Scouting Padres Prospect Chase Headley

After winning Texas League Player of the Year honors, what is there left to prove for Chase Headley?

Vital Statistics;
Name: Chase Headley
Position: 3B
DOB: May 9, 1984
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 223
Bats: Switch
Throws: Right

Not a whole lot – the one ingredient is longevity. Can the Tennessee alumnus accomplish the feat again?

Headley came into the season with a .282 career average over his first two minor league seasons. He clubbed 68 extra base hits, including 18 home runs, with 107 RBIs over that 190-game span, adding in solid plate discipline and solid defensive play.

"Actually, at the beginning of last year – he was a good player, but had a little stiffness in him," former San Antonio and current Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa revealed. "It was lack of experience. Watching him get into a flow and better rhythm of hitting – his approach improved and you could see that he was on the right track."

In 121 games this season with Double-A San Antonio, Headley pocketed 63 extra base hits – notching 38 doubles, five triples, and 20 homers. He also added 78 RBIs while still drawing 74 walks for an impressive .437 on-base percentage.

"He put himself on the map," former San Antonio and current Portland manager Randy Ready said. "He was the most consistent player throughout the whole Texas League all summer long. He earned his first major league call-up to the big leagues in San Diego. I think we were very fortunate to get him back – not only staying in the big leagues but maybe getting an opportunity to go to Portland."

He finished in the top five in the Texas League in nine different offensive categories while not committing an error over his final 27 games.

"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."

The switch-hitting Headley put in a dominant performance, hitting over .300 in all but the final month of the season and posting an on-base percentage of at least .390 in every month.

"He dominated," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "His confidence was up. As he continued to dominate, he continued to build his own self-esteem. He is a mature player and has his mind right. That is why I never felt guilty when we threw him to the big leagues. I told Kevin (Towers), ‘This guy can handle it. He is not going to have any fear. He does not need that extra step to prove that.'"

Along the way, Headley answered every question posed. He came into the season needing to show more power – especially as a third baseman. He also needed to prove that his plate awareness wouldn't suffer as a result. The 23-year-old accomplished the tasks in front of him.

"Every time I have seen him he has gotten better," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "When I first saw him I thought he would be a major league platoon player. Then I saw him in Instructional League and I liked him even more. I saw him the next year and I liked him even more. He went from major league extra to every day first division regular."

He went into last off-season looking to add muscle to his frame. At 195 pounds, he could hold the extra pounds. Headley came into Spring Training at 210 pounds and the extra strength was evident.

A tough off-season, however, could have meant struggles out of the gate. Timing changes and the extra bulk could have been a detriment while he learned its nuances. It wasn't. He came out smoking, hitting .360 in April and the rest was history.

Another point of contention was his switch-hitting ways. Headley struggled against left-handed pitching last season and had trouble keeping his swing plane consistent as a right-handed hitter. He put in extra time in the cages, but that never seemed to help his cause. Headley simplified things with his swing and mirrored his smooth left-handed stroke – actually hitting better as a right-handed hitter this season.

Switch-hitting will remain a tough assignment to master, as the mechanics of one swing is tough enough but Headley must remain confident and consistent with two.

"He had so many at bats left-handed that he wasn't getting his ABs right-handed," Tornicasa said. "As time went on, since he wasn't facing lefties, and you can work on it and work on it and take BP but it is nothing like seeing live pitching. That slowed his progress down. He actually has more power right-handed than left-handed. Last year, he went to the fall league and got good work right-handed and this year kept moving in the right direction."

Headley is a proponent of the Padres philosophy that preaches aggressively patient hitting. The Colorado native will work the count, and when it is in his favor he will look for his pitch in a certain location to drive. It is consistent with what he has done in the past – the difference is the extra strength in his body has allowed him margin for error while increasing his ability to drive the ball out of the park.

Headley's approach is centered around pounding the ball up the middle of the field and taking the ball where it is pitched when necessary. He remains a gap-to-gap hitter that will turn on an inside fastball and hammer it over the wall or go with an outside pitch to hit it the other way.

His .401 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is a testament to his ability to put the ball where fielders aren't – about 70 percentage points of the time better than an average major leaguer.

"He really had an opportunity to put things together in San Antonio and did that," Ready said. "Player of the Year voted unanimously by all the managers. He was the most consistent player throughout the whole summer."

The Padres believe Headley can tack on another 10-15 pounds to his frame so this off-season was eerily familiar to the last one. The third baseman/left fielder will have to ensure he doesn't take away from his agility in the process – a feat he has seemingly accomplished when he topped the scales in the 220-pound range.

Headley has developed into one of the better defensive third basemen in the minors. He has good range and soft hands while possessing excellent instincts and reaction. He puts himself in good position to field the ball and has an average arm. Extra steps to throw are not a part of his game, allowing him to settle and position his body for the throw.

There had been talk regarding Headley seeing time in left field and that came to bear this spring. Given his athleticism he could make the switch.

He is already a very good defensive third baseman and how quick he can make the adjustments in left field will determine when he sticks in the majors. He saw a lot of balls during the day in Arizona this spring and will now have to face the challenges of night-time forays on the grass, where shadows could wreak havoc on his ability to judge balls.

He has exceptional makeup and knowledge of the game, which has already aided him in the transition. He simply needs more games before taking flight in San Diego on a full-time basis.

"His makeup is so good it wouldn't surprise me if he was able to do it and be adequate out there," said Bryk. "Chase has outstanding work habits and belief in his ability and gets better every time you see him. He doesn't have the quickest feet in the world but makes the plays on all the balls he gets to."

ETA: Headley has already seen time in the majors and will be back at some point in 2008. He will start the year in Triple-A Portland with the whole point to improve his defensive game in left field. He has proven he can hit – tearing it up in Spring Training – and it is just a matter of time before he calls San Diego home.

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