It seems like anyone with the least bit of familiarity with the Padres has an opinion on Matt Bush. Everyone wants to know why did the team pick him so high? Was he worth the number one overall pick?
After a last minute draft reversal in which the Padres decided not to take college players Stephen Drew, Jared Weaver or Jeff Niemann because of high salary demands, the team selected Matt Bush of Mission Bay High School, one of the highest rated high school players in the nation, with the number one overall selection. At first, the pick seemed to be an amazing public relations coup, a local boy calls up the management of his hometown team to let them know that he wants to play for them and will take whatever they think is fair. You can't write a story much better than that.
That was the high point.
The aftermath of the story went sour pretty quickly. Before he even played a game in the Arizona Rookie League, Matt faced charges for an altercation that occurred in a Phoenix nightclub, which resulted in the Padres suspending him for a month.
When Bush did come back on the field, he failed to live up to the high expectations that come with being the first overall pick, batting .181 in 21 games at Peoria and .222 in eight games at Eugene while committing a total of 17 errors. He did show improvement in the Arizona Instructional leagues, hitting .438 in 32 at bats, with the help of minor league hitting instructor Rob Deer.
At first glance, the numbers this year don't look promising either, a .225 batting average with 35 errors, but before you say "bust" there are a few other facts to consider. Bush made the Midwest All Star team playing a spectacular defense according to the coaches in the league, is among the youngest players in the league at 19 and despite his low batting average, is still among the team leaders in RBIs and total bases.
Was he the best overall player available in 2004? Probably not.
Is he a bust? No.
John Conniff: What has been your biggest adjustment from high school through your second year in the pros?
Matt Bush: It's definitely not as easy as high school. I was always a dominant player in high school and the game levels out a little more up here. More fine tuned players, they have been playing pro ball for awhile, college ball, so the guys are probably a little bit ahead of me right now.
I'm just adjusting to failure as well as success. There are a lot of up and downs here. Just trying to deal with the down times and maintain my self confidence. I'm looking forward to good times, and having success.
John Conniff: Is the mental part the more difficult for you than the physical part from high school?
Matt Bush: There are a lot more things to deal with in pro ball, especially being a high draft pick.
In high school I didn't really have to worry about anything, just go out and play my game. Here it is more of a business. There are a whole lot of things to deal with, the pressure, and I've been trying real hard to get through it. Playing everyday, the amount of games and hopefully next year have a better idea of how to go at it.
John Conniff: How tough is it mentally to play the amount of games in a full minor league season [there are 140 games in a Midwest League season]? You've never even played half that?
Matt Bush: Yeah, the mental is as difficult or more than the physical. You have to really eat right, get a lot of sleep, work out and try to stay strong. The mental is really tough, you can be struggling and it's tough to come here with a positive attitude. You just have to tell yourself that there will be better days.
It's pretty hard, but it's also what all of us have always dreamed of doing. I have a chance like everyone else to make it to the big leagues.
John Conniff: For people at home in San Diego, could you take us through what you go through in an average day?
Matt Bush: I wake up pretty early in the morning. I have to try to get something to eat right away to keep on my weight. I go work out, get myself awake, get some energy flowing. Get something else to eat before I leave for the park, go to the field, get any kind of treatment I might need, batting practice and then the game. The game is at seven, we usually get out around 10:45.
It seems like we are here all day.
Over and over, way out here in Fort Wayne in the Midwest League, it can wear on you. It's definitely not like San Diego. It's tough being somewhere that you're so far away from your family and friends. You don't have the support, I can get it over the phone, but it's not the same as having your family and girlfriend around.
John Conniff: Talking with a lot of the staff of the Wizards, they said you are one of the best defensive players they have ever seen in the Midwest League. Most of these guys have been around since the franchise started 13 years ago, so that is quite a compliment. Although, when you look at your defensive stats you have made a lot of errors on what they call routine plays. What do you need to do to cut down on your errors?
Matt Bush: It's only going to come with time, and feeling more confident and comfortable. As time goes on I'll get more comfortable. I'm not playing on the greatest fields, I might get a bad hop that most people don't see. I'm not stressing over it, its part of the game making mistakes. I try to learn from it and improve.
John Conniff: What adjustments are you making at the plate?
Matt Bush: Just trying to keep everything simple, keep it the same. Not worrying about driving the ball deep, hitting hard line drives through the infield so I have more chances to beat balls out, keep my swing more level. Hitting the ball the other way, staying with my game.
Have a question about a prospect in the San Diego Padres' system. Send John an email at email@example.com. Some questions will be forwarded and answered on air during MadFriars.com weekly segment on the flagship station for San Diego Padres' baseball, The Mighty 1090. The show airs each Friday at 10:35 AM PST with Brian Wilson and Ernie Martinez.