Padres Prospect Interview: Nick Hundley

San Antonio, TX-- In late September last year, the Padres traded for David Wells to bolster the staff on its successful drive to win the division. The trade ignited some controversy among Padres' fans because the price for Wells from the Boston Red Sox was catcher George Kottaras, who was considered one of the top five prospects in the San Diego system.

There were a couple of reasons the Padres made the trade: first and foremost for the parent club to win. Second, Padres' catcher Josh Bard was having a big year and the organization believed that their best catcher in the minors was Nick Hundley, not Kottaras.

Hundley, 23, was drafted by the Padres in 2nd-round in the 2005 draft and put together his best year at the plate, .247/.324/.475 since his debut season in Eugene. This year he had 44 extra base hits, 20 of which went over the wall to tie with third baseman Chase Headley for the team's lead, and fourth in the Texas League on his way to hitting .253/.342/.500 in the second half to help lead the Missions to a Championship.

At the plate Hundley has the power and patience that the Padres covet, but what is becoming his calling card is his defense. This year he threw out nearly 37% of opposing base runners and excelled in handling the pitching staff.

He should be in Portland to start next year and if he can get a little more consistent at the plate he could be in San Diego before long.

Additionally, his girlfriend is an avid reader of and always reports back to Nick the positive articles that we write about him – and when he lands in the "Disappointments" section of our players of the month column – she keeps all of us honest.

First why don't we go over why you always start off slow at the plate and then end up punishing the ball as the season goes on?

Nick Hundley: Probably just trying to do too much at the beginning of the year. A little too much expectations and pressure on myself. I think I'm capable of doing well at the beginning of the year – just haven't done it yet.

When you look at your stats, your batting average never really tells the whole story of what you do offensively. You draw quite a few walks and nearly half of your hits are for extra bases. Could you go over your approach at the plate?

Nick Hundley: I try to stay in my zone, and there have been times when I have gotten out of that zone, but I try to go after balls that I can handle. If you look at where I was in the middle of May, I was hitting around .170 and where I am finishing is a lot better. Obviously the batting average isn't where I would like it, but the power numbers are.

You have 20 home runs which are more than you have ever had in your career.

Nick Hundley: Yeah I'm real happy with that, especially in a park like this one. This is not conducive to offensive numbers at all. It's a place you have to grind it out; you get balls taken away from you but that is the life we have to live.

We talked to Missions' manager Randy Ready in late April and he said that your offense was going to come, but they were really happy with you behind the plate, your defense and how you handle the staff. Maybe for our readers you can give us some insight in how you work with the pitchers. How you prepare before the game, what you are looking for in bullpens and if you try to help with mechanical adjustments out on the mound? For example if a pitcher's arm slot is off or he is striding too far.

Nick Hundley: With these guys at this level they know what they have to do to be successful. I don't do a lot of things mechanically, that is kind of Glenn Abbott's territory [pitching coach for the Missions], but I can definitely go out there and calm them down if something isn't going right. Go out during the game, talk between innings – how we are going to go after certain hitters. This year it's been pretty easy because we have a real successful staff who knows how to prepare and how to execute.

How do you prepare for an upcoming series? Are you in the meetings? As compared to the major leagues where they have extensive advance scouting and video how do you guys go about it?

Nick Hundley: We've played all of these guys about 20 or 30 times, so we have a pretty good idea of what they can do. We'll go over every hitter with the starting pitcher and Abby. We'll go over what they can do and we'll decide how we are going to attack them. If we execute, then we're going to be in good shape.

This year I've really learned a tremendous amount from Abby and [Randy] Ready [Missions manager]. Ready has really helped me when I've struggled from the start and has had my back the whole year – which has been amazing. He's been awesome to play for.

You've had success this year in throwing out runners attempting to steal this year. On the big club the number is much lower and the Padres always claim that it's not all on the catcher. How have you and the pitching staff worked to keep runners close and give you an opportunity to make plays?

Nick Hundley: The staff has been great and I've stayed healthy, so my arm feels good. Abby talks to them every day about varying their timing and their looks to give Colt and I a chance to throw them out, and that is really all you can ask. If they do a good job of keeping them close and give us an opportunity we have to throw them out every single time. That is our job and what we have to do.

Ready calls the pick-offs, the pitch outs the slide steps – everything. He is really into the game and has a great feel for the game. He's called a lot of pick offs this year and has caught people leaning.

We recently found out Ready's nickname is "Spike".

Nick Hundley: [laughs] Yeah, he's a competitive guy. If you're not out there getting after it, you're not going to be on the field.

It seems like that you have put on some size since I last saw you play in Eugene in '05. How tough is it to keep on weight playing in places like Lake Elsinore and here?

Nick Hundley: It's tough. I've gotten into a decent routine with Cody, our strength coach, and he lets me go after the games – because I can't lift heavy before the games and then try to go play. I play, get a bite to eat – then get after it for about 35 to 40 minutes. I get it done, no matter what. You have to perform in August as well as May.

Defensively and offensively, what are the biggest things that you need to improve upon?

Nick Hundley: Offensively just getting more consistent. I have the tools to be successful every day, but I need to prove that I can be consistent and do it. Same approach, same load and same rhythm. Defensively probably just keeping everything in front of me.

I thought you were going to say you're biggest goal was not to be listed in the "Disappointments" section for the players of the month.

Nick Hundley: [laughs] Oh, definitely, I want to stay out of that.

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