ST Interview: Nick Schulz

PEORIA, AZ: Everybody always loves the story of the late round draft pick who overcomes the doubters to earn regular playing time and have a chance to realize their dream of playing in the big leagues.

If you like that story you are really going to like Nick Schulz.

Schulz, 24, played four years at San Jose State and put up good, but not great numbers hitting .276/.373/.376. But despite going undrafted for forty rounds, Nick wasn’t ready to give up on baseball just yet.

He played in two different off-season leagues before signing with the Padres just before the start of last year. After struggling with a .167/.231/.271 line in Eugene he caught fire in Fort Wayne hitting .341/.386/.545 in 49 games and propelled himself into an everyday player with the Lake Elsinore Storm for 2015.

In his first five games for the Storm he has posted a .368/.455/.632 line and getting a chance to play everyday in left field, which is a very long way from where he was last year at this time.

We caught up with Nick at the end of Spring Training to find out how get here.

You played four years at San Jose State and didn’t get drafted which had to be disappointing.

How did you get signed by the Padres?

Nick Schulz: Right after college I went off to play summer ball because I wanted to stay in the game. I had a few looks from the Independent Leagues, but nothing really happened.

In the off-season I just worked and stayed in shape for baseball and hoped to get more chances. I went to the California Winter League and played well there and got a little more attention - actually it was more than I even had in college - I was talking to a few clubs and signed out of the league to an Independent League club.

About three months after I signed with that club - and was just about to fly out and meet them - the Padres called and asked me to come out to Lake Elsinore for a tryout; they just wanted to see me hit on the field.

That has to be pretty nerve wracking that it seems to come down to one performance in batting practice. How much pressure were you feeling?

Nick Schulz: [laughs] You know there was some pressure going on there, I’m not going to lie. But then again you have to be able to block it out and do your thing or you might as well go home.

The next day the Padres offered me a contract to play in the Arizona League with no guarantees; so I was pretty excited. I got out here and kept working and got an opportunity to play. So it’s just really been a blessing.

What is kind of strange is that you first got called up to Eugene and struggled in your first 52 plate appearances before you turned it on with the TinCaps. What happened?

Nick Schulz: In Eugene it may have been a few nerves. I was hitting the ball well but it was just right at people.

Did your confidence come from knowing that if I am hitting the ball right, it’s going to come no matter what the statistics indicate.

Nick Schulz: It does because you are doing what you can control and if you play this game long enough the other stuff will just kill you. I knew that I was making good contact and that the hits would come.

So how did you get promoted to Fort Wayne?

Nick Schulz: I got the call in from Robbie Wine, the manager of the Eugene Emeralds, that he needed to see me in his office. So in the back of my mind I think I am being released because I am not performing.

But he goes, “you’re out of here, you’re going to Fort Wayne.” So I was a little shocked. The next day I caught a flight to meet the team in South Bend. I arrived late at the stadium and actually get in a game in the seventieth that was a cheap little squeaker hit.

That is the way things go in baseball, hit the ball hard in Eugene for outs and hit it weakly in Fort Wayne for a hit.

You are in the Midwest League and everyone there was some type of star in high school and college. This is the best league that you have ever played in and you put up the best numbers of your life.

What clicked?

Nick Schulz: I think the reason why I was struggling so much was that I wasn’t on-time. I was getting beat with fastballs and was getting really antsy with off-speed.

I worked with Morgan Burkhart [the hitting coach with the TinCaps] and he is a big advocate of staying back and just using your hands and try to not do too much. I worked with him every day in early work and it really paid off.

What he really taught me was just how to relax at the plate.

It must be great to relax to come into camp with a successful season behind you because it helps you relax because you have a bit of a positive track record.

Nick Schulz: Absolutely because it really allows me to just focus on working hard. I didn’t get a lot of looks out of college, and many doubted me, which I use as motivation.

My philosophy has been this is always what I wanted to do, the worse thing they can do is say no.

Defensively where do you play?

Nick Schulz: I can play both corner outfield spots and when I was in Eugene they even had me playing a little bit in center.

What were you working on in the off-season?

Nick Schulz: Just shortening up my swing. I want to level out my slumps. Also I really tried to think about the game and how I want to approach the season by not panicking and staying positive. To try to learn what I can do to solve problems instead of dwelling on them.

I definitely thought about baseball everyday during the off-season. You are going to go through some adversity every year and you have to learn how to deal and beat it.

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