Name: Matt Antonelli
DOB: April 8, 1985
"We got a very athletic kid," Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president of scouting and player development, said. "He's a baseball player; he's a superb athlete. This kid was a big-time high school quarterback, exciting hockey player, I think he was all-everything in the state of Massachusetts and we believe and trust in his character and personality and makeup. The flexible thing with this kid, obviously, he is a third baseman, but more important, this kid's such a tremendous athlete that by the time he performs and gets close to this level, who knows where this kid may play on the baseball field. He's got a chance to play numerous spots if needed by the time he's ready."
"The kids from the Northeast, sometimes it takes them a little bit for you to see the polish, and this spring we felt like he had made big strides," said Padres' scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton. "We liked his athleticism; he can throw, he can field, he has bat speed, he has pop in his bat, he has gap power."
It was an interesting year for Antonelli. He flashed excellent tools in every category minus power and had an all-around positive year, despite losing a few weeks to a hand injury.
With unparalleled patience at the plate, Antonelli is the epitome of what the Padres are stressing – aggressively patient. It didn't always work out for the young infielder, as he pressed with runners in scoring position and would often dig himself in a hole that put him in bad counts.
The Massachusetts native will sometimes struggle recognizing pitches but has the awareness to let it go rather than allowing the pitcher to get an easy out.
He never seemed to sense the urgency of a pitcher to throw strikes in those situations and would let good pitches by.
It is, however, hard to argue with his approach long term. He placed second in the Northwest League in on base percentage at .426 and still managed to crack the top ten in hitting at .286.
Antonelli rarely swings at the first pitch but it is seldom he strikes out.
With 46 walks and just 31 strikeouts, Antonelli was one of six players in the system to walk more than they struck out and placed third in the organization in walks per game.
"Very good idea with the bat," 2006 Eugene manager Doug Dascenzo said. "The on base percentage was way up this year and very good for a first full season. There are a couple of things he needs to do at third base – I think he needs to get a little quicker and increase his range a little bit but he will be fine. Great speed and a hard-nosed ballplayer."
He had two different stints where he safely reached base in ten or more games. One concern was his average against left-handed pitching. For some reason he seldom received a good look at the ball when they pounded the outside corner and could only make southpaws pay when they hit too much of the plate.
Antonelli also added 38 runs scored and nine stolen bases in ten attempts. While he has the speed to steal some bags, he lacks the first step quickness to be a consistent threat at this time. He worked incessantly with Doug Dascenzo, a base running coach prior to his assignment as the team's manager, and learned to pick up the pitcher's actions better but his ability to quickly accelerate to top speed remains a work in progress.
"Matt's been everything so far that we thought he'd be," Fuson explained. "He's showing off all his skills, as far as his legs, his arm, his athleticism and his patience, discipline and knowledge of the strike zone, and it's all showing up for him. He's getting his knocks, scoring runs. He's been a big contributor. He has a solid approach at the plate."
He has a smooth stroke and is a tailor-made to produce instructional videos on hand positioning and keeping his elbow up. He locks and loads before releasing through an easy swing – one that carries a level plane.
"We tweaked a couple of things in his swing and he showed the aptitude to make the adjustments," former Eugene hitting coach Matt Howe said. "I was happy with his progression. He was driving the ball better and has always had good plate discipline."
The one area of his game that didn't develop as many had hoped was power. Twenty-four percent of his hits went for extra bases while playing in Eugene and none left the park. He has a level swing and will take what he is given, punching balls into the opposite field when necessary. But, the 12 doubles he amassed came more from line drives that made it to the wall rather than hard hit liners that ricocheted off the wall.
He went to the Padres' Instructional League to add a hint of loop to his swing to take advantage of his ability to make contact. His first homer came during that time and he added three doubles and two sacrifice flies.
"We feel like he's a good enough hitter that he will grow into power," said Gayton. "We were concerned coming into the draft that he wasn't going to be available for us."
Playing third base, the lack of power is his biggest detriment. While he profiles nicely as an on base machine, his value diminishes at third base – normally considered a power position.
Antonelli spent most of the season at the hot corner, playing several games at second base when he was moved up to Fort Wayne late in the year. He has solid defensive skills and range but profiles better to second because he doesn't profile as the heavy hitter that third base is generally known for producing. It was evident that the switch was in the works but became clear when he lined up nearly exclusively at second base at the Padres' Instructional League.
He may end up at third base again next year but will likely settle in at second base or move to centerfield in the future. As a former shortstop, the infield would be preferred.
If there is a word to describe the former Wake Forest product it is intangibles. He does the little things right and has impeccable makeup. There is no doubting his abilities and work ethic will allow him to reach the major leagues but there is still work to do.
ETA: Antonelli won't be fast-tracked and will be given ample time to develop properly. The power issue isn't as big a deal when he is playing second base and he certainly has more than he showed this past year. The assets that are truly coveted – reaching base, being a table-setter and moving runners over while increasing his quickness – will ultimately decide his timetable.