Padres Prospect Interview: Brad Baker

It wasn't that long ago that Brad Baker was dishing out the pain with his bat. As a high school senior, Baker hit .486 with seven homers, nine triples, 32 RBI, 36 runs and a 1.095 slugging percentage. Now Baker, 23, makes his home in the bullpen. He is the closer for the Mobile BayBears, a San Diego Padres minor league affiliate.

The road to Mobile wasn't easy, as Baker was originally a first round draft pick of the team he grew up idolizing, the Boston Red Sox.

He had his ups and downs in the Red Sox system with the added pressure of playing for the team his parents also root for with reckless abandon. As a first round pick, playing for a team that he could recite throughout history is a daunting task.

And then he was traded. It was a mixed bag of emotions for Baker. Leaving the only team he knew, he saw opportunity at the end of the rainbow. But that did not stop the initial disappointment.

"At first, I was hurt by it," Baker admits. "At the time it was a better situation for me. I had the opportunity to go from A ball to Double-A. With the Red Sox I probably would have stayed in A ball the entire year. It was a better opportunity to make it to the big leagues with the Padres. We all know the Red Sox and teams like the Yankees, when they need a spot to fill, they go out and get they don't usually rely on younger guys to take that spot."

In June of 2002, Baker was traded to the San Diego Padres for Alan Embree, the same sort of deal that teams like the Red Sox and Yankees are famous for and Baker had the foresight to see. They trade away young talent and fill the roster with veterans who can help them for the stretch run.

Baker came over and was immediately slated as a starter for Mobile. That continued through half of 2003 before Baker was sent down to High-A Lake Elsinore and converted into a closer. Since that time, he has regained the control that saw him post a 9-0 record with a 0.96 ERA, 138 strikeouts and only 22 walks while surrendering just 24 hits in 65 innings as a high school hurler.

Closing out games was a move Baker welcomed and it has revitalized his career. Still only 23 years old, Baker has solidified his status as a prospect within the organization.

"I think with the type of pitches I have (closing) better suits me," Baker said. "I am more fastball – changeup with the occasional curve. A lot of guys aren't like that. With two pitches, it puts me in a better situation facing the lineup once."

This year, Baker is near perfect in every way. He is 23-for-25 in save opportunities and has allowed just seven runs on the year. He is keeping the ball within the strike zone while still hitting his spots. And with Rusty Tucker just beginning his rehab after Tommy John Surgery, Baker has elevated his game. He is now considered the top closer within the system and the numbers certainly back him up.

The former first rounder no longer feels the pressure. He is in good situation with the Padres and is happy.

It did, however, take a while to shed that stigma.

"I don't feel a whole lot of pressure now," said Baker. "When I was with the Red Sox it was definitely a lot of pressure. When I was traded over here at first I put more pressure on myself trying to impress people when really I just need to do what I had been doing. It has taken me a little while, between maturing and just realizing to be myself and that is what I end up showing them. Now, finally, everything is starting to work out."

And the bat that could have easily changed the course of his career? It is on the shelf.

"They are not even letting us touch a bat," Baker says with a laugh. "Today they had some of the pitchers bunting, but they did not call on me or the other relievers."

Does he miss it?

"I do, but my career is in pitching so I got over it."

And the career he is carving within the Padres system could turn from prospect to pro as fast as anyone.

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