McAnulty continues to defy expectations

Bad body. Doesn't run well. Can't hit with power. Twelfth round draft pick. Can't play defense. A sampling of some of the things that have been said and written about Paul McAnulty, the Padres top left-handed hitting prospect.

All of this is fine with Paul McAnulty. Keep telling him what he can't do, and he will keep finding ways to beat you.

"I love being the underdog, its been that way my whole life. It really motivates me. I've never been given anything in this game. Every opportunity I've ever had has been on what I earned on the field."

McAnulty, as opposed to other players within the Padres' system, has emerged as a prospect based on what he has done so far in the minor leagues, as opposed to other players whose potential has yet to match their performances. In fact, the organization seemingly keeps trying to find a league where McAnulty can't hit.

So far it hasn't happened.

Drafted out of Long Beach State in 2002, the Padres sent McAnulty to their lowest minor league affiliate, Idaho Falls, where he won the Pioneer League batting title with a .379 average. After a mediocre year in Fort Wayne, the knock on McAnulty was that there wasn't much demand for an overweight first baseman with limited power.

McAnulty ended that perception by coming into Lake Elsinore in 2004 lighter and stronger, moving to left field while hitting 23 home runs and being named to the California League All-Star team.

His push continued up the Padres' prospect ladder hitting .353 in the Arizona Fall League, leading the team in home runs and finishing second in RBIs despite being the only Padres player with no experience above Class A. If that wasn't enough, he hit .467 against major league pitchers in spring training culminating in Padres broadcaster Tim Flannery anointing him his favorite Padres' minor league player.

After being called up from Mobile in late July, Paul destroyed Pacific Coast League pitching hitting .344 with a .563 slugging percentage. Most importantly, the last major knock on McAnulty, his ability to play the outfield at a major league level, is slowly being erased in a typical McAnulty manner, a lot of sweat.

"During BP I try to chase down balls that I think I can't get to improve my reaction time," he said. "Some of those balls that you don't think you can't get to, you end up getting to. It's amazing what starts to happen when you improve your reaction time."

McAnulty understands that his bat is what has taken him to the Major Leagues, but he must also prove the skeptics wrong that he doesn't have the athleticism to play the outfield.

Despite his success, McAnulty is trying to keep his focus on what is in front of him and trying not to think too much about when he will become a full time major league player.

"People say that it is not in their mind, they're lying," said McAnulty. "It's always on your mind. But I can't worry about what is coming to me tomorrow. I have to find someway, somehow to help my team win tonight."

During his time in Portland, McAnulty's mindset was on time management.

"Everyone is down here for a reason, I'm trying to use my time here wisely. I know I got some good things coming to me, but I can't really worry about it until it happens."

Tye Waller, the Padres Director of Minor League Development, was impressed with McAnulty's play in Mobile and Portland this year.

"Mac has really poured himself into improving defensively," said Waller. "However, if you play the two corners your best position is batter. He's got to hit. He started to hit down there not only for average, but for power. He's becoming the hitter we envisioned."

That hitting earned him two Major League call ups, including a September 1 trip to San Diego to help the team on their playoff run.

Tomorrow in part two, McAnulty talks about the differences between AA and AAA, pinch hitting and his chances on making the major league roster in 2006.

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