Padres Prospect Interview: Robert Lara

Lake Elsinore, CA: Catcher Robert Lara was drafted in the 19th-round of the 2008 draft by the San Diego Padres out of Central Florida University. Lara, 23, is the type of defense first catcher the Padres are attempting to develop; blessed with a cannon of an arm and a unique ability to work with pitchers he may be the best defensive catcher in the system.

How good is Lara's arm? When the game is out of reach, the team occasionally lets him pitch and he can dial it up to the 91-94 mph range.

The big key for him is to show enough at the plate to allow his defense to take him to the major leagues. His first year in the Arizona League, he hit .344/.490/.484 before struggling last year in Fort Wayne at .219/.291/.313.

This year he's rebounded in the Cal League, and with the exception of a bad August, has put together very solid offensive numbers across the board.

We always enjoy talking defense with you but the first question is your offensive numbers are much better this year than last, closer to what you did two years ago in the Arizona League. What is the big reason for the turnaround?

Robert Lara: I finished off last year good, and when last year ended, I really hit the cages. It is also helps a lot that I have Skube [Bob Skube the Lake Elsinore hitting coach] here too. He was with me in Arizona and he really simplifies the process. I try my best to really work with what he gives me and that has been a big part of what has been going well for me.

This year I have been really tracking the ball well and my swing has been the shortest that it has ever been.

You have decent power numbers but I always thought what is going to take you too the big leagues is your glove. Did you start to think either consciously or subconsciously that at the plate my main goal is to get on base and not go for as much power because your OBP is up this year.

Robert Lara: Yeah even when I get ahead in the count, I'm thinking of hitting the ball right over the second baseman's head, which keeps me from trying to do too much. What is funny is I actually have more power but that is just from the work that I have done with Skube in being quick to the ball. Really, I can't say enough how much he has helped me this year at the plate.

When I start having problems at the plate is when I get long to the ball and that is really something that I have emphasized this year, not getting into that habit and getting the head out there quicker.

If we go back to the OBP it also appears that you are being much more selective at the plate this year.

Robert Lara: I have which has also helped me. I've stopped over thinking a lot of at-bats and just tried to stay with my approach.

Also having more consistent playing time, as opposed to last year, has to help you not put too much pressure on yourself.

Robert Lara: True, last year I was trying to get five hits in every at-bat. This year I am much more relaxed and not trying to force things that are not there.

When you watch you take infield you are so into what is going on as a catcher, let alone when the game begins. As much as you enjoy hitting, it seems that is your favorite part of the game.

Robert Lara: I have always just felt comfortable behind the plate and a big advantage to me is that I have played with most of the infielders now for awhile. I've been blessed with a pretty good arm. When runners are on, I love to throw the ball and pick guys off.

I'm not afraid to put on any type of pick. My favorite is when there are runners on first and third with a left-handed batter at the plate and I catch the guy at first taking a lead that is a little too big off of first. I've worked with Allan [Dykstra] and we've nailed a few guys in the past and that really helps to pick up your pitcher especially if he is struggling.

Help us understand what it means to "handle a staff". During a game are you out there giving pep talks or correcting mechanics.

Robert Lara: It just really depends on the pitcher. Some guys you can because you have caught them in so many games and bullpens and with others its more mental. We talk about absolutely everything, the pitches they throw in certain counts - what they want to throw, my opinion, what the coaches want. We are constantly talking strategy in the dugout.

I learn so much from pitchers and you have to have that type of relationship to be effective.

You are also bilingual, so that has to help too.

Robert Lara: It does help and along with understanding the culture. Some young Latin pitchers just want to let it go more than pitch. Juan Oramas, for example, when he first came up has a good fastball but he was putting it a little too much in the middle of the plate. So we had to work on getting him back on the corners.

His stuff was way to good to struggle.

What has been your biggest improvement?

Robert Lara: Right now, I would have to go with my swing. Last year was my worst year in baseball, but, at the same time, I learned more about the mental aspects of the game than ever before, especially on not getting too down.

As hard as you work at the physical part of the game, if you are not there mentally, it really doesn't matter.

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