Matt Antonelli measured by progress

San Antonio, TX-- One of the brightest prospects in the Padres' system right now is second baseman Matt Antonelli. With the Padres problems at second base and Brian Giles, despite having a high on-base percentage, not being the prototype leadoff hitter – Antonelli seems to be the answer to both questions.

The 2006 first-round draft pick out of Wake Forrest played his first year in Eugene at third base, hitting .286/.426/.360. While everyone loved his on-base skills, there were concerns if Antonelli, 22, had the ability to hit for enough power at third, especially with the Padres having recently acquired third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff from Cleveland and having highly regarded prospects Chase Headley and David Freese in the system.

Last year, Antonelli had some problems adjusting to the long layoff from the college season to the beginning of the Northwest League and some nagging injuries affected him, limiting his ability to drive the ball – netting only 13 extra base hits in 235 plate appearances. During the winter, the Padres tinkered with his swing and made the decision to move him to second base.

The result?

He skipped Low-A and started off at Lake Elsinore where he was everything the organization hoped, hitting .314/.409/.499 with 32 extra base hits, 14 of them for home runs, and stealing 18 bases in 24 attempts. More importantly, he showed that he had the range and ability to handle second base.

In San Antonio, he started off red hot, hitting .419/.507/.694, but slowed down in August, hitting .229/.338/.373 before finishing the year at .294/.395/.476.

He's will probably start next year in Portland and be there for at least half a season, but he is close. His game is somewhat similar to former top prospect Josh Barfield; only Antonelli has much better strike zone judgment, a little more speed, about the same power and maybe a little more defensive range potential.

He's good, but like a child wanting Christmas to come in November, Padres' fans are going to have to wait just a little bit longer.

You've had a great year and really risen up on many national prospect rankings. What has been the biggest change from last year to this?

Matt Antonelli: Nothing much, really just doing the same as I did last year. I got a little stronger in the off-season. I got hot early in the year and kind of just kept it up. I've had a little bit of a bump in the last month but that is more of just getting a little tired form a long season. Right now I'm just trying to stay consistent.

Between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio you've hit over 20 home runs, which is more than you hit in your entire three-year career at Wake Forest.

Matt Antonelli: It was some swing stuff I worked on with coaches here. I had a couple of bad habits from college that I tried to break and when I finally did the power started to come.

What were some of the bad habits?

Matt Antonelli: In college, I was more of a front foot hitter. I bent my front knee a lot when I swung, so I didn't stay back and really drive the ball. So that is one thing that I have been really working on. I'm just letting the ball get to me and driving it now instead of chasing it.

Last year we had a chance to talk to some of the Eugene guys and they said that because Wake Forest did not advancing far in the college playoffs and you had a little bit of a hand injury it affected your ability to hit drive the ball, despite having a good on-base percentage. Not to make excuses, but did you find that to be the case?

Matt Antonelli: I know when I got there the first two weeks I thought I could just jump back in and play well, but when I looked at my stats – well, I was really rusty. I felt like I was getting jammed all the time. I felt like I hadn't played baseball in a long time. So I don't know if the wait affected me or the wooden bats and at the end of the year my wrist was a little sore, but not injured.

I do know at the beginning of this year I felt much fresher.

Can you talk about the move to second a little? We spoke with Grady Fuson at the beginning of the year and he thought you had the ability to make it at four or five positions. So is second base a good fit for you?

Matt Antonelli: I like it there, a lot of action and much more stuff going on than when I was at third. I'm not really the big third baseman type so I really fit better over there and think I'm getting better every day – I hope. It's a lot easier for me over there than it was at the beginning of the year.

We just finished talking with Randy Ready, who was a former major league second baseman. What has he been working with you on to improve defensively?

Matt Antonelli: Working on a lot of stuff – improving my range and footwork around second base, mainly on the pivot. Range-wise it was more of opening my hips a little more so instead of running towards the ball facing home plate, I turned a little more so I could get to full speed quicker.

How about the pivot? It must remind you a little of hockey with the contact?

Matt Antonelli: [laughs]. A little, not too much. It's easier now because when I first got over I was thinking too much, now it's much more reaction.

In high school you were the player of the year in football and hockey, but not baseball. How did you end up picking baseball?

Matt Antonelli: I felt I was a better baseball player than in either of the other two sports. I just ended up putting together better numbers in football and hockey. Baseball was probably my best chance to play professionally and it was my favorite. I thought I would pursue and see where it took me.

After your first year you had a good year, but not a great year. Several of the minor league pundits, notably Keith Law of ESPN, wrote that you really didn't project as more than a utility player. After putting up such strong numbers this year does any part of you feel any type of satisfaction?

Matt Antonelli: I feel good, but I still know that I have a lot to improve on and next year I want to better coming in. If I keep getting better I don't know where I will end up, utility player or whatever, but I want to be a good big league player.

Everyone always raves about your strike zone judgment. How did you develop that?

Matt Antonelli: I don't know. Most of my life I haven't had a whole lot of power. Growing up I never really hit home runs so I just learned to work the count so I could get on base. For some reason a lot of guys always wanted to hit home runs, I just wanted to get on base. For me it was walks and working the count.

The stolen bases are starting to come around too. You had 18 at Lake Elsinore and 10 here. Whenever you respond you always say you don't consider yourself a speed guy, but you're pretty successful. Are you trying to steal more?

Matt Antonelli: I've probably run about the same as I did in college and I've always had coaches tell me that I should run more. ‘You should run more; you have the speed to steal bases.' This year I've been running more.

Your percentage has been pretty good.

Matt Antonelli: You know I've stolen 15 to 20 bags before in college and not been caught that much and I've always thought I should run more. This year I'm trying to do it and right now I'm just trying to pick spots where I'll be successful.

So you're pretty comfortable in the whole leadoff man/second baseman role.

Matt Antonelli: Yeah, I like it a lot. I was a leadoff hitter for most of my life except for my junior year of college, when I hit third, so I'm pretty comfortable there.


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