Name: Chad Huffman
DOB: April 29, 1985
A former quarterback, Huffman threw just nine passes in his collegiate career – eliminating any future in that sport – but he went on to collect numerous records at TCU in baseball – even besting his brother Royce in one category, hits in a single-season.
"Chad Huffman is a kid that was a football quarterback," Padres' scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton noted. "His brother played professional baseball. A strong kid, we really like his bat. He's played in the infield, he's played in the outfield and put up big numbers. We like his swing and we like the hitability and the potential for some good power."
Making a position change from second base to left field didn't hinder Huffman's ability to hit. In fact, it might have made him more relaxed at the dish with all the worry he had to put into being in position to make plays.
"We look at him more as a corner guy because of his size, but that doesn't mean he doesn't end up at second base," Padres' vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He's a big, strong, physical kid. He kind of profiles better in the outfield."
The Texas native went on to place second in the league in hitting with a .343 average for the Eugene Emeralds. He also placed first in on base percentage with a .439 mark, second in slugging percentage at .576, notched 27 extra base hits to place fifth in the league, and was an all-around leader for the club.
"He probably has as good a makeup as anyone we have in the organization," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "If you look in his eyes – he really believes in himself."
On August 7, Huffman was hitting .290 but went on a 13-game tear that saw him hit .511 with a .589 on base percentage and ten RBIs. He would go on to hit .393 overall in August.
It didn't matter if it was a righty or lefty on the mound, Huffman connected with lasers to all parts of the field.
"Chad had a really good season this year," 2006 Eugene manager Doug Dascenzo said. "A good average, finished second in the league in hitting and good power numbers. He made the change over from second base to left field – I thought he did an outstanding job and will only get better."
Huffman got a taste of the Midwest League late in the year, netting three hits in 14 at bats for the Fort Wayne Wizards.
His success comes from a powerful stroke that sees the bat had traverse the hitting zone for a long time. He has plus gap power and when he connects he leaves little doubt. Over his 54-game stint with Eugene he slammed 17 doubles – most on rockets to the gaps – and smashed nine homers.
He is also adept at going with the pitch – and with some power. If the pitch is away in a tough spot, Huffman will send it into right field.
"Huffman hit the ball ever since he got with the organization," former Eugene hitting coach Matt Howe said. "He had a great approach, great plate discipline. The ball just carries off his bat. He got the big hits for us and when he gets hot you just can't cool him off. He starts smoking. He hit for a high average, his power numbers were good, his on base percentage – through the roof – he did it all."
Huffman stands over the plate and as a result was plunked by 14 pitches this year. It does, however, give him solid coverage of the outside of the plate and his swing gives him coverage of the inside.
He has a patient approach at the plate and will wait for his pitch before pulling the trigger. That does not mean, however, that he is complacent. Huffman is a fan of first-pitch swinging if the hurler lays it in his sweet spot and his aggressively patient approach plays into the Padres' developmental plans.
Huffman averaged 4.0 pitches per plate appearance in the Padres' Instructional League and tied for the team lead with three homers. He led the group with 11 walks but was also working with different batting stances and hand positioning, moving them up down and all around to find the best spot and most relaxed feel.
What he found was he was rapping his bat around and not keeping it in the zone like he had been doing earlier in the season. He quickly made the adjustment.
One of the questions scouts have will be increasing his power output as an outfielder. While he had 26 extra base hits in Eugene and led the team in homers, everyone always wants more. The Padres have asked him to stand up a little taller to make use of that power.
"I don't really think you can go crazy," Bryk cautioned of his first year in professional ball. "If he hits for more power he may be more (of a major league regular). It is going to be about power."
Huffman worked out with James Loney this off-season and is looking to take all the tinkering into the new season. He also has Royce in same camp and that could spark some nice battles, even if they will be on different fields.
Manager Doug Dascenzo and his former work as the defensive rover for the outfield helped assimilation to left field and he did a solid job, improving as the year went on.
His arm was never a question but moving around in the outfield and reading balls off the bat was definitely nerve-wracking, according to Huffman. He made strides through the year and looked quite comfortable by the end of the season. It will be interesting to watch his developmental strides in the outfield.
"Making position switches for a good athlete is an easy thing to do," Padres outfield defense rover Tom Gamboa said. "Sometimes, the hitting takes a step backwards because the players focus - instead of doing something second nature he has to learn something of a new position."
That didn't happen for Huffman – the transition was smooth.
ETA: The early signs of his first professional season were very encouraging. Heading to full-season ball, Huffman must show it was no fluke. He has an approach that says he should continue to see success but the competition continually becomes fiercer. Another successful year and the sky is the limit.