September Call-Ups: Matt Antonelli

WASHINTON DC: According to some people, the scenario for former Padres first-round draft pick Matt Antonelli was supposed to go like this; spend a month, maybe two, in Triple-A Portland then go to San Diego and become the everyday second baseman.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.

As late as August 9, Antonelli was hitting below .200 and in the worst slump of his life. He was able to pull out of his season long slump in August, hitting .290/.391/.423, the kind of numbers most of us predicted he would have this year.

On the bright side, he had a fielding percentage of .977, his best yet, and his BB/K ratio wasn't that far out of kilter at 76/86; but make no mistake about it, this wasn't a good season for Antonelli.

Still, his rebound in August was good enough for the Padres to give him a September call-up to find out what they did and did not have with Antonelli going into 2009. While he showed some flashes of the player he was in 2008, he will probably begin the year in Portland next year to consolidate the positive progress he made at the end of the year. Make no mistake about it, he has as much talent as anyone in the system, it's just about putting together consistent performances.

We caught up with Antonelli during the Padres last road trip in Washington D.C. to find out what happened this year and his plans to not repeat what happened.

You had a tough year in Portland until the last month. There have been quite a few theories about what got you out of the slump so I thought I would ask you yourself. What did it?

Matt Antonelli: I don't know. I worked on a lot of stuff all year long. I finally found something that worked, or was working better, and it was something that I was able to repeat. I just tried to simplify everything and don't know if it is the best thing for my career, and I'm not going to hit like this next year, but just for the sake of tying something I tried to spread out and get low. This year, I just focused on so many mechanical things and just wanted to get back to hitting. I think I hit like .290 for August, so I had some success.

Yeah you had your normal numbers, near .400 OBP and close to a .500 slugging percentage.

Matt Antonelli: Exactly and I felt better. I had a good last month but still never felt like I did last year. I still know that I have to work on some things to get better.

Was it a question of last year was just so many games? You kind of tailed off last year in August and in the AFL.

Matt Antonelli: I don't know. I didn't feel real tired in August, but just started getting into the bad habits that I developed last year in August. When it started going bad, some coaches were telling me that there was some things different about my swing, and that was the first time I noticed that it was changing.

When I spoke with you in July in San Antonio last year you were telling me that the reason you were hitting for more power was that they had tinkered with your swing in the instructs after Eugene. You were softer on your front foot and staying back more.

Matt Antonelli: I've always had a problem of kind of leaking toward the pitcher or lunging at the ball more than waiting for it. I finally figured it out last year and was doing a good job of letting the ball come to me. It seems so long ago. I watch videos of myself swinging then, and it looks so good and I can see differences. I'm trying to get back to it, but I can see my bat speed looks better and everything moves in harmony. It just seems like everything flows better.

Watching you play since you've been called up, you look much better in the final weeks than when you first came up. You looked much more balanced and relaxed. Did that come with working with the Padres batting coach Wally Joyner?

Matt Antonelli: Yeah, I had been working with Coach Joyner quite a bit. As I said, at the end of the year, I was real wide and low, and we got me to stand up taller and be narrower. It really helped a lot. As you said, when I first got here, I didn't hit anything. I started really working with Wally after the second game and felt great.

To me it just looked like you were under much more control and when you missed you weren't off-balance.

Matt Antonelli: Exactly, this year, I had balance issues, and I'm definitely much better now than I was for most of the year.

We talked with Grady and Paul DePodesta and they both said that your attitude throughout this whole year has been great. Whether you were 4-for-4 or 0-for-5, you always came in with the same positive attitude. I know I asked you this earlier this year in Portland, but how did you do it? I'm assuming that you haven't had too many years like this athletically in your career?

Matt Antonelli: [laughs] Everyone always asks me that and don't really know. It takes a lot to get me to show my anger. I'm good at staying composed.

A guess might be that you are someone that works pretty hard, and it seems to me that your attitude is if I work as hard as I can, that is it.

Matt Antonelli: That is true too. I never really get mad to where I'm throwing bats but more a weird frustrating feeling. I had done everything that I had always done in the off-season and probably worked harder than I ever had. It was tough to get pissed off and mad because I was trying as hard as I could and doing everything right. I knew that I just had to keep working. Other guys were telling me, ‘man I would have killed somebody by now.' That is really not the way I am. I'm just more of a mellow guy.

On the positive side how was it playing second base full time for the second full year?

Matt Antonelli: I think it went pretty well. I felt more comfortable defensively in the last two months than I ever have. I think just getting out there and playing so much really helped.

Coming up here, the big thing is trying to make things happen too fast. Sometimes, I think when you move up you think the game moves faster than it does. You try to go to fast and I need to go back to playing the way I was, which was more relaxed.

Obviously you want to stay up here and want to compete for the everyday job, so what is the biggest thing you are going to work on in the off-season other than trying not to freeze in Massachusetts?

Matt Antonelli: First, I want to get my body feeling good again, working out and getting stronger.

I read the other day you want to come in around 215?

Matt Antonelli: There has been a big debate about how much I should weigh.

That is a big second baseman at 215.

Matt Antonelli: Exactly. I'm about 195 now and I was 225 at camp, so I want something in the middle. I'm not going to worry about getting big as much this offseason. Last year, I tried to get bigger and my whole off-season was dedicated to that, and I think I ate too much even [laughs], and you know it wasn't good weight.

Then I want to work on my swing. Last year, I had a long season playing the Fall League so I only had a couple of months off so I didn't do much, really just rested. It was a long season so this year: take a little time off and start hitting and get in a groove. Hopefully, keep working on the stuff that I was with Wally.

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