Matt Bush Headed To The Hill

The Padres gave Matt Bush, the first overall pick of the 2004 draft, nearly three full years to settle in at shortstop, a position he played with aplomb in high school but a position where injuries and unfocused play had diminished his effectiveness as a pro.

He never lost his outstanding arm strength, though, and acting on that, Padres farm director Grady Fuson announced today the organization is converting Bush to the mound.

“I just think through it all, Matt will be better off (with the) pressure lifted,” Fuson said. “Which it was once I talked to him. It should not take him more than three weeks to a month to get ready for an inning or two (stints) with one of our short-season clubs.”

Because Bush, 21, had struggled to make adjustments at the plate as a pro, a switch to pitching had long been rumored. As a two-way standout at Mission Bay High in San Diego, Bush hit 95 mph on the mound and his arm rated a pure 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

But upon turning pro, Bush struggled as a batter right out of the gate, hitting .192 in his debut, while trying too hard to pull pitches, failing to work deep counts and pressing when he did fall behind. In 722 career at-bats, Bush has hit just .219/.294/.276’"and .223/.280/.291 in full-season ball’"with three home runs, and he didn’t reach high Class A until this season, three years after being drafted.

Injuries, as much as anything, have played a key role in Bush’s stalled development as a position player. He broke his ankle during 2006 spring training and was hampered by hamstring injuries twice during the season and again during instructional league. Even before the leg injuries, Bush had lost lateral movement and his defensive footwork required cleaning up.

Though Bush was a consensus first-round talent in 2004, the Padres had originally narrowed their choices for the No. 1 overall pick down to Stephen Drew, Jeff Niemann and Jered Weaver, before settling on Drew. But three days before the draft, San Diego’s upper management decided Drew wasn’t worth his asking price’"he eventually signed a $5.5 million major league contract with the Diamondbacks’"leaving the scouting department scrambling for an alternative. That turned out to be Bush, who signed quickly for a $3.15 million bonus.

But before he even took the field, Bush was suspended for his role in a fight outside an Arizona nightclub, and the Padres looked into voiding his contract.