Name: Chad Huffman
DOB: April 29, 1985
A second-round pick in 2006, Huffman blazed through his first professional stop, hitting .343 with nine homers and 27 extra base hits across 54 games. He also led the Northwest League in on-base percentage, was second in slugging and was a postseason All-Star. He was promoted to Fort Wayne at the end of the season and went 3-for-14 over five games.
Skipping Low-A, Huffman moved to Lake Elsinore. He dominated California League pitching, hitting .307 with 36 extra base hits, including 15 homers, while driving in 76 in 84 contests. Promoted to Double-A, Huffman hit seven more dingers and notched 28 RBI, giving him a system leading 104 RBI on the year.
Huffman was shipped back to Double-A San Antonio for the 2008 campaign. Despite hitting .357 during the month of May, Huffman's season was ordinary.
The right-handed hitter batted .284 for the year with 40 extra base hits, although just nine left the yard. He scored 68 runs and notched 58 RBIs and touted a rather pedestrian .419 slugging percentage. Huffman drew 67 walks compared to 83 strikeouts for a .383 on-base percentage. He also hit .376 off left-handed pitching but .261 off right-handers.
"He has to adjust back (to right-handers)," former San Antonio hitting coach and current manager Terry Kennedy said. "I just think he needs to use the whole field a little more. I think he got into a little pull mode there which hurt him against the right-handed slider. I think he can hit anybody, he's just got to make a little adjustment."
The 53rd overall selection struggled at Nelson Wolff Stadium – where the wind blows in routinely from 15-20 mph – where he hit .256 with one homers. On the road, Huffman batted .318 with eight bombs.
"San Antonio, I've been coaching and playing for 20 years, San Antonio is definitely the most difficult park I've ever been at from an offensive standpoint, no question about it," San Antonio manager Bill Masse said. "Not only is the wind blowing straight in, but it's a big park too. When we're talking about blowing in, we're not talking about a little 5 mph breeze, we're talking about 15 mph gusts coming in from left center field. It's a very difficult park for anybody to hit at, but especially for a right-handed kid."
The Texas native went on to play in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .208 with 11 extra base hits and 20 RBI in 24 games. He also drew 14 walks compared to 25 strikeouts for a .304 on-base percentage.
The home park got to Huffman through the year, as his frustration built when balls destined for the stands wound up as outs. Someone who uses the whole field and sprays balls with opposite field power was trying to fight the wind with monster swings rather than playing his game. Other times, he would simply go opposite field and never try and pull the ball for fear of the wind holding one of his bombs up.
"Left field is pretty much non-existent some nights for trying to hit a home run," Masse said. "He might have let it get to him a little bit. Chad's strength is being a complete hitter. He uses the whole field very well. He got away from that probably the last two or three months of the season. I think a lot of that had to do with his frustration at home, basically just saying, ‘Screw it. I'm not going to hit the ball to right center, right field, it's not going anywhere anyways. I'm going to try to hit a ground ball through the left side, it's the only way I can get a hit.' You start getting that kind of a mentality and you're going to find your numbers start going down, unfortunately."
"Most of the year, it was the year we were hoping to see," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "We sent him back to validate the skill sets that we saw. Right now, San Antonio is kind of developing a PETCO mentality, it's a difficult park to hit in, and we really are trying to impart to our young hitters that we don't want them short changing their approach because of the park. We don't expect to see the same numbers as we would in the Cal League, but if there is a problem, that is up to us let them know. We want them to maintain their approach because once you go the PCL it's a different animal.
"As for Chad, he is one of those guys that just can't get enough of the game."
Huffman doesn't change his approach as the count goes deeper. It is a positive and a detriment. He will take a called third strike if it is borderline rather than expanding the zone.
The problem is he also finds himself behind in a lot of counts and did not show the wherewithal to battle back. When he gets behind and the strike zone doesn't expand, he will be prone to the strikeout. If he does choose to swing outside of his comfort area, he hits the ball weakly and because of his bat control it lands in fair territory for easy outs.
The outfielder hits good pitching and that creeps back to the points made above. He hit .319 off the starters in the Texas League but just .232 off the relievers – many who are weaker prospects that don't throw consistent strikes.
"He obviously had a down year there when it comes to power," Padres director of minor league operations Mike Wickham said. "I spoke with him and he told me the ballpark makes you think the way PETCO does sometimes. It got into his head a little bit. He still had a good approach with a .380 on-base percentage. He hit 22 homers the year before, but I think you will see that happen with guys who go to San Antonio. Even thought he left field line is short, the wind blows in pretty hard and suppresses runs.
"I think he is going to come out and have a monster year in Portland. I am pretty excited about it."
He has a swing that is conducive to line drives with enough power to send balls out of the yard. Maintaining consistency in his swing enables him to adjust accordingly, shooting balls on the outside corner the other way or pulling pitches on the inner half. When he gets away from that approach, he gets into trouble.
"He is another guy with great makeup and an even keel," Wickham said.
One thing that disturbed some people was his penchant for staring down an umpire after a close call. While it is nice to know he has faith in his own strike zone, umpires will remember Huffman's antics and are more likely to call a close pitch the other way with him in the box.
Huffman is average defensively, as he does not have excellent range but will make the necessary plays. He arm has gotten better over the last year and he has always been accurate with his throws. He makes good reads off the bat but does not have that initial first-step quickness.
Conclusion: After a down year, Huffman must reestablish himself as one of the premier players in the farm system. The stadium in San Antonio definitely affected his play, and Portland should be a launching pad for the powerful outfielder.
Given his solid foundation and consistent approach, Huffman should be able to put himself back on the map in a big way. After that, it will be interesting to see what San Diego does and whether he gets a crack at one of the outfield spots. He has enough bat to do some damage. Is it PETCO worthy?
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