Lake Elsinore Hitter of the Year

Summary: Pitching was the key to coming within a game of the championship last season, but it was the Lake Elsinore Storm offense in 2008 that led the way. This was by far the toughest race of the year on a team that saw four players record 80-plus RBI seasons.

The Storm ranked first in the California League in runs scored and walks drawn – outpacing the competition by 79 free passes in the latter category. They also placed second in the league in team batting average and hits while striking out less than any other team by 179 hacks.

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 what the players did this year, but their age and potential to get better.

Savage Sub-Rosa

Hitter of the Year: Kellen Kulbacki
Outfielder - .332/.428/.589

Runner-Up: Eric Sogard
Second base - .308/.394/.453

Kulbacki got off to a painfully slow start in Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore, but once the jets were fired up he never cooled. After 19 games played, the outfielder was hitting .179. Kulbacki went on to hit .367 over his next 65 games played, which included two hitting streaks of at least 16 games and an on-base streak that lasted 36 games from June 27 through August 24. During that stretch, Kulbacki hit .420 with 10 doubles and 13 homers while posting a .482 on-base percentage. He ended the year leading the system in homers with 22, including 20 bombs in 84 games with the Storm.

Kulbacki was in a zone after some initial struggles with Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore, similar to the run he has last year in Eugene. Part of the struggle this year was finding his timing after an ankle injury took away most of spring. He found his timing – based on mechanical changes he made last year to get him to the ball quicker and allow him to turn on the inside fastball. He also worked on pitch selection to drive the pitches he knows he can handle and the rewards were evident.

Sogard appeared to be a runaway early on but had bouts of ineffectiveness on a seesaw season. The highs were really high and the lows were below average but he still managed to pound out a California League best 42 doubles, place fifth in the circuit with 55 extra base hits, sit fourth in RBIs (87) and on-base percentage (.394), third in runs scored (97) and in second in walks drawn (79) and hits (165). He also posted a 30-game on-base streak from April 6 through May 8 where he hit .413 with a .526 on-base percentage.

Sogard has a compact stroke, is short to the ball and has a swing plane that stays through the zone to afford him maximum contact range. With a solid batting eye, Sogard swings at pitches he can drive, using the whole field to his advantage based on the location of the pitch. He has doubles power and can drive a few out of the park while playing a solid defensive second base.

Conniff Confidential

Hitter of the Year: Kellen Kulbacki
Outfielder - .332/.428/.589

Runner-Up: Cedric Hunter
.318/.362/.442

Kulbacki had one of the best seasons of anyone in the Padres' organization this year. There isn't much more to add about his offensive production; you can literally pick out about any offensive metric after his first 19 games in Lake Elsinore and it will tell you the same thing, he dominated the league.

Defensively, he's been better than advertised in the outfield and has the arm and ability to stay in right. Staying healthy after a season that saw him miss time to injury is essential.

How can you not like what Sogard did this year? Hunter, however, was a little more consistent throughout the season. He led the entire minor leagues in hits with 186 and only saw his average dip below .300 once, in addition to playing a very good defensive centerfield.

He put up much better numbers than last year in a warmer climate and with a stronger team. San Antonio will be a big jump for him, and even though his superior hand-eye-coordination allows him to hit many balls that other batters couldn't, becoming more selective will allow him to drive more balls and utilize his speed more.

Others of note: Mitch Canham can hit, driving in 81 while notching a .382 on-base percentage, but his defense needs to improve tenfold. Sam Carter was an RBI machine early before cooling off but still managed 82 RBIs while notching 53 extra base hits. Rayner Contreras was beginning to have a solid season before he was suspended indefinitely for fighting with teammates. Javis Diaz took a step backwards with his .253 average but did steal 28 bases in 35 attempts. Allan Dykstra was a late addition and hit a grand slam for his first professional homer and had 10 RBIs in seven games. Brian Joynt was a catalyst for the offense, driving in 67 runs in 76 games with 42 extra base hits and a .304 average. Jesus Lopez played great defensively at shortstop and his bat was coming around before a promotion to Double-A where he sizzled. Keoni Ruth played a valuable role at four different positions but needs to hit better than his .246 line.

Manager Commentary: "His power – when he squares the ball up, he can hit some line drives that are four feet over the infield and the outfield." – manager Carlos Lezcano on Kellen Kulbacki

Top Prospect: Cedric Hunter

The outfielder simply lead the entire minor leagues in hits with 186 – setting a new franchise-record in the process - while collecting 47 extra base hits and an 84-RBI performance that included a team-best 98 runs scored. Hunter had a 22-game hitting streak from July 29 through August 20 where he hit .363 and smacked five of his 11 homers while netting 19 RBIs.

The problem Hunter had in the past was swinging at balls outside of his hitting zone. Because he doesn't miss many pitches, it would result in weak grounders. Now, he is focusing on hitting balls he can drive and hitting them consistently hard. He was among the organizational leaders in what the Padres term ‘hard contact'.

With very little movement in his stance, he stays true to the path flight of the ball and can continually make consistent contact. One of the reasons his walks are down is because he believes he rarely lets a good pitch go by and his hand-eye coordination is good enough where he will put the ball in play.

Both Denis and John agreed on the top prospect

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