AZL Padres Player of the Year

San Diego Padres' general manager Kevin Towers refers to the Arizona Rookie League squad as the "t-ball team" - where you will generally see three types of players: young guys from Latin America, high school draft picks, and second-tier college players who have to prove they can hit at the professional level to be given future opportunities.

Despite being at the very bottom rung of the minor league level, top Padres' prospects Kyle Blanks and Cedric Hunter began their careers at this level.

AZL Padres Summary: The Arizona League is one of two complex leagues in the minors. With all of the games at spring training complexes in the middle of the day in the heat of the Arizona summer for half the year and at night the other half, the games are little more than spring training exhibitions. In these games, however, players' futures are on the line. At this level, the potential of what a player may do and the age that they are performing at outweighs whatever numbers are being put up. The AZL Padres finished third in the first half and then slumped in the second in the wake of promotions.

Grady Fuson on the AZL Padres:

Drew Cumberland put up some good offensive numbers, but had 12 errors in 25 games. What is he going to have to do to stay at shortstop?

Grady Fuson: "It's a long way away before you think of moving him off of shortstop. He was gimping around in high school with a sore hamstring and he got here kind of late to get a lot of work in. He needs to get a little bit better rhythm out there and we're going to have to start to wean him away from a bigger glove that he was using in the past."

You don't see a great many players go from the AZL to Fort Wayne the next year, but some of the ones that have in recent years are Kyle Blanks and Cedric Hunter – both have been pretty good. People always talk about the jump form High-A to Double-A, is this one bigger?

Grady Fuson: "No, not really, because it depends on the type of player that you are dealing with. However getting out of A-ball and performing in Double-A is still the biggest hurdle."

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

Conniff Confidential

Not as much talent as last year's team, but the cupboard wasn't bare either. The development of Drew Cumberland, a middle infielder that can hit leadoff, was a big plus and a draft gamble that paid off.

Player of the Year
Keoni Ruth
Second baseman

A 22nd-round pick out of Concordia College, Ruth saw action on four different teams with the Padres this year. The Hawaiian native played three seasons for the University of San Diego and was a three-time all-conference pick before playing his final season at Concordia. Ruth, at one point with the AZL Padres, was among the league leaders in on-base percentage, runs scored and slugging before bouncing between Eugene, Lake Elsinore and Portland.

Others of Note: Shortstop Drew Cumberland was a first-round supplemental pick by the Padres in the 2007 draft and put together a very good year of professional ball, hitting .318/.389/.365, which for someone just out of high school was impressive. Third baseman Edgar Garzon led the team in batting average with a line of .305/.391/.428 and outfielder Angel Mercado was second in the Arizona League with six home runs to finish the season at .273/.350/.511.

Savage Sub-rosa

This was a team that had highs and lows – perhaps a few too many of the latter. Jeudy Valdez burst onto the scene this season with a huge year. He will get better as he continues to get bigger and stronger. Edgar Garzon surprised with his ability to make consistent contact. Felix Carrasco was supposed to take the next step and didn't. The same can be said for Clint Naylor and his one extra base hit over two seasons.

Player of the Year
Keoni Ruth
Second baseman

It is no surprise that John and I agree on this one. Ruth was a dominant force in the AZL and a big reason why the AZL Padres were 14-7 during his tenure in the desert and 14-21 without his services. More runs scored than games, an incredible .500 on base percentage and four strikeouts in 82 at bats highlighted his candidacy. He also added 10 extra base hits as part of 13 multi-hit games in 19 AZL contests.

Others of Note: Yefri Carvajal took his game to the next level. If he stays away from the breaking balls away he will be special. Robert Perry was the second half of a potent combo at the top of the lineup. He is a sleeper. Valdez is one of the more intriguing players to come through Peoria. He reminds of Rayner Contreras and the potential that each possess. At this stage, Contreras was more advanced, and Valdez will need to cut down on his strikeouts. Carrasco hit .288 in limited action but managed just one extra base hit. That won't get it done at any level. Edinson Rincon went 0-for-22 to begin the campaign before going 8-for-23 down the stretch. He is a player to watch and a potential top prospect waiting to blossom. Angel Mercado is an interesting player. Garzon surprised me and was probably the most improved player on the roster.

Manager's Commentary - Tony Muser: "Ruth has a laid-back approach to the game but never panics. He can stay inside a baseball for a right-handed hitter and hit the ball to right-center field. Very good mechanics as a hitter."

Top Prospect: Shortstop Drew Cumberland
Both Denis and John agreed upon the top prospect for the AZL Padres.

The minor leagues are about numbers, both performance and the age at which you are accomplishing them. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the lower levels. Cumberland had the best blend of both potential and performance of anyone on the Padres Arizona League team. He was all-state in Florida in football, is the quintessential leadoff man with some gap power and speed but is going to have to improve upon his defense at shortstop. Look for him to follow in the path of Kyle Blanks and Cedric Hunter who put together good summers in the AZL in years' past and then made the big jump to the Midwest League. Cumberland, who had a nice four-game stint with Eugene at the end of the year, where he hit .333, should make the jump. Keep in mind, however, the jump from the AZL to the full-season Midwest League is as big as any in the minors.

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