Padres Prospect Interview: Jordan Pickens

Jordan Pickens was one of the few men to last through the season in Fort Wayne. If not for a late season injury that put him on the sidelines, he would have been just one of seven players to begin and end the year with the Wizards. The season, however, did not go as he had planned.

All was right with the world when the season began. Jordan Pickens began the year on a tear. At the end of May, he was a .300 hitter. He had ten homers and 29 RBI's. There was talk of the outfielder challenging for the home run title.

Then the slump began. Through June and July, Pickens could not top the .200 mark at the plate and July ended with him hitting .233 on the year. He bounced back in August – but by then it was too late to make a difference and a bruised shoulder, which ended his year ensured that.

It was a streaky year for the slugger. He began with a bang before fizzling out.

"Yeah, that's pretty much it in a nutshell," Pickens admitted. "That was pretty much an extended slump."

Pickens hit safely in six of his last seven games before the injury. At least he ended the season on a high note. He began producing again which helped his mentality heading into the offseason.

But what were the changes that began the final ascent after a bitter slump poisoned his promising season?

"Really, what wasn't (wrong)," Pickens said of his late season adjustments. "We pretty much tinkered with everything. It pretty much just came down to sitting down and identifying everything. Sometimes I think that spending all that time looking at things and trying pretty much everything, from bat control to not even taking a stride, to things with my hands, and it all just came out to be a mental thing.

"My swing was fine, but I wasn't quite there. My mental approach is probably a little weak. I got tired and what not and finally it just clicked with me and I just knew what I had to do."

The late season injury to his shoulder brought up other questions. Pickens has fought through injuries in the past and made a successful return. The reason he was shut down this year was a precaution. The team wanted him to be available for Instructional League and did not want to force the shoulder.

The problems go all the way back to 2001.

"I got drafted in 2001 and when I was drafted that season my arm was bothering me a little bit, but nothing too serious, and then in the off-season I took some time off from throwing," Pickens explained. "I started throwing again in December and it felt ok; half the time my shoulder didn't feel real good so I took some more time off.

"Then coming into Spring Training it was just killing me. I couldn't throw ten feet. After that I just stayed away. They put me on anti-inflammatory and two weeks later I tried to throw again. It wasn't happening so we went in and I had a procedure done on my right labrum.

"I rehabbed that and got sent to Eugene in about early- to mid-July. It was probably about my fifth game there, I was sliding into second to break up a double-play ball to the left of the bag. My right hand was down and it got caught on the bag and just ripped everything out again. I kind of knew it right when I did it.

"And I played the season after going to doctors' appointments and having an MRI and all that. I want to say November 7th was when I had the surgery again and this one was pretty bad; the doctor came in and said he wasn't sure he could fix it and he did a great job.

"I was rehabbing that when I got to Spring Training, and I had to—there was this stitch that was supposed to dissolve, and it didn't dissolve totally and would catch on something in my shoulder and it would make a rusty sound, like a hinge. It didn't hurt but you could hear it. I had to have that removed and then they kind of cleaned up my rotator cuff a little bit and then I just kind of laid out for the next little while and went back to Eugene in mid-July and played out the rest of that season, then came back to Spring Training pretty healthy. My arm felt pretty good and after the first week I think I jumped into things a little too quick with all the throwing we had to do. I was shut down for about a week and a half and it was a pretty scary time for me. I thought I was done. It was a pretty powerful feeling at that time. But I came back and the rest is history."

Until the end of his 2004 season. It explains why the team was so careful with him. His history of arm problems almost cost him his career.

It would be easy to see Pickens being tentative with his throwing from the outfield. After all the scares he has had since his minor league career began, the feeling of ‘don't let this be the one' would be common in many young players' head.

Not so says Pickens. He remains tenacious on defense. While he admits it took him some time to get back into the swing in the outfield, he never let that aspect to enter into his mental state.

One could argue that the reckless abandon for his previous injuries promoted the most recent. But in his defense, how else would you play the game. If you can't give it your all, there is no sense in going out to play.

There was never a question of whether he gave it his all. According to the Wizards staff, Pickens was usually one of the first players to the park, he worked his tail off and they often wondered just when he would break his slump. Hard work – eventually pays off.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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