Padres Prospect Interview: Nick Hundley

PORTLAND, OR: San Diego's PETCO Park is the most pitcher friendly park in the major leagues and conversely the toughest park on an offense. So, in any given year, the Padres are going to play a disproportionate amount of low scoring close games, which means pitching and defense is at a premium.

The premier defensive position on the field is the catcher. Being a catcher is much more than just fielding your position, its calling a game, being a quasi-psychologist to the pitcher and controlling the running game; something Padres' have not been able to do effectively for the past few years.

Nick Hundley, 24, is the top catching prospect in the organization. The Padres believe that Hundley not only posses the necessary athletic ability to be successful in the major leagues but is also a leader on the field and knows how to get the most out of a staff.

Both Hundley and Chase Headley were drafted in the second-round by the Padres in 2005, the best second-round picks the team have ever made. Hundley has been steadily improving his defensive ability as he has progressed up the ladder, especially in his ability to block breaking pitches in the dirt.

Last year in San Antonio, he hit career highs in home runs [20] and RBIs [72], despite playing in one of the toughest parks to hit in the Texas League.

This year in Portland, he's off to a strong start defensively behind the plate but is struggling at the plate. Similarly, Hundley got off to a sluggish start last year in Double-A and was hitting .189 as late as May 12 but still finished up at .247/.324/.475, hitting .253/.342/.500 after the All-Star break.

You have some very strong numbers defensively this year [.978 fielding percentage and have thrown out 42% of base stealers] which is an improvement on what you did last year and in years past. What have you been doing to improve defensively?

Nick Hundley: You have to make it a priority. Maybe in the past I didn't focus on it as much as I needed too, but now I'm just really try to help the pitchers out. I think I'm always going to throw well, and I have to maintain that strength and work on the weaknesses that I have.

In the past, I've asked you about throwing guys out and you've always emphasized it's a team thing with the pitcher and the manager's instructions from the bench. What have you been doing to improve on your part – the throwing, the footwork and getting out of the crouch?

Nick Hundley: Like you said, it's a team effort. [Randy] Ready gives me all the signs, the pickoff and side-steps, and then, in terms of pitchers, I just ask that they give me a chance. If I have a chance, I think I need to be able to throw them out every time. I just try to be real athletic, short and quick with my feet and be accurate.

You've always had a good arm but where you used to have problems was with your footwork and the transfer of the ball, which doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

Nick Hundley: I've worked on my footwork a lot. I've been trying to stay under control and within my body. Sometimes, I have a tendency to get long with my feet, which caused me to be a little bit inaccurate with my throws. The key for me is being short with my steps, which really help my throwing.

Your manager, Randy Ready, and us to some extent, always throw around the phrase "handling a staff". Could you go into some detail about what that means?

Nick Hundley: It's interesting. You have 11 or 12 guys that you deal with on a daily basis and each one responds to something different. Each one responds to success and failure in a different way so you have to find out what makes them tick and how to help them in situations when they are having a hard time or what to do when they are pitching very well. The biggest key for me is, know why you are calling each pitch for each guy. You can't just roll the dice and throw your fingers down there. You have to have a goal in mind and a game plan.

Last year, we talked with Colt Morton about this in San Antonio, is it more fun as you get higher up because more of these pitchers have more control and that it becomes more of a chess game.

Nick Hundley: Yeah, definitely. These guys have so much more control, and you can ask them to do so much more in terms of executing the pitch, setting guys up and getting the hitter to do what you want them to do. You're not always looking to strike the guy out. If you need a ground ball you need to figure out how to get that ground ball. I can definitely have more freedom to ask guys to do what I want them to do.

This must be especially true compared to the lower levels compared to guys who may have a big fastball but not really the secondary pitches.

Nick Hundley: Yeah, with guys developing, it's always going to be tough. The faster guys figure it out the faster they go up. Experience plays a big part of it, but it's really just about learning how to pitch. If you can do that, it doesn't really matter what age you are.

How much does being behind the plate help you at the plate? Because you must have a pretty good idea of what someone else is trying to do to you as a batter.

Nick Hundley: It does help because you have a little bit better idea of what the umpire's strike zone is, and you are definitely in on every pitch. It helps to be in that state because you are always focused on the game. Last year, I DHed a few times in San Antonio and it was tough because I ended up thinking about the previous at-bats too much. When you are catching you don't have time for that.

The second half in San Antonio you hit much better than in the first half. How did the second half of last year help your preparations for this year?

Nick Hundley: I went in last year not knowing what to really expect at the Double-A level, not sure of what I could do. This year, I have confidence of not worrying about the situation that I am in and just trying to play my best. Knowing that I have been blessed and that I can get the job done.

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