“It’s to calm me down and get me focused on the next pitch,” Easley, 20, said to the Prescott Daily Courier on his in-bat ritual.
Easley, the son of Damion Easley, who played in the major leagues for 17 years and is now a member of the Padres’ organization coaching staff, was drafted by San Diego in twenty-third round of this year’s draft out of Yavapai Junior College, the same school that produced former Padres’ top prospect Kyle Blanks.
The baseball program at Yavapai is one of the best in the nation because they use wooden bats which makes the game not only similar to the pros at the plate, but also for pitchers in learning how to throw inside without being beaten by cheap hits. The small school is Prescott, Arizona has produced 15 major league players.
After a year at San Joaquin Delta College (JC) in Stockton, California, Easley returned to his home state for his sophomore year and had a monster year hitting .403/.485/.655 with 11 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 69 games.
Easley, who was an outfielder in high school and junior college, was moved to the infield as pro and so far has had a relatively smooth transition, hitting .271/.395/.359 with 10 stolen bases in 13 attempts and five triples, which is tied for second in the league.
We caught up with Nate before a recent game to talk about the transition to the infield and growing up the son of a major league player.
You had a big year at Yavapi and then turned down a scholarship to go to Washington State. Why did you change your mind?
Nate Easley: Most of the scouts that I was talking too were thinking that my best position going forward was going to be second base. I hadn’t played there since the eighth grade and all through high school and college I was a centerfielder.
When the Padres drafted me they told me they were going to move me to second base right now and I thought it would get a jump start on the process early because if I had gone to Washington State I was going to be a centerfielder.
How did you end up in the outfield in high school?
Nate Easley: Going into my freshman year in high school there were two seniors that were middle infielders. They let me know that if I wanted to be on varsity, then I needed to move to the outfield.
I just wanted to play and ended up loving playing center, so I was fine with it. After that, they always just started to send me to the outfield.
How is the transition going to second base?
Nate Easley: Coming in over a 100 feet and standing on the dirt, the game picks up a bit; especially in pro ball. Everything is a bit different from when I was 14. The guys coming at you to break up the double-play are much bigger. [laughs]
Now I have to go out for cutoffs instead of hitting cutoffs, so yeah, its different. The biggest thing is the “infield clock” as opposed to the “outfield clock”.
Your coach made a good point about that earlier when he said that any play that requires athleticism, or is really quick, you don’t have any problems. Where you run into difficulty is with the routine plays.
Nate Easley: When I have a lot of time that is when the inexperience quicks in, but when it is an instinct play I don’t run into as many problems.
Your dad is Damion Easley, who is one of the Padres’ coaches in their Peoria complex. Growing up how much did he help you with the game?
Nate Easley: He helped with everything; obviously he played so we grew up in it. It’s really all I knew. I really didn’t know what a normal kid did whose dad wasn’t playing pro ball. We talk about it constantly.
What is the biggest piece of advice that he gives you?
Nate Easley: Just to be you and don’t try to be something else. I know its one of the most overused lines in baseball but then again the game has been around for over 100 years and the truth stays consistent.
Don’t try to do too much in the infield, let your instincts take over and don’t constantly try to prove things to people. Play the game right and things will fall into place.
What has been the biggest change for you since becoming a pro? The league you were in might be arguably the most talented junior college league in the country because they play with wooden bats and attract a lot of top players.
Nate Easley: The biggest change for me was being in the infield. I’m sure I would have made some adjustments if I had been in the outfield - and I have noticed some with the pitching - but just moving to the infield is the biggest one for me.
I know the first year you get drafted they tend to leave you alone but have they made any adjustments to your stance or the way you hit? You kind of have an open stance. Have they done anything with that?
Nate Easley: I’ve hit this way since my sophomore year of high school, but they might start toning down my leg kick. I’m sure in the future they might take that away as I try to get quicker to the ball.
You are one of the leaders in the league in on-base-percentage. Is that a skill that you were born with or something you practice?
Nate Easley: I think it’s both. My dad talked to me about laying off of pitches and we did some workouts with special glasses. These glasses will go black and then light will come on. Some will blink and you never know when they will go dark again; and then you try and hit.
I can imagine that does make hitting a little easier.
Nate Easley: If you can do that, you will be able to hit. When you take them off it really slows down the game. Then we did a lot of pitch recognition knowing what is a two-seam and four-seam fastball, curve, slider and changeups.
I noticed that you sniff the bat in between pitches, why?
Nate Easley: I am sniffing the pine tar. For some reason it smells really good to me and I use it as my release. If I foul a ball off that I should have hit, or the ump calls a pitch that I didn’t like, I use it as my reset so I can get my focus back.