Interview with Padres catcher Nick Hundley

One of the best things about writing for is getting to follow a players' advancement all the way through the system, especially when it is Nick Hundley, who not only is one of the hardest working players in the organization but also one of its best persons.

In early July, with the Padres' losing catchers at a rapid rate, San Diego called up Hundley from Triple-A Portland. After a strong second half in San Antonio in 2007, where he hit 20 home runs in a difficult park for hitters, he was off to a slow start at the plate in Portland, hitting .232/.282/.451 but with runners on base he was at .282/.328/.500.

The strength of his game, however, has always been what he does behind the plate. He had a .990 fielding percentage and threw out 38 percemnt of runners attempting to steal, which would be a noticeable improvement for San Diego fans used to watching opposing teams take second more often than in a T-ball league the past few years. Throw in the fact that pitchers have always loved to throw to him, and it was time to find out what he could do on the big league level.

In San Diego, he had a .990 fielding percentage and while a .250 throwing percentage is one of the lowest he's had in the past few years, it was still significantly better than Josh Bard [.159] or Michael Barrett [.122].

At the plate, he showed some flashes of what he can do but is mainly going to have to work at controlling his strike zone better to take advantage of his power. He's slated to be San Diego's starting catcher in 2009, and if his bat can catch up with his defense, he will be there for awhile.

What was your reaction when you first got called up? It had to be amazing since this is what you have worked for all of your life?

Nick Hundley: Yeah, it was incredible. I've been playing for Randy Ready for three years, and he let me know with Maxy [Venable, the Portland Beavers hitting coach] in the office. I don't know if it was overwhelming, but it was amazing. I called my parents and my brother, and it was a great time.

How tough is it for you to realize that I've seen these guys on television and now I'm playing against them?

Nick Hundley: A little bit. The one time I felt like that was in Cincinnati when (Ken) Griffey hit a home run and just to watch him do his follow through on his home run, which I feel like I've seen five hundred times was eye-opening. Then it was ok, kind of got to get back to work.

Any time I ask you about your success in throwing out runners, you always credit the pitchers, the coaches and the rest of the team; in essence, you're saying that in order for you to throw someone out everyone has to be working together. You've had some better success than others in San Diego at controlling the running game. Is there any difference up here as compared to the minors?

Nick Hundley: These guys up here run with more of a purpose, they just don't run to run. Their success rates are amazing; they really know what they are doing so you just have to be that much better. I think I have to throw everyone of them out if I have the opportunity. I have to be 100% accurate and on the bag. So that is up to me.

Sticking with defense, I noticed when you got up to the higher levels you seemed to enjoy calling games because it became more of a chess game. The pitchers could actually hit spots or make the ball move the way you wanted too. I can imagine in the big leagues the effect must be so much greater because the pitchers are that much better.

Nick Hundley: It is amazing. Darren Balsley does a great job of giving us the game plan, and we know that if we execute the pitch, what is going to happen. These guys are so talented here that they know if they execute they are going to get the job done. It makes my job easier because I can ask them to do a lot.

It seems you are being asked to do a lot. You have to attend the pitchers meetings, video and trying to hit as well. How much more preparation is there to do as compared to when you were in the minors?

Nick Hundley: A bunch. You get to the yard early, you need to have your daily routine and you need to know exactly what you are trying to do. There is a lot of information to soak up but then again you are getting paid a lot of money to do it. So you need to get the job done.

On hitting it's following the same pattern as it did in the minors, start slow and starting to pick up. Is it all just a question of getting comfortable?

Nick Hundley: Yeah, it's trying to be consistent and learning my strike zone. I'm becoming more familiar with pitches that I need to lay off and what I need to be able to hit. That has been the biggest battle.

What is the biggest thing you are going to work on in the off-season?

Nick Hundley: Everything. Improve my defense and keep working on trying to become a more disciplined hitter.

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