Scouting Padres Prospect: Nick Hundley

When the San Diego Padres tabbed Nick Hundley 76th overall in round two of the 2005 MLB Draft some obvious questions came with it. Isn't catching one of the stronger positions in the system? George Kottaras is the future, isn't he?

All valid points to date but the Padres hold a firm belief that you can never have too many backstops. They proved that when they sent third round pick Billy Killian to the Texas Rangers this off-season – dealing from strength.

And Nick Hundley has the promise to be strength and so much more. The former Arizona Wildcat has quickly emerged as a top prospect in his one year in the system. He combines power, average and plate discipline – a rare trifecta for a catcher.

"Hundley has a rare combination of power and patience," said Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president of scouting and player development. "Had some trouble defensively but he controls the pitching staff."

A former fifth round pick by the Marlins out of high school, Hundley flashed power in his pro debut, swatting seven homers and seven doubles for the Eugene Emeralds. The plate discipline he was known to have also came with him as he posted a 33-to-35 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Hundley was moved up to Fort Wayne late in the year where he saw action in ten games, playing sporadically. He hit .222 with five RBI's.

Always a high average hitter in college, Hundley's swing had some loop in it with the wood bat and exposed a hole along with it. What was once a compact swing got a little long in his first season and resulted in a .250 average in 43 games with the Ems. His pull-power mentality is a drawback but an off-season should bring him back to the player he was in college that uses all fields. Placed in the cleanup spot, he has a tendency to think big as a run producer and gets away from his strengths. The result was a .222 average with runners in scoring position (RISP) for Eugene and that number looked good compared to his work with RISP and two outs – .045 in such situations.

The strangest part of his game was on the defensive side. Normally sound behind the plate and touted for his defensive prowess, Hundley struggled with his blocking skills. Hundley, used to perhaps less movement, had a compact crouch behind the plate early in the year and widened out his stance as the season progressed so he could effectively slide laterally to get the errant ball. The hope is the new approach will cut down on the 15 passed balls (his 14 passed balls led the Northwest League) and nine errors he was credited with over two leagues. Hundley did throw out 23 of the 66 thieves trying to steal a base against him, good for 34.8 percent.

One of the biggest adjustments for Hundley was seeing action behind the plate on a nightly basis rather than the three times a week he would in Arizona. He tied for the league lead with 40 games behind the plate in the Northwest League. Stamina will be an issue he confronts this coming year as the wear and tear hits a catcher more than any other position.

While he struggled defensively, several pitchers praised his game-calling ability, a big part of his job.

"Nick Hundley and I would talk before we actually would go out and pitch," pitcher Grant Varnell said. "Say we were pitching a team that likes to go the other way with the ball, we'd talk about how we were going to bust them in or what type pitches we'll use and just certain philosophies before the game on how to succeed or get better. He's pretty good with getting with me on the same page and calling the pitches that I like in certain situations. That's definitely good for me. He's a good catcher and does a good job blocking and throwing out runners."

The Oregon native will have his rise through the system blocked at times, depending on what they do with Kottaras and Colt Morton. If Kottaras is back in Mobile, Hundley will be the full-time catcher in Fort Wayne.

His ultimate success will be based around his bat. He has an above average arm behind the plate and his defense will improve but can he maintain the high on base percentage to compliment his power? A shorter approach at the plate probably won't take away much power and it will prevent him from swinging for the fences in key situations.

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