Padres Prospect Interview: Danny Payne

FORT WAYNE, IN: Danny Payne was a first-round supplemental pick of the Padres in the 2007 draft out of Georgia Tech, one of five first-round supplemental picks by San Diego. He just returned from the disabled list this week.

Payne was a two-time first team all-ACC at Georgia Tech and was one of just two players in school history to have reached base in at least 70 consecutive games, finishing the 2007 season having reached base 77 straight times. He attracted major league scouts with his obvious control of the strike zone and an aggressive, gritty style of play in centerfield. He's not known for having spectacular tools, but he has an above average baseball IQ who makes the most of what he has.

He also saw some time on the mound for the YellowJackets with a 0-2 record and a 5.87 ERA. His last year saw him hit .370/.509/.543.

Last year in Eugene, he put together a solid debut season of .279/.444/.355 but seemed to wear down a bit after a long college season. This year, he's mainly been on the DL, and we were lucky to catch up with him when he was coming off of the disabled list for the second time before going down with another injury on July 17. He's had less than 100 at-bats spaced over various injuries this year in Fort Wayne.

You have had a tough year so far with injuries could you go over what happened and how you are feeling now?

Danny Payne: We had our combine day in spring training, and I pulled my hamstring running the 60. I missed the first two weeks of the season up here while I was rehabbing. I came back for about eight games and ran into some cold weather and pulled it again, but it wasn't as severe. So they decided to keep me up here and rehab it for about three weeks and when I was ready to come back off of it. We had an early game and it was around forty-five degrees and I popped it one more time. So I went down to Arizona for about six weeks.

How have you been working on stretching out your hamstring and making sure that it doesn't pop out again?

Danny Payne: It's just a routine, making sure that you are stretching everyday – so you can stay stretched throughout the game. Maybe have some icy hot before or during the game.

Last year, you had a great OBP of .444 at Eugene, and I know in college at Georgia Tech you held a record for getting on base every game. Can you go through your approach and how you have been able to be so successful at that part of the game?

Danny Payne: I've been blessed that I have always been able to recognize pitches very well and playing in a strong conference at Georgia Tech helped me out quite a bit for pro ball. Here in pro ball, I think I was a little too passive, but I still think that I had a good approach. I've hit everywhere in the lineup one to seven so I have a good idea of what is expected at every spot. In this organization, they always preach see pitches and that is something that I have done my whole career.

So many people think the ability to recognize pitches is a gift but it has to be something that you really work at. How do you improve your ability to recognize pitches?

Danny Payne: A lot of it is just sitting in the dugout watching the game and what the pitcher is doing. Paying attention to the game, paying attention to who is hitting in front of you, and how they are being pitched and what the pitcher might try to throw to you. Especially once you get into a long season and begin seeing guys again and reading the scouting reports. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and if you can't make them, it's going to make for a long year.

You talked about becoming more aggressive and getting more power. Your manager Doug Dascenzo believes that you have more power than you have shown so far. What have you been doing to use Grady's phrase become more "patiently aggressive"?

Danny Payne: I think a lot of it had to do with just getting that first year under my belt. Getting into a routine and figuring out what works for me; the traveling, playing every day and the time that we put into the game. The biggest thing for me was realizing that we play every day and you can't dwell on one game because there is another one tomorrow. You have to enjoy the roller coaster. You have to learn to leave the game at the field and not take it home with you. I think the first year taught me how to do that and loosen up a little bit.

Is it tough to be able to segregate between not dwelling on something while still trying to learn from your mistakes and improve upon them?

Danny Payne: So many people get caught up with their hitting they forget about the other parts of the game. Did you walk? Did you play defense? Did you do something to help your team win? There is a lot of stuff that doesn't end up in the stat line that plays a big part in the game. That is why a big thing for me has always been to get on base. I don't need a hit to get on base. If I'm on base, there is always a chance for something good to happen. By focusing on the whole game, it forces you to find something positive that you did in the game.

It seems like the most comfortable spot in the lineup for you is at leadoff?

Danny Payne: Yeah, it's something that I've done my whole life. When I got here, I haven't really hit leadoff that much. Luis Durango has done a great job at leadoff, and I have bounced all over the lineup. I feel fortunate enough that the way I can handle the bat I can really hit anywhere in the lineup.

With your hamstring 100% do you plan on playing more in centerfield?

Danny Payne: I like playing there, but I also think the Padres want me to play more on the corners as well. When you get to the big leagues you are not always going to play that primary position so the more places that you can play the better shot that you have of making it.

I always thought that people who play center are like point guards in basketball, they always feel the most comfortable in center.

Danny Payne: Oh, I definitely feel the most comfortable there. The more I play in left and right the more comfortable I feel out there too. So when I go back to center it's a lot of fun, but right now I've missed so much time I just want to get back out on the field. Heck, put me at first base – I just want to play.

What is the biggest thing other than staying healthy that you have to do to advance and hopefully reach the majors?

Danny Payne: Mainly just refine my approach at the plate, start to recognize what pitches that I can drive. Making sure that I keep myself in hitter's counts and keep taking my notes. The higher up you get the more mental the game becomes because everyone has talent and talent can only take you so far.

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