Padres Prospect Interview: Justin Baum

FORT WAYNE, IN: Third baseman Justin Baum, 22, was selected in the seventh-round by San Diego in 2007 out of the University of Pacific. He's the type of player the Padres look for in the college ranks, a player with a record of controlling the strike zone and hitting the ball into the gaps.

Last year, he put together some solid numbers in Eugene .269/.353/.488 before finishing of the last 22 games at the season in Fort Wayne, where he hit .286/.390/.471. With Rayner Contreras penciled in as the everyday third baseman in Lake Elsinore, Baum returned to Fort Wayne this season and has quietly put together a solid offensive season.

He leads the Wizards in extra base hits, slugging percentage and OPS with a .273/.350/.446 line. His big negative is in the field where he is also the leader in errors with 25 and has a .891 fielding percentage. Most of his errors have been on throws due to problems with his footwork. However he has improved cutting his errors in June and July to 10 after having 10 in May alone.

He's going to have to improve to stay at third, particularly when he goes to the desert infields of the California League, but with his bat, approach and intelligence, he is definitely a player that will have an opportunity to succeed.

What was the biggest difference between going from a strong college program at Pacific to playing professionally?

Justin Baum: Mainly just getting used to playing every day. In college you play a weekend series, maybe a game during the week and some practices, here it is every day.

It's not just that you guys have a game at 7, you show up for BP at 5:30 and then play, it's a little more than that. Could you go over what your typical day is like?

Justin Baum: [laughs] No, it's not really like that. I usually get to the ballpark about 1:45 for a 7:00 PM game. Get myself ready, I might need some treatment or get some tape. Then go take some swings in the cage. Come back in for a little bit, stretch, take BP and infield. Go back in the clubhouse and relax a little.

And if you have a minor league instructor visiting, which happens quite a bit.

Justin Baum: Then we have early work, then I would be getting here around 1. So yeah, it's a full day.

Was it tough getting used to the travel?

Justin Baum: The travel in this league hasn't been as bad as it was in the Northwest League. We've only had one bad overnight bus trip from Dayton to Beloit where we were out to about 5 in the morning. We usually leave the day of a game in the morning. We get there by noon or 1, hang out at the hotel for around an hour or two, and then go to the ballpark. For the most part, there are far more overnight bus trips in Eugene than here, but you kind of get used to it. Living in hotels and out of a suitcase a little bit.

It looks like when you see the stats you are kind of the prototypical Padres player, you take your walks, you have some pop, but it tends to be more gap power. Has that always been your style of play and did it get particularly reinforced here?

Justin Baum: It's the kind of approach I've always tried to take. I was taught that you have to pick a good ball to hit to do anything with it. It was reinforced here. You just go out there, try to get a good pitch to hit and the numbers will follow.

In the San Diego media, there seems to be a misconception that you guys are going up there looking for walks and being overly patient. Most guys I spoken with have echoed what you did, it's all about getting your pitch. For example if you got your pitch on the first pitch of four at bats and hit the ball hard that is what you want to do right?

Justin Baum: That is a good day. Grady (Fuson) was here about a month ago and had this conversation with us because he wanted to be clear, that he wants us to be patient, but patiently aggressive. If you get the pitch that you want in your zone on that first pitch, swing at it and do something with it, but that isn't usually the way it works. By no means are they asking us to take good pitches. What they want us to do is figure out what pitch we really handle well and hit it.

Most guys are looking for a pitch middle in so it doesn't take a genius to figure out a pitcher isn't going to want to throw it there. So for example after a few at bats you notice a pitcher has been throwing a so-so changeup or a bad breaking pitch on the outside do you go up there looking to punch it into the opposite field?

Justin Baum: It depends on the game and the situation. I usually try to look for a pitch that is usually a little more middle away than middle in and try to stay on my game plan and make the pitcher come to me. They are humans too, they are going to make mistakes, so if you give into them it's like them winning. Of course, if there are two strikes or if you are trying to move a runner over you will expand your zone somewhat.

Obviously, you don't want to strikeout or make an out, but if you get beat on your pitch it seems that is just part of the game.

Justin Baum: Exactly, that is part of the game. If you get yourself out by swinging at a pitcher's pitch that is what gets frustrating.

How about defense? What do you need to improve upon to go higher?

Justin Baum: I would say consistency with my throws. I go out there and try to work on it every day during BP. The goal is to be able to do it day in and day out.

A few years ago, I spoke with Chase Headley when he was playing third for Eugene, and he pointed out that playing third in the pros is a big adjustment because you have to come in to guard against the bunt but if a hitter squares up the ball it's going to come just as fast on wood as it does with metal.

Justin Baum: For the most part, guys don't bunt as much, but at the same time, you don't want to play back and give up an easy base hit. You have to know the situation and who is at the plate. If you do play in, your range is going to be more limited than if you were playing back.

What is the biggest thing you have to work on to be a major league player?

Justin Baum: Consistency. I have the ability to do things, but I have to get past the point where I don't have three good days and than three bad days. The big goal is to try to achieve a higher stable level of play.

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