Padres Prospect Interview: Mike Baxter

SAN ANTONIO, TX: Throughout his career in the organization Mike Baxter, 24, has continually improved at the plate while becoming a jack of all trades in the field.

In college at Columbia and Vanderbilt, Baxter was primarily a first baseman and played that position his first year with Fort Wayne after being drafted by the Padres in the fourth-round of the 2005 draft. With the number of prospects the Padres had at first base, he switched to the outfield the next year and has played all three spots, even adding catcher his resume, learning the position in the instructional leagues and catching a little during spring training this year.

He split time between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio, performing much better in Double-A with a .272/.351/.426 line in 2008. His path to the major leagues will largely be determined by his bat. Baxter also realizes that his ability to stick on a major league roster could also be determined in his ability to play multiple positions.

This year he was off to his best start, hitting .307/.373/.453 in April. The Padres have always spoken highly of Baxter and he might be finally putting it all together as he gets closer to the big leagues.

As you have progressed up the system, you seem to be hitting with much more power than you did at the lower levels. What is the reason behind this?

Mike Baxter: I think I've finally given in to what the Padres wanted me to do. At first I was a little stubborn, I was raised to be a very aggressive hitter and don't think I understood what the Padres were looking from me. Over the years, I have really taken into consideration what they wanted me to do. Its nice to see this progression at the upper levels and some of it is because guys are in the zone much more and there is less stuff flying all over the place.

One thing I have always thought with players like yourself that the umpires are better as you go up. For example if it is a 1-1 count, if the next pitch is borderline it is a very different at-bat at 2-1 compared to 1-2.

Mike Baxter: That is definitely true and you do see the difference. I remember last year when I got here to Double-A there is a big difference in the zone and it was...great [laughs]. You take it like yesterday in Elsinore that was a strike and now its a ball like it should be.

Since you have been in the organization they have moved you around at quite a few positions. Last winter we heard that you were going to try to catch a little. Could you let us know what happened with that.

Mike Baxter: TK [Terry Kennedy, the Missions manager] suggested it to me last year, and it is the kind of thing that I am open-minded to now and in the future. I went out to the instructs learned how to do it and caught some games. This year in spring training I caught some bullpens and a game, so its something that I'm trying to find my way to the big leagues. If it means catching and playing four different positions, then I'll do it. It is just nice to be the lineup everyday, wherever they want to put me.

I've noticed that you really take this pretty seriously. You are in here early, if there is a new pitcher on the mound you are up on the steps looking at him. What I was thinking about is that you are someone that went to Columbia and Vanderbilt and seems like you have some other options if baseball doesn't work out. What drives you so much?

Mike Baxter: It's just something you have done everyday since you were 10 years old. It's something that I have put a lot in too and we're spoiled, we get to play everyday. All of my friends from Columbia have great jobs and make a lot of money, I don't make much, but I still get to play. At this point now I'm in Double-A and am really close. I thought last year when I got called up to Double-A, this is the time. If I can put together some numbers, I have a chance to play in the big leagues, and that would be something.

Is that the part that would kill you when you are in your 40's even if you have a great job, family and so on; if you feel that somehow you didn't really find out if you could have made it to the big leagues?

Mike Baxter: When I'm done, I'm going to know that I did what I had to do and tried to maximize my potential. I'm trying to not take my days playing for granted. Whether its locking in when I get to the field, you really want to make sure you put your best effort in. Before the game, you want to do things which give you the best opportunity to succeed.

One thing: all of you guys always talk about is working hard, but not overworking. However it seems that all of you guys also know how tough it is to make to the big leagues so that seems like its an easier concept than actually doing it.

Mike Baxter: Everybody has a different threshold, everybody is different. So its not a lack of working on someone's part, its just some guys need certain things to click. If I need to take 50 swings before the game and other guys don't, then I guess that I am high maintenance. Physically, I have been fine and I haven't encountered a problem because I have been tired. I've felt like I'm always in pretty good shape in June, July and August. Everybody just kind of knows, its up to them to push or pull the throttle back.

Physically are you at where you would like to be? You are a pretty good size guy, but you are also playing the corners where a lot of power is expected.

Mike Baxter: Of course I am worried about power [laughs]. Unless you are hitting 25 a year of course you are worried about power, it is the quickest way to get there. I would love 10 or 15 more pounds. Last year they wanted me at 205, now they want me at 210 or 215; so its an ongoing process. I have more room on my frame,and I want the strength and the power. I also want the ability to stay healthy and play everyday.

If power is the quickest way to take you to the big leagues isn't going for too much power the quickest way to take you out?

Mike Baxter: Without a doubt. I don't stand in that box and say, I need to hit a home run right now, but if you asked me if I knew that I could put on 10 pounds and hit 10 more home runs is that something that I would be interested in? Absolutely. If you can control the game in the slugging percentage game, it shows that you can control the pitching. You have to try to separate yourself from the rest and I do think its in there.

I have said this to Madfriars in the past, I do think its in there. It's about finding the right way to get it out.

What is the biggest thing you need to work on to get to the next level?

Mike Baxter: I need to get better in the outfield, flat out. Obviously you are never settling with what you are doing, if I want to play and stay in the major leagues I need to be a better defender. I try to work on that as much as I can.

What type of things do you do to work on it?

Mike Baxter: I try to lock into BP as much as I can so I can work on routes from live balls. Take advantage of the time you are on the field when the ball is coming at you.

That is the next phase of my game that needs to be taken seriously. If I want to be that 23rd or 24th guy on the roster, I have to be able to go into the game late with the team having confidence in me.

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