Padres Prospect Interview: Jonathan Alia

San Diego Padres prospect Jonathan Alia came in as an undrafted free agent but found regular at-bats. Now, the converted first baseman is looking to build upon his professional season in hopes of finding future success.

You go undrafted and end up in the San Diego Padres system. How did it all come together?

Jonathan Alia: I was sort of expecting to get drafted and it didn't happen. I put my head down and kept playing games, kind of hoping to get signed. Luckily, I was signed within a week of the draft. I signed and flew out and played the next day. It was a quick little switch.

Is there any pressure for you to perform as an undrafted guy, especially when you first enter the system and go to Arizona where you want to make a quick impression?

Jonathan Alia: There is a little bit of pressure, but it is almost a benefit to me. I know, next year, that my job is not certain – that I have perform each day to make a roster spot next year. Every time I am out here it is to make a team. It actually helps to motivate me.

How do you assess the 2009 season for yourself?

Jonathan Alia: I think I did pretty well. I started off slow. I wasn't used to this kind of pitching. I played one year at third base in high school so it was a whole new position. I was happy I made all my errors in the first half and didn't make an error in the second half. I was happy about that.

Hitting, I started off slow, going 1-for-20 or something like that and kept improving all year. It was a building year and I felt like I improved where I wanted to.

Do you feel like there were bouts of streakiness during your debut professional season?

Jonathan Alia: Oh yeah. That is one thing I had to learn. There were a lot of ups and downs and I wanted to stay a little bit more level. Started off slow – had a hot streak – slowed down again. It was a bit of a rollercoaster.

You mentioned playing third base. What are the differences that you see?

Jonathan Alia: A lot of differences. While a ground ball is a ground ball, you rely on footwork more. At first base, you could body up and keep the ball in front of you. You didn't have to field it cleanly as long as you kept the ball in front of you. At third base, you field it clean, have good footwork and the throw. The throw I was not used to. It took me a while to get adjusted to all of that.

You were very productive during 2009 with runners in scoring position. Is there a different mindset when you see guys on second and third?

Jonathan Alia: I think you don't think about it but you almost focus more. When you have a guy in a certain situation, you have a different mindset of how you want to hit it. That little bit of extra focus helps you. Sometimes when there are no runners on, you find a pitch and just swing. Sometimes you start swinging at bad pitches that way. When guys are in scoring position, you can't just swing away at it.

How important will pitch selection be to your ultimate success?

Jonathan Alia: That is one of the biggest things I had to learn out in Arizona. In college, I got away with a lot. I was able to swing at curveballs down low, fastballs all over the place – if I felt like I could put my bat on it, I swung at it. In professional ball, you can't get away with it like you could in college. That is one of the biggest things I had to learn – pitch selection.

It is a lot easier said – learning your pitch to hit – than done. Developing and finding out what your pitch is is the biggest thing I have had to learn.

How do you balance the two – patience and aggression?

Jonathan Alia: That is the million dollar question. Look for one pitch – sometimes you won't get it and it is going to be a strike. Feel comfortable enough to hit 0-2, 1-2, any count. It is a lot easier to be patient when you are comfortable. And when you get your pitch, you have to hit it.

What did it mean to you to hit a school record 20 homers at Cal-State?

Jonathan Alia: It meant a lot. That wasn't even one of my goals before the season. It wasn't until halfway through the season when I had 12 that I realized I had a chance at this. It was cool. I never was a power hitter in high school and even my first two years in college. I started lifting and filling out and changing my swing – the ball just flew off the bat.

You went out to the Padres Instructional League. What was the goal for you out there?

Jonathan Alia: I worked on gaining as much information as I could to work in the off-season. My goal was to find out exactly what I needed to do to improve my footwork in fielding, certain drills I could apply to hitting in the offseason. Those four months of the offseason pretty much makes you – it will help immensely when you get to spring training. I need to improve and instructs was essential to figure out what I can do to improve for next season.

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