Name: Chad Huffman
DOB: April 29, 1985
After hitting .343 with the Eugene Emeralds in his debut season with 27 extra base hits and a .439 on-base percentage, the TCU alumnus was pushed to Lake Elsinore of the California League, effectively skipping Low-A Fort Wayne (he had 14 at-bats with the Wizards in 2006).
After going 3-for-30 over his first eight contests, Huffman turned it on and never cooled down. The outfielder hit .329 over his final 75 games with the Storm before being promoted to Double-A San Antonio, reaching base in his final 17 games.
He ended his tour in High-A with a .307 average, 63 runs scored, 76 RBIs and 36 extra base hits in 84 games.
Huffman didn't have quite the same success in Double-A, hitting .269 with 28 runs scored, 28 RBIs and 12 extra base hits over 49 games. He did, however, battle injuries towards the end of the year and probably shouldn't have played in the postseason.
"He gave us a shot in the arm," former San Antonio and current Portland manager Randy Ready said. "Huffman is a leader in his own way. He is very loose. He goes at-bat to at-bat and game to game. He brings some of that mental toughness with him. He is a grinder. He was a big shot in the arm to our lineup.
"It was unfortunate he whacked his knee there at the end and was hobbled. He tried to go the couple of games."
Combine the numbers and he still led the Padres system with 104 RBIs.
"He strives off RBIs," former Lake Elsinore and current Portland hitting coach Max Venable said. "With guys in scoring position it makes him that much better of a player. He really seemed to find a little extra or something. He was always killing it. He performed well in those situations."
Blessed with a good eye, he understands his hitting zone and attacks pitches that come into his comfort area. Once locked-in, he doesn't miss those pitches.
He has a smooth stroke that is level and focuses on hitting the top half of the ball, creating line drives and backspin to propel the ball further. His hands are relaxed and a short trigger allows him to sit back on the ball and drive through the hitting zone.
Because of his approach at the dish, Huffman is one of the best off-speed pitch hitters the Padres have.
"Chad – he likes to hit, there is no question about it," former Lake Elsinore and current Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "When I was in Fort Wayne, you would get a lot of these young guys playing their first full season and they really don't understand what it is like until they do it. You don't know how to go about it where you are still going to enjoy what you are doing and still perform on the field. There is a fine line there. You have to figure it out through experience. He got into that a little bit – a little tired there."
Huffman keeps things simple and is not hit by prolonged slumps. He will hit the tee to regain his stroke more often than working on changing his stance. He is standing a little taller than in the previous season and it has freed up his hands to get extension while eliminating the need for a prolonged trigger.
"Hitting – he is a little bit of a streaky hitter but this guy can hit good pitching," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "We faced some guys that were very, very tough and this guy hit them pretty good.
"There is a lot of hitters who kill the average pitching but struggle with the good pitching. This kid can hit good pitching – and easily."
Occasionally, Huffman will pull his bat rather than dropping it with a simple follow-through – it results in him looking like a corkscrew trying to get around on a pitch.
Getting hit by a pitch is not uncommon to the Texas native. He stands close to the plate to give him maximum coverage, hoping they come inside and miss so he can turn on the ball. He is not adverse to taking the ball the other way and working within the limitations set forth by the opposing pitcher.
One of the best attributes possessed by Huffman is his ability to hit good pitching. While other players are padding their stats versus inferior competition and struggling against the better hurlers, Huffman earns his keep by being consistent against them all.
"I like the way he swings the bat," Tornicasa said. "Now that he has a full year under his belt, next year he will be stronger throughout the season."
He has plus-gap power and maintains the ability to launch the ball over the fence. Set to turn 23 in April, he still has a little untapped potential with power and could set a new high in the upcoming season.
He is one of the best hitters in the system late in the game with the contest on the line. Huffman has a knack for getting the much-needed hit in those close games.
"Our scouting department has done a great job with makeup," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "I have been here for going on nine years and the last three years the makeup has been outstanding. They should be commended for it. The tools and makeup is what you are looking for. If their makeup is good they become guys who reach their potential.
"Chad Huffman is a guy who has belief in his ability. He is a better outfielder than people think, a better runner than people think and he can hit. He can play."
Huffman won't steal a lot of bases, as his money is made by driving them in, but he has good athleticism – aiding him defensively. He takes smart routes and has a good feel for reading the ball off the bat. He contributed 15 outfield assists across two leagues and has a solid arm that could play in right field, although all of his work has come in left.
"This guy used to be a second baseman and went to the outfield and did a good job," Lezcano said. "He was improving on jumps and routes and his throwing got better. Throwing a baseball on a swivel is not the same thing and he was getting better and better."
ETA: Huffman is a fierce competitor that does not allow his emotions to overtake his approach. Set with determination, Huffman could be in Portland before the season is out and competing for a big league job in 2009.
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