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Compiled by Aaron Fitt, Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
August 19, 2005

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., said. 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 had even played a game as a pro.

Bush, then just 18, was charged with three misdemeanors--disorderly conduct, trespassing and underage consumption of alcohol--and one felony, aggravated assault. Though the felony charge was later dropped, the Padres explored their options to void 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."

A year later, Bush hasn't lived up to his promise on the field. Scouts thought he was a top 10 talent in last year's draft, but not a No. 1 overall pick. But in a lot of ways, the teenager has brought a lot of the added pressure on himself.

And not performing at low Class A Fort Wayne in his first full season certainly doesn't help. As the year winds down, Bush is hitting an abysmal .221/.278/.280 in 407 at-bats. And while he was touted as the best defensive player in the 2004 draft class with a cannon for an arm and plus range to both sides, he's committed 36 errors and holds a .937 fielding percentage in 572 total chances.

We caught up with Bush recently to talk about dealing with the pressures of being an unexpected No. 1 pick, getting off to such a poor start as a pro and how he's handling life in his first full season in the Midwest League.

BA: How do you feel like you've progressed since signing last year?
Matt Bush: "I think I've come a real long way in a very short period of time. 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."

BA: But you really haven't performed the way I'm sure you wanted to this season. How have you dealt with that?
MB: "This season's been a battle at times, and other times it's been easy--that's the way this game is. I had a good spring training, and then I came out and got off to a real slow start. Then I got going again with a short, compact swing like I had in high school and I was OK. The main thing for me has been finding a level of consistency, which has been tough. I'm really just trying not to give away too many ABs."

BA: And how mentally draining has this first full season been?
MB: "Mentally, it's been really hard. 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."

BA: You were referred to as the best defensive player coming out of the draft last year, but the numbers don't show that. How do you feel like you've done defensively?
MB: "Right now I feel the best I've felt all year. My arm is a little tired, but there's still a lot left. I feel comfortable and confident in what I'm doing now--more so than at any point this season. I'm getting in better position now and using my feet a lot more--getting them moving. I was just sitting back on balls a lot before."

BA: Who do you go to when you're feeling that pressure of being the No. 1 pick?
MB: "I turn to my parents. They always tell me to keep my head up and really keep me going. They know what type of player I am, regardless of the numbers. I know I've been dealing with failure--and they know what I'm dealing with. It's just going to take a lot of hard work to get to where I know and they know I can be. They believe in me when everyone else has doubted my ability and I really lean on them for help. I always know they'll be there no matter what.

BA: Did you ever think you'd go No. 1?
"I was supposed to be in that top 10 range, and I knew I was thought of as a top 10 talent. It was more exciting than anything else to be the No. 1 pick. 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."

BA: So, will you be heading to instructs?
MB: "(Laughs) . . . Yes, you can bet I'll be in instructs. No doubt that's where you can find me."



• The Nationals are experimenting with Ryan Zimmerman, recently moving the fourth overall pick in last year's draft from third base to shortstop. Zimmerman, who played some shortstop during his time at Virginia, played his first game as a pro at the premium position on Wednesday.
"This is a perfect example of a kid who wanted to sign quickly and begin his professional career," Nationals assistant scouting director Brian Parker said. "He signed within a couple days of the draft and has performed since day one. He's a special defensive player and him playing both shortstop and third base gives us more flexibility in case we need someone over the next six weeks.

"In a perfect world we would prefer to keep him in the minors, but look at the team leading our division (the Braves)--they are in first place partly because of the young players from their farm system. If you have kids with the right mix of makeup and talent, they can sometimes make a difference for you at the big league level if you place them in the right environment."
Since being called up to Double-A Harrisburg, Zimmerman is hitting .309/.345/.511 in 188 at-bats.

• A bone bruise is still hampering Cubs outfielder Felix Pie, who sprained his ankle in early June. The No. 2 prospect in Chicago's system has been on the disabled list since June 16. In 240 at-bats at Double-A West Tenn this season Pie batted .304/.349/.554 with 11 homers.

• Reds righthander Richie Gardner had season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum last week, which could explain why he struggled so much this season after emerging as the organization's No. 3 prospect last year. In 66 innings at Double-A Chattanooga, Gardner went 3-6, 5.73 and opponents hit .309 against him. He joins fellow righthander Thomas Pauly, who had labrum surgery in June, to rehab in Sarasota, Fla.

• Blue Jays lefthander David Purcey turned in an outstanding performance in Double-A New Hampshire's 2-0 win against Norwich on Thursday. Purcey, a first-rounder out of Oklahoma last year, allowed two hits over five shutout innings, striking out 10 and walking two.

• It didn't take Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold long to go deep. The second-round pick out of Bowling Green State this year hit his first home run at high Class A Frederick in his third game since being promoted--off Nationals lefthander Mike Hinckley--in the Keys' 9-2 win against Potomac. Hinckley allowed five earned runs on 10 hits over just 5 1/3 innings, falling to 3-7, 4.96 on the year.

• Astros righthander Matt Albers continues to get stronger as the year goes on. Albers was solid again in high Class A Salem's 4-2 win against Kinston Thursday, allowing two runs on four hits over seven innings. He walked two and struck out 10, improving to 3-0, 2.33 in August.

• After having his batting average hover around .250 for the first two months of the season, Josh Barfield has come on strong for Triple-A Portland. The Padres second baseman is hitting .352 since and has really found his power stroke. After going 3-for-4 last night with a homer, he now has 12 on the season and four in August.

• Is Brian Dopirak waking up from his season-long slumber? After going 2-for-4 with a homer on Wednesday, the Cubs first baseman followed that up with a 3-for-4 performance, including two doubles, for high Class A Daytona.

• It has been a rocky season for Mets righthander Matt Durkin filled mostly with disappointment. If there is a silver lining, it might be his last two starts. The 2004 second-rounder out of San Jose State threw four shutout innings last night for low Class A Hagerstown and fanned five while walking one. Durkin, who spent a month and a half on the disabled list, has had no problem striking hitters out this season as he has 62 in 63 innings. Walks have been his main problem though as the 22-year-old has issued 46 free passes.

• The Diamondbacks are loaded with elite position player prospects, and another has emerged this year in Carlos Gonzales. The 19-year-old outfielder went 3-for-5 Thursday with a double and a triple and is now hitting .308/.372/.489 with 16 home runs for low Class A South Bend.

• It is impossible to quantify how much the year away from competitive baseball affected Wade Townsend, but one thing is for sure, he has not had an easy go of professional baseball thus far. The eighth overall pick by the Devil Rays this season (and the eighth overall pick in 2004 by the Orioles) lasted only three innings Thursday for Hudson Valley and allowed six earned runs on six hits, five walks and one strikeout. The Rice alum is now 0-3, 7.17 and has 19 walks in 21 New York-Penn League innings.

• It was more of the same for enigmatic Diamondbacks righthander Jason Neighborgall in Rookie-level Missoula's 12-10 win against Casper. Signed for $500,000 as a third-round pick in June out of Georgia Tech, Neighborgall has battled the same control problems in his pro debut in the Pioneer League that he grappled with in his collegiate career. Last night he lasted just two-plus innings, allowing five earned runs on just one hit but four walks and four wild pitches. In 16 innings over eight appearances at Missoula, Neighborgall is 1-1, 9.00 with 25 walks, 16 strikeouts and 13 wild pitches.

• Braves lefthander Beau Jones, a supplemental first-round pick in June out of Destrehan (La.) High, threw a career-high six innings, allowing just two hits and no runs while striking out five in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Jones bounced back nicely after getting shelled for eight runs in four innings in his last start. He has won three of his last four outings, giving up just one earned run on six hits while striking out 16 in 16 innings during the three victories.

• Devil Rays righthander Andy Sonnanstine has done nothing but impress at every level since being drafted in the 13th round last year out of Kent State, and he turned in his best performance yet in high Class A Visalia's 7-2 win against Rancho Cucamonga. Sonnanstine, 22, struck out a season-high 11 batters, walked none and allowed just one run on three hits over eight innings, retiring the final 14 hitters he faced. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Sonnanstine used his big slider to improve to 13-5, 2.71 in 163 innings between Visalia and low Class A Southwest Michigan with a 154-14 strikeout-walk ratio. Since joining Visalia on July 16, he has 51 strikeouts and three walks in 46 innings.

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