Prospect Interview: Matt Thayer

Good defensive instincts, an old school lead off hitter, excellent speed, and a mind for the game. When you start adding up all the pluses that Matt Thayer has, he seems to have been bred to be a ballplayer. He played his college ball at UCLA, and still fell to the 31st round, where the Padres scooped him up. At the end of his first season of pro ball Thayer was given a one game promotion to Lo-A Fort Wayne, so the question becomes, when is everyone else going to stand up and take notice?

"I think it drives me, getting drafted low, because people never really thought I'd make it. I started in small private high school, and people never thought I'd make it at UCLA. I made it, and people said I wouldn't get playing time. I got playing time and people said I couldn't play pro ball. Now I'm here and I guess I just have to prove a few more people wrong." Thayer said as he waits for the Padres to give him his assignment.

"I leave on March 11th, but I really don't know where I'm headed." Pressed to give us a prediction, he declines, finally he's asked where he's like to start 2005.

"I'd like to go back to Fort Wayne," Thayer says. "That's where I finished last year, but you never really know with these things. I only played one game there, so I'm not sure you anyone could say for sure whether I could handle it or not, but I think that's realistic."

While many players spent their offseason cramming as many hours of training as they could into a day, Thayer's had bigger issues to deal with, namely making sure he's still got a home.

"It's been pretty crazy, we've just been getting pounded with rain."

The storms that have blanketed Southern California, where Thayer makes his offseason home, have knocked power out and caused widespread flooding. Even his 23rd birthday was interrupted by a power outage. "It looks like it's starting to ease up a little bit, but the last couple of weeks have really made me look forward to getting back on the field," and dry land one would imagine.

For Thayer things as simple as hitting and throwing are a little more complicated. He bats right handed, but throws lefty. While not unheard of, it certainly seems like it might have been better to go the other way if he was planning on playing baseball.

"that's something I get reminded about all the time. Ever since I was a kid people would ask, ‘Why aren't you the other way,' or tell me I was backwards, it didn't matter what level I was at I was always reminded of it. There's just not a whole lot I can do. I tried switch hitting in high school but it didn't really take. I found myself working too much on one side of the plate, and not much time on the other side. I'm comfortable from the right side, and it just seems like it's more trouble than its worth."

Not that he's giving anyone a reason to tinker just yet. At Eugene Thayer crushed left handed pitching to the tune of a .326 batting average, and while he hit only .270 against righties, his on-base percentage hovered right around .400 from both sides of the plate. With numbers like that, and speed like his, his eight stolen bases seem low.

"I sprained my ankle in my first game at Eugene," Thayer reports. "It was pretty bad, and it really hampered me in the first half. Really I think it was more my choice not to run as often last season as anyone else. It wasn't really a coaching thing, but we were involved in quite a few blowout games where you just don't run as much, so the numbers were probably a little lower than they should have been because of the injury."

The speed, the feeling of always having to prove himself, throwing lefty and batting righty…sounds familiar.

"I don't know if it was really something I thought about, but I guess when I was younger I did sort of try to model my game off Ricky Henderson's." Thayer says, "I guess because he was really the only guy I knew who threw lefty and batted righty. I've always loved Ricky, the way he can just dominate a game." And how close is the youngster to his hero? "Oh, nowhere near, I mean come on, he stole like a million bases, he's the all time steals leader. I'm just trying to play as hard and as smart as I can."

He's that rare commodity in the minor leagues, an educated man. He graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics, and he's obviously using that brain for more than just stealing signs. "I love baseball, and I want to take it as far as it can go. But I'm glad I went to such a good school and went to class and got my degree. I'll keep playing as long as I can, but when no one wants be anymore, I know I've got something I can do outside of baseball."

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