This year Chase Headley erased many of the doubts en route to being named the Padres Minor League Player of the Year by Madfriars.com, hitting .330/.437/.580 with 20 home runs; leading the Texas League in on-base and slugging percentage. Headley also played a solid third base, finishing the year with a .963 fielding percentage.
"It's a great honor to be named minor league player of the year in the Padres organization by Madfriars.com and some of the others," Headley acknowledged. "We have so many good players in our system, and before that wasn't the case, so to be named the player of the year within this group is quite an honor."
So what were the reasons behind the big improvement?
In the off-season, Headley put on about 15 pounds of muscle with a very intensive workout regime and was able to maintain it throughout the season. That, however, wasn't the only reason.
"One of the big things, of course, was getting stronger, but it's also about learning what pitches you can and can't drive," said Headley. "If you're swinging at pitches that you can't drive it doesn't matter how strong you are, it's not going anywhere. This year I worked on being more selective on pitches that I can not only hit but drive and do damage when we have guys in scoring position."
Headley earned a brief mid-season call-up to the Padres, and even though he didn't put up big numbers, the experience helped to convince both Headley and the Padres he could play at that level.
"I learned a lot being up there, mainly the subtle things, how they go about their business, how to watch film, things that you really don't see in the minors," he noted. "Probably the most important thing I learned was that I can play there. I feel I can go up there right now and compete. I might not light the world on fire, but I can play there."
Headley also corrected his ability to hit lefties, hitting .364/.452/.654 as a right-handed hitter; in short there aren't a whole lot of questions left for Headley to answer except where and when he will be in San Diego.
In the 2006 off-season the Padres traded popular second baseman Josh Barfield for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who was blocked in the Indians organization by Andy Marte. After a slow start, Kouzmanoff had one of the best seasons of any rookie in the major leagues, hitting .317/.366/.524 after the all-star break.
So where does that leave Headley?
He is considered a better fielder and should hit for more average than Kouzmanoff, but doesn't have his power. Throw in the fact that Kouzmanoff is already an established major league regular and the Padres are going to have a pleasant problem on their hands.
"We'll just play it out," said Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice-president of scouting and player development. "Chase may see some time in left field in spring training too."
So what does Headley think of all the position change news and other rumblings?
"I haven't heard any news on it yet, but I'm sure there are some rumblings going on," said Headley. "Right now, I just got back into Knoxville and am working as hard as I can to get in the best shape I can and hopefully make the team out of spring training next year."