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Bush Looks To Shed Premature "Bust" Label
By Chris Kline
2004 Draft Class Update:
• Progress Report On All 30 Picks
• Huston Street Shows No Fear As Rookie Closer
• Rice Trio Finds Path To Pros Plagued With Injuries
When there was no consensus No. 1 talent in the 2004 draft, Matt Bush put in a call to Padres area scout Tim McWilliam.
"I want to go No. 1," the local two-way star from El Cajon, Calif., told him.
But what started out as a feel-good story quickly turned into a public-relations nightmare.
Bush signed for a club-record $3.15 million, but was suspended for his part in a fight outside an Arizona nightclub before he played a game as a pro. Now in his first full season at low Class A Wisconsin, the 19-year-old shortstop is struggling and his attitude from last year has changed.
"It was more exciting than anything else to be the No. 1 pick," Bush said. "I thought I was a top 10 guy, but it was a crazy draft year and it happened. Now I want to make the best of it. The draft is in the past, and I've been working toward the future since then. I don't want to be known as a 'bust pick' and I'm going to work as hard as possible to have the best career I can have."
So far, the results on the field have been far from that, however. As the season wound down, Bush was hitting .229-2-31 with a .287 on-base percentage and .288 slugging percentage in 420 at-bats. And things weren't much better in the field, as Bush had 36 errors and a .937 fielding percentage in 572 total chances--a far cry from the player who was touted as the best defensive player in the 2004 draft class.
"Certainly we wish that the numbers were stronger, but he's made great strides both on and off the field, and it's important to remember that he's played at a level higher than many high school signs from the 2004 draft," Padres scouting director Bill Gayton said. "He has worked hard and he takes responsibility for all of his actions."
A lot of those actions Bush brought on himself, and in large part they account for the added pressure he feels each time he takes the field.
Bush was charged with three misdemeanors from the Arizona incident--disorderly conduct, trespassing and underage consumption of alcohol--and one felony, aggravated assault. Though the felony charge was dropped, the Padres considered voiding his contract. Instead, they decided to rewrite the contract to include conduct clauses.
"I believe in the theory of redemption," Padres president John Moores said at the time. "Everybody gets a second chance.
"I've had multiple second chances, and I think we ought to give this kid at least one, too. But we expect him to toe the line and be the best baseball player he can be."
Scouts thought Bush was a first-round talent in last year's draft, but not a No. 1 overall pick. He has a short, compact swing and the Padres have worked with him to use the whole field more consistently this season. He's an average runner and one scout said he struggled to get a time for Bush from home to first because he never runs hard--which leads to more makeup questions.
"I haven't heard anyone saying he was dogging it," farm director Tye Waller said. "If he was, we'd know about it. He's just a young man who got a lot of money and he's learning things about the game and about life on a daily basis. I know personally I didn't have it all figured out at 19--and I didn't have millions of dollars."
Bush says he's making progress despite the numbers, and he says a lot of the pressures he has felt appear to be melting away.
"I think I've come a real long way in a very short period of time," Bush said. "I know there was a cloud hanging over my head after from what happened in Arizona and being the No. 1 pick and everything. I don't think I necessarily knew what that meant and then suddenly, all eyes were on me. I am just trying to go out and play every day and since then, a lot of the pressures have gone away--I don't feel it as much as it was before. I'm just trying to learn things day to day and be a better baseball player and a better person."
Every young shortstop is bound to struggle in his first full season. But Bush's struggles are magnified.
"Mentally, it's been really hard," Bush said. "I mean, I'm not succeeding as much as I know I can and as much as I want to. It's really a matter of keeping myself under control. I can't get down on myself, which is something I've had the tendency to do. I just have to realize that this is a learning process and go from there. I can't get down on myself--that's the first sign that you've given up and this game is approaching each day the same way and learning to make adjustments when you have to."
And regardless of what he says, there is always pressure. The pressure just happens to be a little more for the local kid who went No. 1 to his favorite team.
"A lot of people have thrown him under the bus," Waller said. "A lot of people have given up on him already and that's not fair. Plenty of 19-year-olds struggle in their first full season. He's learned a lot and he's come a long way personally to get to the level he's at. There's still more to do."