Randy Ready on Padres Double-A prospects

We sat down with Missions' manager Randy Ready in the last week of the season for some insight on Chase Headley, Matt Antonelli, Nick Hundley, Colt Morton, Will Venable and the reasons behind the success of the Missions pitching staff.

This year's San Antonio Missions club was, perhaps, the best minor league club the Padres' have fielded in a long time. The team had several players who may have important roles with San Diego in the near future.

We get a lot of questions about third baseman Chase Headley and second baseman Matt Antonelli. How close are they to playing in the major leagues?

Randy Ready: Antonelli is in his first year playing second base which started in the Instructional League in '06 and then went to Lake Elsinore. He led off all year, had some nice offensive numbers, but still needs a little polish around second. One of the reasons he was up here is that Grady thought that I being a former [major league] infielder could help him. So every other day I tried to give him something to improve his defensive game to make it easier for him. The pivot, range, throwing steps, footwork around the bag, pop-ups and all the intangibles to play the "backbone".

These are the things that we are not seeing when we read fielding statistics, more than just can he field a ball that is hit to him.

Randy Ready: Absolutely, like the first step. Trying to play the keystone position at the major-league level. I've talked to Gary Jones our fielding instructor and Grady to see if they believe it's helped his range and they think it has. I told him I'm not going to overload him, but try to give him some shortcuts to help him with his game. There has been steady progress in his ability over there.

He gave us a shot in the arm and has played well at the Double-A level.

It seems the Padres are going to ask him to do a lot more offensively than they will the typical rookie. They want him to hit leadoff, take pitches, hit with some power and steal bases. That is quite a lot. Are you guys trying to groom him to become that type of player here?

Randy Ready: I think that kind of comes natural to him. He likes to go deep in the count.

He seems to have a great eye.

Randy Ready: Which is only going to get better. He has knowledge of the strike zone and an ability to use the whole field. All those things are big advantages and he's only been in pro ball for a year and half.

Last winter a few pundits, not us, but writers such as ESPN.com's Keith Law kind of implied that he was a semi-bust, projected as a utility man in the majors at best.

Randy Ready: A bust? You have to understand that there are tough assignments when you sign a contract to play pro ball. One of them is your first year of pro ball. It's kind of a wash, the playing field levels out. Then you have your first full season where you get a better idea of what someone can do. This guy is pretty green in the pro ranks. You have to give props to the pro scouts who signed him and made him our number one pick, because now everyone is standing back and saying, "I told you so." But that is part of the business that we are in. This kid has made great progress, has aptitude, and, most importantly, wants to be a good player. Really wants to be a better than good player.

Fuson was raving about his athletic ability before the year. He said that he probably could make it at three or four positions.

Randy Ready: Absolutely, I agree with that. I hope it doesn't become an occupational hazard for him and want to see him settle down at one position where defense can become a big part of his game.

Now when we talked to you about Headley in late April he had just finished a huge month and now he's had a huge year, Texas League Player of the Year. How much has his defense improved?

Randy Ready: When Chase came to the Fall League, we worked hard on his throwing steps. I guess the majority of his errors in the Cal League last year were throwing errors. So we took a closer look at it, dissected it a little and changed his mechanics slightly. We got him to shorten his strides a little and tuck the shoulder in, so we see a lot of strong accurate throws. This is why you've seen him play a strong accurate third base in the Texas League.

Right now you have two catchers that are playing well. In late April Nick Hundley was hitting about .190 but you were confident that he would come around with the bat. Hundley made the Texas League all-star team and was one of the league leaders with 20 home runs. What made you so confident in him?

Randy Ready: I know Nick. I believe in him and know he believes in himself. Great work ethic, desire to be the best. He almost overworks to the point where he gets fatigued and we have to back him off. I knew the game was going to slow down for him. As soon as he started gaining confidence and the speed of the game began to come to him, we knew he would start making offensive contributions.

Hundley had a pretty big year behind the plate defensively, what were the reasons for it?

Randy Ready: Not all guys can hold runners close. We try to mix it up some when some of our guys don't have the quickest deliveries. Nick has an opportunity to make up for that with his strong accurate throw and release. He's very quick back there, especially with his feet. The biggest thing with him is his lateral movement and he's working on his stance all the time; and what I mean by that he's not only working on his ability to block a ball down, but wide of the zone. He's put in a lot of hard work and the results are there. Post-season All-Star and nice offensive numbers. The big thing with Nick is he also has those leadership qualities; he wants to be the quarterback back there.

You seem to have two guys like that behind the plate with Colt Morton as well. He seems like he's tightened up his swing a little and is another potential major leaguer.

Randy Ready: Absolutely. Colt had the injury, which didn't get him going until June, but had a great Fall League. He really generated a lot of interest from clubs that I had, everyone liked him. It's kind of a tough situation, but a good situation to be in. Colt has been playing some first base and his bat has come around so much that he may have enough life to be an everyday first baseman and this flexibility helps him get at-bats. Colt works really hard on his swing with Tourny [Missions hitting coach Tom Tournicasa] which has paid off, and he's really done a great job. He's staying inside the ball now and he's a prospect.

How about Will Venable? He's hit well, and I know what you're going to say, but why not ask it anyway, is the power going to be the last thing to come? Fuson said at the beginning of the year the Padres thought that he would hit at this level, but didn't expect to see power numbers until next year. Are they starting to emerge?

Randy Ready: You're talking about a kid that is never satisfied whether he's hitting .250 or .350 and that is a great quality to have. He has obtainable goals and that is what makes him such a strong competitor.

One question about pitching. I saw two pitchers out at your old stomping grounds in Fort Wayne, Aaron Breit and Drew Miller who have tremendous stuff, but are having tough times finding the plate. The pitchers you have here Josh Geer, Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos don't have the biggest fastballs, but they are much better pitchers. They seem to get better as players see them more. You would think they would start to begin to figure them out. Why have they been so successful?

Randy Ready: If you are going to grade out pitching, you have to start with location and command. Number two movement, number three change of speeds and sometimes velocity is the last on the list. A great example is Greg Maddux.

Even at the major league level when pitches are located correctly – and the fastball is still the best pitch – if it's well located, it's tough to handle. Throw some movement in there and change of speeds and that same location with command, and you're going to win ball games. The defense will be happy to play behind you. It's not about strikeouts, it's about ball in play, three pitches or less and you're going to win ball games.

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