Chris Huffman is not a name that is mentioned as a prospect to watch in the Padres’ system but perhaps it should be. Huffman, 23, was San Diego’s 14th round pick in 2014 out of James Madison. The righty bounced between the bullpen and rotation in college, a similar scenario that he has experienced as a professional.
The right-handed hurler from Virginia didn’t make a team out of spring training last year but ended up becoming a very important part of a Fort Wayne team that had an incredible second half. Huffman pitched to a 3.28 ERA in 22 games (18 starts) a season ago.
This season Huffman has been even better for Lake Elsinore, despite starting the year in the bullpen. As of press time, Huffman has a 2.45 ERA and opposing hitters are batting just .226 against the young righty. Huffman chatted with us for a few minutes before a recent Storm game at the Diamond.
MadFriars: Over the last two seasons, you have started the season in the bullpen but have eventually made your way into the rotation. Do you think there is a specific reason for that?
Chris Huffman: This year, I know I started in the ‘pen because a couple of big leaguers were rehabbing with us (Brandon Morrow and Christian Friedrich) so I was just kind of piggybacking them. I was supposed to start this year in the rotation but plans changed. Last year it was a similar situation when they brought up Jose Castillo to Fort Wayne so I just followed him.
In college you often threw in excess of 120 pitches in a start -- obviously, something that doesn’t happen in minor league baseball. Is there a big difference in terms of what you do to prepare in between starts?
Chris Huffman: I have a more specific and organized plan of what I do know as a professional in between starts. I feel a lot healthier and rejuvenated in between outings now. It was definitely more exhausting going out and throwing 120 pitches but I did what was asked of me.
In college the goal is to win, here it is to develop. Is that the sole difference for the high pitch counts in your mind?
Chris Huffman: Yeah, that has a big reason to do with it. Here they don’t make sure you go over your pitch count but in college, if you were at 100 pitches in the sixth inning, you were gonna pitch deeper in the game to help the team win. It’s a little bit different that way.
The California League is a big-time hitters league but your strikeouts have increased quite a bit. Have you been more aggressive in attacking hitters at the higher level?
Chris Huffman: Yeah, I have elevated my fastball in certain counts and I have added more depth to my slider in the off-season, so I think that has a lot to do with my increase in strikeouts this season.
Can you give us a scouting report on yourself and the stuff you throw?
Chris Huffman: I am pretty aggressive with the fastball. I use my off-speed off my fastball. I throw a slider and a change. I like to throw my fastball to get ahead and I would say my slider is the pitch I use when I need a strikeout.
I am always curious about the jump from Low-A to High-A, in terms of competition. Your statistics have stayed pretty consistent. How has the adjustment in competition been for you?
Chris Huffman: I think it’s pretty similar. I focus on getting ahead in the counts. If you can keep your walks down, the home runs won’t really hurt you. That has been my focus this year -- a lot of the parks are hitter-friendly but the walks can make all the difference between a good outing and a bad one.