate after instructs, the off-season and spring training. You have to remember most of the college guys are coming off of pretty long seasons and sometimes are pretty worn down.

"As for Kulbacki, he's a pure hitter, has hitter's hands and a hitter's mind set, and we were happy with what he did."

Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards, whichever team the player appeared at the most determined their eligibility. For the top prospect we took into account not only the future potential that the player may have along with their performances, but also the needs of the organization which will allow them to rise the fastest.

Conniff Confidential

This was a better team than its record indicates and some injuries in Fort Wayne forced the Padres to promote a few players quicker than they would have liked. On the player side, outfielders Kellen Kubalki and Danny Payne, along with catcher Mitch Canham and third baseman Justin Baum all may have a chance to begin next year in Lake Elsinore, as did Matt Antonelli, Chad Huffman and others last year. Luis Durango and Yefri Carvajal should anchor the outfield for the Wizards next year. Also keep an eye on second baseman Eric Sogard, who is a better player than his numbers indicated at both Eugene and Fort Wayne.

Player of the Year
Luis Durango

After Cedric Hunter, Durango had as good a year as anyone last year, hitting .378/.470/.448 in the AZL and seemed to pick up where he left off in Eugene this year. Splitting time between left and center, Durango, 21, won the Northwest League batting title and runs as well as anyone in the Padres organization. As a leadoff hitter, he is going to have to improve on his base stealing, getting caught 10 times in 27 attempts. In addition, Durango must prove he can play centerfield, where his bat will play better than on the corners.

Others of Note: First-round supplemental pick Kellen Kulbacki started off slowly, but finished strong to hit .301/.382/.491, with 13 of his 22 extra base hits in August. He does strikeout a decent amount, 56 in 255 plate appearances, but his power numbers and OBP make up for it. Third baseman Justin Baum a 7th-round pick out of Pacific had a nice debut, hitting .269/.353/.488 and finishing second on the Emeralds with eight home runs before being promoted to Fort Wayne. Centerfielder Danny Payne, a first-round supplemental pick out of Georgia Tech, split time between left and center and showed his considerable leadoff skills, stealing 17 bases in 20 attempts to go along with a .279/.444/.355 line.

Savage Sub-rosa

The Emeralds started out on fire but the team was picked apart by injuries at other levels. Rather than supplement this team with more talent, the Padres push players up as far as Portland and many were not replaced from the Arizona Rookie League. There simply wasn't enough bodies and San Antonio and Lake Elsinore were thinking playoffs – making those players untouchable for roster moves.

Player of the Year
Luis Durango

Durango is not your conventional hitter. He has a little bit of Ichiro in him, slapping the ball to where the defense isn't. When the infield comes in, Durango uses his excellent bat control to punch the ball into the ground, getting a big hop that lands beyond the drawn in infield. If they sit back, he drags a bunt. It is a catch-22 for the infield. And, he has enough pop to keep the outfielders honest.

This is the third straight year that Durango has won the batting title in the league he has played. He set a new Eugene Emeralds record for hits with 110 and scored 60 runs, nearly double the closest teammate (Payne, 35) had. Where he needs a lot of help is on the defensive side of the game and overall game awareness. If he can take his defensive game to the next level, Durango will become a true prospect. His ability with the bat ensures it.

Others of Note: Kulbacki ended up having a very good year and his turnaround seemed to coincide with his benching after not running out a grounder. Once Mitch Canham learns to use his lower body to hit – look out. Andy Parrino is a guy I love – plays the game the right way, just needs to strikeout less. Luis Martinez made hard contact during his time in Eugene and handled the staff well. Yefri Carvajal came around after a sluggish start and adjusting to night games will be a point of emphasis. Payne was far too patient, letting good pitches go by, but adjusted as the season progressed. Justin Baum showed some nice pop. Brian Lauderdale played a major role as a utility man. Robbie Blauer disappointed with his lack of power. Eric Sogard showed flashes of brilliance.

Manager's Commentary – Greg Riddoch: "I don't say anyone is going to be a big leaguer, but I do say they deserve to be at the next level and we will see what happens," he said of Durango. "If they continue to get better than that is their fault and good for them."

Top Prospect: Kellen Kulbacki
Denis and John agreed on the top prospect

This was a difficult choice, and could generate some disagreement. The choice was far from clear cut, with the major competition coming from catcher Mitch Canham and outfielder Yefri Carvajal. In the last month, however, Kulbacki was as good as anyone in the league, hitting .356/.427/.656 while demonstrating the type of power and patience that the Padres believe they would get when they made him their second overall pick out of James Madison University. Kulbacki should skip Fort Wayne next year and as a lefty could put up some big numbers in Lake Elsinore, putting him on the fast track.

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