Padres' Prospect Interview: Nick Hundley

No player benefited more this year than Nick Hundley. Already considered a top prospect, his main competition was jettisoned to the Boston Red Sox. Given his success in 2006, the San Diego Padres are confident they made the right decision.

Talk about coming from Fort Wayne to Lake Elsinore and just getting to that next level in the same season.

Nick Hundley: In minor league ball your ultimate goal is to do just that. It was definitely good news when I heard Randy Ready tell me. I loved Fort Wayne. It was a great city and great place to play but (Lake Elsinore) is just a little bit better. It is a better brand of baseball. A great place to play, a great staff and I haven't been to a place in minor league baseball that is better.

I got a chance to talk to Carlos Hernandez, your roving catching instructor, and one of the things we discussed was your ability to be vocal with the pitching staff. I saw you in spring training "yelling" at guys. Talk about working with the staff

Nick Hundley: It is huge. I love playing the game and want that to spill over into the way I play. Being able to interact with 15 different pitchers – you have to be able to treat each one a little differently. You have to put the work in to be good. Otherwise you will only go as far as your talent will take you. My goal is to work hard everyday and get better.

We talked a little about coming from Fort Wayne to Lake Elsinore and you said ‘a better brand of baseball.' What does that really mean?

Nick Hundley: Everyone has been around pro ball a little bit longer. They know what it takes to be successful. They know exactly how to approach the game. How to pace themselves, how to get themselves ready when it is time to go and it was good to see guys that really know what pro ball is all about. Guys in Fort Wayne, almost every single one of us was in their first full season so we were all learning together. Here guys have been through it and have been around pro ball longer. It is a little cleaner. A little bit better pitching and a little bit better arms you are facing. Other than that it is baseball as usual.

How did you take the trade of George Kottaras for David Wells?

Nick Hundley: Anytime somebody ahead of you is traded it can't be a negative thing for me personally.

Hopefully it works for George and the Red Sox and David Wells throws well for us.

In this game, you can't worry about anyone in front of you or behind you because baseball is such a small, fickle game. You can go bad at any time and go good at any time. I have to worry about what I can do and what I can control. All that front office stuff is front office stuff and I am not paid to make decisions. I am paid to play.

At the same time does it give you the sense that they must think pretty highly of me and the rest of the catchers in the system. A shot of confidence in the catchers within the system?

Nick Hundley: Exactly. Hopefully the organization has a plan for me and my future. But I can't put any added pressure on myself. I just need to go out and play and play hard. It is nice to know that the organization has some stock in the catchers we have now.

How do you assess your year at the plate in Fort Wayne and in Lake Elsinore?

Nick Hundley: I came out in April and didn't swing it as well as I wanted to in the beginning of the year and probably looked too much into the numbers and put too much pressure on myself. Once I got into May and June – in June I think I hit over .400 and really played for the right reasons – played to honor my family and God and stopped worrying about myself. From then on it started rolling and it has been nice.

You mentioned allowing the talent to flow but also mentioned that you need to continue to progress and get better. It is a fine line, I guess?

Nick Hundley: It definitely is. When you are playing you have to go out and play and when you are practicing you have to work. You can't go through the motions in batting practice, you can't go through the motions in infield and think you are going to get better. In the game situation you can't worry about how BP was. You have to go out and let it all out and come together, trust that the work you put in pay off.

Was the work you put in everything you expected it to be?

Nick Hundley: You know, I thought it was above average. I thought it was a good year at the plate but I hope I can do more. I am not satisfied. I am never satisfied. Other than the start I think it was a good year for me.

The organization has put an emphasis on being patiently aggressive at the plate as you well know. How has that played into your game and where have you found – ‘hey I am a really good hitter when the count is 2-2.'

Nick Hundley: I think sometimes I do get myself out early in counts on pitches that if I take I might get a better pitch to hit. That is the right way to approach it. I definitely won't let fastballs in the middle of the plate go by any means but you talk about the 2-1 changeup that is down and away. If you swing at it it is 2-2 and if you let it go it is 3-1. That is a great way to approach hitting and I think knowing your own strike zone is one of the biggest thing in baseball.

From an organizational philosophy to your application of it, I remember you were patient in college, but is this new to you?

Nick Hundley: I have always been a guy that walked a lot. In college I walked a lot and in my first half season. I don't go up there looking to walk but it is something that comes natural to me. I know my strike zone well and know what I can handle and can't. Sometimes you do get in a rut where you are not swinging well but it is definitely not new to me. I can be more mature and a more patient hitter. I like the philosophy a lot.

Working behind the plate and throwing runners out – how has Carlos Hernandez helped you?

Nick Hundley: Carlos has been tremendous. He comes in and works us hard and just gets after it. He doesn't hold anything back. He doesn't keep any of his secrets. He will give you all the information you need. Throwing has always come naturally to me, more than anything in baseball. I don't think the throwing part, but with footwork and the transfer he has been tremendous in terms of calling games and blocking pitches. There is so much to do catching wise than other spots. He has helped my career out a ton.

I have always been surprised that more catchers aren't among the best hitters in the league. No one knows the strike zone better on a given night. Wouldn't it make sense?

Nick Hundley: You have so much focus going into calling the game and working with the pitchers – that is the first priority of catching, getting a pitcher in the zone and calling a good game. There is so much more focus defensively than offensively that it is tougher on your mind and tougher on your body. There is a reason more catchers aren't leading the league in hitting, other than Joe Mauer.

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