Kulbacki out to prove his worth

Kellen Kulbacki struggled in his first month of professional baseball, but the 40th overall pick of the San Diego Padres simplified things down the stretch, turning his season around. Now, he hopes to build on that success in 2008.

You had a bit of a slow start, but at the end of the season did it meet your expectations?

Kellen Kulbacki: Honestly, I feel like as well as I finished the season and as poorly as I started, I really didn't meet my expectations.

I feel like there is a lot that I didn't show this summer and I know there are larger steps I need to make to be closer to where I want to be. This summer was more of a learning experience for me – to soak in everything that comes along with being a professional player, learning how to play everyday, learning the things you don't experience until you get into professional baseball.

I don't really feel like I met the expectations I set for myself. I still have a long ways to go and a lot to learn to be the player you want to be.

What were the adjustments you made during the year? You began hitting between .250 and .260 before going on a tear in that final month end ending up over .300 for the season.

Kellen Kulbacki: I think the biggest thing was putting aside any of the mechanical adjustments I was trying to make. There were a lot of things I was trying to work on during the first month I was there with my hands, my load and all that kind of stuff.

It got to the point where there wasn't an at-bat where I was going up there and thinking clearly about hitting the ball. Instead, I was going up there and thinking mechanically. As a hitter, that is something you can't do.

It got to a point where I just said, ‘Get comfortable and no matter what mechanically I am doing, just think about hitting the ball and concentrate on that.' That is where I started to see more production and starting to feel a little more comfortable.

It wasn't where I wanted to be and there was a lot I wanted to work on, but to finish the season strong, I just needed to think about hitting the ball and putting mechanics aside.

You went out to the Padres Instructional League. Could you think about the mechanics at that point?

Kellen Kulbacki: Definitely. Out there I was working with Muse (hitting coordinator Tony Muser), (hitting coach Bob) Skube and Flo (AZL manager Jose Flores). I feel like I have more power in my swing than I have had in a long time. I have more balance up there; I am comfortable up there mechanically, and I am learning how to hit. That is a huge thing for me that I need to learn. Once you get the mechanics down, it is learning how to hit because there is a difference with how to swing and how to hit.

When you learn how to hit that is when you see your game develop. That is one thing I have been trying to work on. In the Instructional League it is not so much about results but the process to get to the results. That is what I was trying to focus on and take it one step at a time.

Back in school at James Madison, did you think you would be sitting here today saying, ‘I need to learn how to hit'?

Kellen Kulbacki: To be honest, no. This whole experience has opened my eyes to a whole other side of baseball and a whole other side of hitting that I have never seen before in the first 21 years of my life. To say the least, it has been an eye-opening experience for me. I am trying to soak it all in, use what may be beneficial to me and leave aside what might affect me in a negative way, molding it together to be the hitter I want to be.

You can change some things at Instructs and it wasn't about results, as you said. What are the specifics to those adjustments?

Kellen Kulbacki: I am taking my hands back farther in my load, I am keeping my front shoulder on instead of loading with my shoulders, I am using my hands more, which is allowing me to create more torque and power. I am starting open so when I load I am staying even and parallel instead of closing myself off. Those are the big things.

I am not as stationary. There is a little more movement, which is creating a little more rhythm and being comfortable. Keeping my head still as well – all good things. I am feeling a lot better, a lot more comfortable and more excited to see where these adjustments are going to take me with my swing – adding power and hitting the ball to all fields.

When I talked to a few people, they said that when they first saw you, you didn't look very good in the outfield. As the season progressed, it appeared you made tremendous strides. What changed?

Kellen Kulbacki: I knew that the defensive side of my game wasn't what was being looked at the most before the draft, but knew that I was solid, making the plays I had to and making the throws that I needed to.

When I came to the Padres, one thing they wanted to me to improve upon was my first-step quickness in the outfield and on the bases.

Sounds easy.

Kellen Kulbacki: It wasn't for me at first. Gambi worked us hard in the outfield. He has such great knowledge of the game of baseball to teach the outfielders what we needed to know; things I have never worked on before.

He has taught me so much about the outfield. I really took consideration into what he said and worked on the things he asked me to. I am getting better jumps on balls, better reads, and getting to balls I normally wouldn't have or might have taken the wrong route to.

Even running the bases and getting better jumps has definitely improved as well. That is something I am very happy about.

One of the keywords being preached at Instructs was "creating backspin". How do you do it?

Kellen Kulbacki: Backspin comes from staying on top of the ball and focusing on hitting the bottom half, staying inside it and using your hands to come down on the ball. When you see topspin, that is from guys uppercutting and getting around the ball and not driving it as well as they should.

Creating backspin keeps a hitter disciplined because you are focusing on staying on top of it and driving it to right and left center rather than trying to hook it down the line or the corner. For a hitter, it causes the ball to carry more. It gives you a better chance for doubles, triples and home runs.

It sounds like you have a lot to think about going up to the plate?

Kellen Kulbacki: As a hitter, batting practice and the off field work on the tees, the extra work you put in is the time to think about that. When you step in the box, you have to try and tell yourself and hit the ball. It is easier said than done, though.

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