Padres Prospect Interview: Kellen Kulbacki

Injuries have stalled the progress of San Diego Padres prospect Kellen Kulbacki. Now, it is his mental mindset that needs the adjustment to revert back to the player that was smashing balls with authority in the California League.

Talk to me about the injuries – we will start with the hamstring first.

Kellen Kulbacki: It is feeling better. I am feeling healthy. My legs feel great. I have been doing as much as I can to take care of them. I know I went through a lot with them last year so I have to take extra care with them. So far, it has been feeling good.

And talk about the shoulder injury. That was something that began in 2008 and lingered into 2009. Where are we at with that today?

Kellen Kulbacki: The shoulder is feeling great. I haven't had any problems with it. It was definitely something that was lingering last year. I left extended and it wasn't feeling 100 percent or as good as it should have. It was a little bit of anxiousness to play. I knew I could play, but at the same time, I was a little nervous about it. With the surgery, I am looking forward and will keep my body as healthy as I can.

Has there been a frustration level in San Antonio not being able to do some of the things you know you are capable of?

Kellen Kulbacki: Completely – to say the least. With everything that happened last year, with re-aggravating the shoulder…

I know I get off to slow starts. It is no secret. It has happened every year of pro ball – it happened in the Cape and in college. That is something I know happens. To get a slow start with the nagging shoulder in the back of my mind definitely made things tougher last year.

At the same time, looking back on it, the year itself was frustrating. There wasn't much that went positive. If there was something positive, there was always something that followed behind it. It is a learning experience. Now, I can put it behind me. Erase that last year even existed. I know what I can do. I know I am capable of doing it. My biggest goal is to stay as healthy as I can and to stay mentally focused, get rolling like before the injury.

You say you have learned stuff – stepping away from the game can help you learn something that you may have taken for granted. Was that the case?

Kellen Kulbacki: It is a feeling that is hard to explain and hard to under stand unless you have been in a situation where you have been hurt for almost an entire year. I only played 30 games last year. When you have something that has always been there for you – if you are having a bad day, you always know you can go on the field and play baseball. That is one of the greatest feelings ever. When you have that taken away from you, you don't realize how big a part of your life it is and how much it means to you until that part is taken away.

It felt like the thing I love most was gone. It was mentally a struggle to battle through it. I tried to stay positive. Injuries happen. Obviously, there was always something that was happening. I learned how to deal with the struggles more than I ever have. I have learned that being healthy is a huge part of the game and is sometimes taken for granted. When you don't have that, you really learn how to battle through that.

You mentioned the slow starts and being accustomed to it. How do you change that mentality so you don't fall into the pattern of just expecting it?

Kellen Kulbacki: I don't think you can expect it. I don't go out there and say, ‘I am going to get off to a slow start.' I think the last two seasons, I missed spring training and didn't have a chance to get at-bats and my timing down. That is a huge part of spring training. Guys use spring as a time to not see how many hits they can get but to get their rhythm and timing down. See pitches, get into counts with two strikes, put themselves into situations. At the end of the day, the at-bats don't matter in spring. In the season they do. Missing spring has been part of the reason I have gotten off to a slow start. My spring training at-bats were the first months of the last two seasons. It is terrible when your spring training at-bats do count.

I want to get off to a better start and mentally be in a better position than I have with injuries.

Where are you and where is the rhythm today?

Kellen Kulbacki: I am still working on some things. Not seeing live pitching for a while, I could definitely feel the affects of that. I am improving. I have worked with Tony Muser to correct some things in my swing and am seeing improvements.

What kind of things have you worked with Muser on?

Kellen Kulbacki: Little things – my rhythm and timing, my loads, my hands, staying on top of the ball, not getting underneath it – something I have had happen with my swing. Those are the things we are trying to improve upon.

One thing that Orv Franchuk said was he wanted to see a little more structure in your day-to-day activities. Is that a fair assessment?

Kellen Kulbacki: I feel like I have a good routine. Last year was the first year I worked with Orv. I was battling my shoulder still. I got off to a slow start but would talk to them to see if my swing needed any work. They said everything was fine but it was my timing. I didn't want to stress going in there and thinking it was mechanical and it wasn't. Having a routine is important. At the same time, with my shoulder, in the back of my mind it was something that I was still worried about. It shouldn't have been that way, and it did affect my hitting and routine. I knew it was off.

This year, I will have a much more structured pre-game routine. Last year seems to be more of an exception because nothing felt well all year. I know I have had a good routine in the past. I will get back to that routine and be mentally ready.

We all know you have a lot of great teammates and this does not take away from anyone you don't mention. If you could have one hitter hitting behind you in the lineup all season to offer protection, who would it be and why?

Kellen Kulbacki: There is a lot of great hitters. From Triple-A down to single A there are a lot of guys with power. I have hit behind Matt Clark and James Darnell. Both have power and see the ball well. Craig Cooper and Mike Baxter were great hitters last year.

Who is the one pitcher you are glad you have as a teammate and why?

Kellen Kulbacki: Brandon Gomes and Evan Scribner – I definitely don't want to hit off them. Scribs throws low-to-mid-90s with a 70-mph curveball. Gomes has a nasty splitter with a mid-90s fastball. Later in the games, those are guys you definitely don't want to be facing.

We have a tremendous amount of talent pitching-wise.

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