Name: Chad Tracy
Position: First Base
DOB: July 4, 1985
The Rangers' third round pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, Chad Tracy has seen his share of ups-and-downs through his three-year professional career. But with the help of former Bakersfield [and current Frisco] hitting coach Brant Brown, Tracy appears to have turned a corner, as he batted .341 with six doubles and five home runs in 34 games [including playoffs] with Double-A Frisco last season.
Jason Cole: You had your best season yet between Bakersfield and Frisco this past season, combining to bat .296 with 40 doubles and 17 home runs. Everything combined, how did you feel about it?
Chad Tracy: I was just real happy with the way it went. I had a little bit of a slow start in April and just a little bit in May. I really stuck with it and got a lot of help from Brant Brown, our hitting coach. I was real happy with that.
I thought it was another big step in the right direction. I've always been able to hit the ball a little bit, but as far as Clinton and Spokane, there was still something missing. I felt like last year, I kind of took another step in the right direction offensively. I'm real happy with it overall.
Cole: In Clinton two years ago, you batted just .250 and had a rough second half after making the Midwest League All-Star team. What was the difference for you this past season?
Tracy: Brant Brown worked with me a lot. We just really worked on staying through the ball a little bit longer. I have a tendency to want to roll that top hand and you really snap over the ball a little bit too quickly. That was what got it started really. I was just working on trying to stay through the middle of the field and staying through the ball and have a longer bat path through the ball.
It got me hot and I really think from there, people read it and see that I hit even better in Double-A, but I think that was just a matter of me being hot at that point. Hitters, when they're hot, it doesn't really matter who you're facing. When you get into a groove, it just kind of carried over. It carried over for awhile, which was nice.
Cole: Since you played just one month in the regular season, plus the playoffs, with Frisco last summer, are you expecting to return there for the start of the 2009 campaign?
Tracy: As far as I know. That's kind of what they were hinting at while I was in the Fall League, towards the end of November and stuff. So as far as I know, that's their plan right now, but you know how those things can change. You've just got to play it by ear when spring training starts.
Cole: As I'm sure you've heard, Brant Brown will be your hitting coach in Frisco next season. How do you feel about being able to continue working with a guy who has impacted your development so much?
Tracy: It's exciting. As a player, you always look for people you can relate to. There are a lot of different coaches out there in spring training. There are a lot of different people that you meet. When you find somebody that says stuff that clicks with you – sometimes it's just a matter of saying it the right way – and Brownie said a lot of things that made a lot of sense to me last year. When I started getting results, I trusted him.
I'm excited about that. Me and him developed a pretty good system last year as far as I'm concerned. We had a good plan of attack for my swing. He's really good – his attention to detail is really good – so he's not going to forget any of it. We'll pick up right where we left off and hopefully be able to put together another good season.
Cole: Now that you've played first base a bit, you've been at three positions in three years in the Rangers' system. How difficult is that, not being able to settle into a position?
Tracy: It's tough, it's tough. As tough as it is, you've got to try and look at it positively in the fact that if I continue to do well with the bat that that'll only help me – to be able to look at me and say that I can play in three different spots.
But my goal so far this offseason – I've been doing a lot of defensive work just because I still need to get better at those spots. I don't know where I'm ultimately going to end up. I don't know if I'll stay at first or end up playing back in left field some – I don't know.
But I've done them all now and if I needed to go play it on a whim, I could do that. But my goal is to be able to go play them on a whim and play it really well. I don't just want to go out there and take up space. I want to play first or left field and play it well. That's kind of my approach right now. I'm working on the defensive side of things.
Cole: After playing first in Frisco, you spent some time there in the Arizona Fall League. Do you expect to stay at first base in 2009?
Tracy: As far as I know. That's another thing that they talked to me about, and at the end of November that was the case. But again, things change and a lot of that is probably going to depend on what they do with Justin Smoak. Let's face it, he's a first rounder and the kid is a hell of a player, so I don't know. We'll see.
It's going to depend on what they want me to do and if they feel like I've improved enough at first. Maybe I'll stay there, but right now I'm just going to do what I've always done, wait and see what they want me to do, and I'll go from there.
Cole: You were a catcher in college and you'd played some left field in the Rangers' system coming into last season. Had you ever played first base before you got to Frisco?
Tracy: No. When I was 13, maybe a couple of times, but no, I've never played first base regularly. That was my first action.
Cole: What has been the biggest challenge for you in the transition to first?
Tracy: I caught for my whole life, so you're used to the game moving really quickly. And then I went out and played left field for pretty much a year and a half. Moving back into first base, it's a corner of the infield. I think as you come closer to home plate, the game moves faster and faster, so I had to re-acclimate myself as to how fast the game actually moves. You're a lot closer and you have infield in type stuff.
The other stuff kind of falls into place and I'm working on it. I didn't worry too much. It was a spur of the moment thing. They said, ‘Hey you're going to play first. You're going to Frisco for the playoffs and for the last month of the season.' I was like, ‘Okay.' I didn't worry too much about whether my technique was right. It was something to work on in the offseason. I just kind of had to wing it and do the best I could with it. It actually went pretty well at the end of last season. Now I'm just trying to fine tune it to where it becomes a little more second nature.
Cole: You got some time in the Arizona Fall League this offseason and batted .158 with three home runs in 15 games. What were you able to take away from that experience?
Tracy: That there are a lot of good players out there that we don't even get to play against during the season. Even being in Double-A or Triple-A, it's playing against a higher caliber of athlete. But then when you take all those guys and put them into one place, you get a glimpse of Major League talent. Everybody is a really good player. All of the pitchers have three plus pitches and they can all run it up there into the mid-90s.
It was just eye opening. You realize Double-A is Double-A, Triple-A is Triple-A, and this is even another step. We were even facing guys there that had big league time. Just kind of proving to myself that I can go out there and play with that caliber of athlete. I've just got to fine tune it and be a little more consistent.
Cole: After playing 130 regular season games and the entire Texas League playoffs, was the Fall League mentally or physically tiring for you?
Tracy: It was both mentally and physically tiring. People don't really realize how long of a season that really is. If you remember, in Frisco we actually got drug out an additional two weeks because of the hurricane that went through. I think in Frisco, at the end of the season we played like eight games in 15 days, so we were just sitting around a lot.
It got really drug out and then I actually didn't even go home. I went straight out to Arizona from Frisco. I didn't waste the time going home for five days. I went straight out to Arizona and started hitting in the cage with Brownie again and then it was back to the grind for another two months.
By the time we got to the end of it, I was just like, ‘Wow.' Physically, getting in the weight room was so hard because you're so tired. Mentally, you just want to shut your brain off for awhile. You start in February with Spring Training and by the time you get to the end of November, it's quite a long time.
Cole: Since you did play non-stop baseball for nearly nine months, have you made sure to take some extra time off this offseason?
Tracy: Definitely. Like I said, most of the work I've done on the field has been with the glove. I have done a lot of throwing. I started throwing a little early this year, trying to get my arm in shape a bit sooner. I've been in the infield doing ground balls and stuff like that. I've only hit a little bit. I took time off when I got home – about two or three weeks – but you really can't afford to take a month like most would like. If you take a month, you're already closing in on January.
I took as much time as I could and then I cranked up the weight work. I've been going hard with the weights and I'm getting ready pretty soon to start swinging it quite a bit. You can't take too much time off, but at the same time, you've got to give your body at least two weeks to recuperate.
Cole: As we close in on the reporting date for 2009 Spring Training, what are you looking for out of yourself in this upcoming season?
Tracy: I really just want to go out and have another solid season. I felt like the bat, for the last three months of the year, was where I wanted it to be. It's where I had it in college. I want to be able to kick-start it right from the beginning if I can. Obviously players always go through struggles, and you're going to have your slumps, but if I can get started a little bit sooner this year.
And I want to be as good as I possibly can defensively at whatever position I might end up at. As far as me eventually becoming a big league player, I think that's going to be the most important part for me. I have to be a little bit better on defense. Just to be a little bit better all-around player than I was this year. Just to take another step forward.
Also See: Instant Analysis: Clinton/Kane County (June 22, 2007)
Tracy values versatility (September 23, 2007)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Mike Boulanger (November 6, 2007)
Scouting Rangers Prospect #45: Chad Tracy (January 22, 2008)
Instant Analysis: Bakersfield/San Jose (July 23, 2008)
Tracy learning to make adjustments (July 30, 2008)
Batting and Power: Tracy has been best known for his bat ever since his days as a prolific hitter at Pepperdine University. An excellent pure hitter, Tracy wore down late in the year during his first full season in '07. His struggles continued into the first two months in Bakersfield last summer, but he turned on the afterburners in June and didn't look back, combining to bat .325 over his final 326 at-bats. If Tracy can carry that momentum into the '09 campaign – and he certainly has the talent to do so – he has an opportunity to make an impact at the big league level. The California native has more gap power [which is above-average] than home run pop, but he'll also knock his fair share over the fence.
Base Running and Speed: Tracy's speed is a tick below average. He helps make up for it by using his smarts when it comes to taking extra bases, but he's not a threat to steal bases at the upper levels of pro ball. Although he was able to snag nine bases in 10 attempts with Clinton in 2007, he got just four in five tries last season.
Defense: The former backstop has played three positions in three seasons with the Rangers. Drafted as a catcher, Tracy played behind the plate with Spokane in his debut season before switching to left field with Clinton two years ago. He began the '08 season playing left in Bakersfield, but moved to first base after a late-season promotion to Frisco. Tracy will most likely be a 1B/DH for the foreseeable future, but he could also see sporadic action in left field. Tracy learned first base on the fly last summer, and he has worked hard over the offseason to master the position's nuances. His growing pains were obvious in the Arizona Fall League, where he committed five errors in just 10 games at the position.
Projection: Only time will tell what happens to Tracy, as there may not be a more difficult player to project at the upper levels of the Rangers' system. After a somewhat disappointing start to his career offensively, Tracy's impressive second half performance last season shows that he may have figured it out. Tracy's play in the field could ultimately be what decides his fate. If he continues to improve as a hitter, he could become an extra bat off the bench for a big league club. He profiles as more of a DH or bench-type player right now, but Tracy is a hard worker who is committed to making himself better defensively.
2009 Outlook: Tracy played the last month of the 2008 season with Double-A Frisco, and that's where he will begin the '09 campaign. He is expected to remain at first base, but Justin Smoak is also likely to begin his season in Frisco. Should that happen, Smoak would probably be the RoughRiders' primary first baseman with Tracy shifting to a DH role until one of the two is promoted. After batting .344 in 24 Double-A games last season, Tracy could reach Triple-A this year with a strong first half.