Discipline making the difference for Tracy

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Chad Tracy's outstanding second half has helped him drive home a Frisco-record 107 RBIs this season. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 24-year-old first baseman before a recent RoughRiders game.

Chad Tracy may not be the flashiest or toolsiest player in the Rangers' system, but he is a talented hitter who has shown improvement at each level since joining the organization.

With Single-A Clinton in 2007, a rough second half left Tracy with a .250 batting average, 35 doubles, and 14 home runs.

His numbers improved in 2008 with Bakersfield [.286, 37 doubles, 13 homers] and he took off after a late-season promotion to Double-A Frisco, hitting .344 in 24 contests.

This season, Tracy got off to a slow start. At the Texas League All-Star break, the 24-year-old slugger was hitting just .241 with 13 doubles, nine home runs, and a .677 OPS.

Things have turned around since then, and in a big way.

In the second half, the Pepperdine product has posted a .320 batting average in 62 games, belting 19 doubles, 17 home runs, and driving in 61 runs. Tracy is hitting a home run in every 14.2 at-bats during that span.

With one day left in the Texas League's regular season, Tracy leads the circuit with 26 home runs and ranks second with 107 runs batted in, just two behind Corpus Christi's Drew Locke.

While Tracy's bat continues to develop, he has also shown some improvement in the field. Tracy still has his share of rough moments at first base, but it is important to remember that 2009 is really the first time he has played the position on a regular basis. In 80 games there, he has committed 15 errors, leading to a .980 fielding percentage.

Tracy has likely found a home at first, although he can also go to left field or behind the plate if necessary. Many players begin to show marked improvement in their second full season at a position, so the 2010 campaign will be an intriguing one in the field for Tracy.

Lone Star Dugout recently sat down with the prospect before a Frisco RoughRiders game.

Jason Cole: By the numbers, you're having a pretty solid season here in Frisco, to say the least. How do you feel about it?

Chad Tracy: It has gone well, especially towards the end. I was productive in the first half, but kind of like last year, I struggled a little bit. The adjustments I've been able to make in the second half have been key. I've had a great second half, so it has turned into a good season all-around. I'm happy with it.

Cole: Last offseason, you had your struggles in the Arizona Fall League. What did you take away from that experience that you were able to bring into this season?

Tracy: You learn from going and doing something like that. My first two games there, I faced Phil Hughes and Clay Buchholz. You're facing some big league guys. The other thing, too, is that it's a tough situation. There are no excuses ever, but to get 57 at-bats the entire time I was there against that kind of pitching and playing once every four days—you've really got to be on top of your game and you've got to have your swing tightened up. My swing wasn't quite tight.

But I learned that there is even another level from where we're at right here. Obviously the big leagues, but I mean there are minor league players—when you gather them all together in the Fall League—there is even a level higher than what we're playing at right here. And I realized that and that's the beautiful part about baseball. There is always another step and more competition out there.

Cole: Looking forward to this offseason real quick, are you going to be playing anywhere?

Tracy: As of right now, it doesn't look like it. I talked to Scott [Servais] and we talked a little bit about maybe playing winterball. But I've done winterball or fall ball all three years I've been with the Rangers. I did the Instructional League, I did Hawaii, and I did the Fall League last year.

I think it would be beneficial for me to have an offseason, rest my body, and be able to hit the weights for a full offseason. I've only been able to do that for half an offseason for the last three years. I want to get stronger, work on my swing at home and come ready to go for next spring.

Cole: Yeah, with all of that, you've pretty much played for three-quarters of a year consecutively for each of the past three years. How much are you looking forward to going home and getting some rest this offseason?

Tracy: Yeah, it'll be really nice. I've talked about that a lot. You really don't realize—a lot of those leagues go up until after Thanksgiving. So it almost feels like I've been playing for three years in a row without hardly stopping. When I go home, it's a couple of months real quick, but I really have to get right into weight training.

To be able to go home and have that first month to step back and take a breath—I think it's going to help me. It'll be nice to rest mentally and then really be able to spend three or four quality months getting ready for next year.

Cole: Did you even get to go home after the season last year?

Tracy: No, I didn't. The hurricane came in last year, and we had like five days before we had to be back in Arizona. I just drove right there. I didn't even go home, I didn't have a break after the season ended.

I went right out to Arizona and did the whole Fall League until after Thanksgiving and then finally got home about November 28th. That was my first chance to take a breath. I took about a week and started lifting weights again.

Cole: Was there ever a fatigue factor that set in? Did that carry over at all to the start of this year?

Tracy: No, no. I think it carries over a little bit into the Fall League. There comes a point at the end where you get tired and you're not hitting the weights as hard. The end of the season becomes a matter of getting to the finish line. Just getting there and making sure you're healthy.

By the time the Fall League ended, I was exhausted to say the least. But it didn't carry over, no. I got home and had plenty of time to rest. I had plenty of time to lift weights and get ready. That's something that I want to improve on next year. The last couple of years, for whatever reason, I've started a little bit slow. If I can come out and really get off to a hot start—I want to see if I can maintain it for the entire season.

That's part of the baseball season, too. Nobody ever goes 140 games and just kills the ball the entire time. Everybody has a period where they're not swinging the bat well, and that was my period.

Tracy is a career .287 hitter in Double-A.
Cole: You talked about the adjustments you made coming into the second half that have caused you to take off. What are some of those adjustments?

?Tracy: Plate discipline has been the biggest one. I know my walks haven't necessarily increased. I don't even know what I have. I think I have around 40 walks. But there is a lot more to plate discipline than just walking. It's hitting pitches that can be driven.

Early in the season, I was swinging a lot earlier in the count and getting myself out early in the count. I wasn't giving myself a chance to see a pitch that I can hit. Plate discipline for me—the second half, I've seen a lot more 3-2 counts, 2-2 counts, and I'm giving myself a chance to see six or seven pitches in an at-bat and get something that I can hit.

Before, it was first pitch slider or fastball down and away, and I'm just swinging at it and rolling it over. That's not what you want to do—that's not how you want to hit. Just being patient and getting something to hit has been all the difference in the world in the second half.

Cole: Is that something you've ever done in the past, or is that something you had to teach yourself to do this year?

Tracy: I've done it in the past. I've always had a plan at the plate, and sometimes as a hitter, you get a little sidetracked. You get away from your plan. I remember my first year, in Low-A, I had a really good plan in the first half. And last year towards the second half. But this is the best it has been in awhile in terms of knowing what I want to do and knowing what pitches I want to get.

It leaves you from time to time. When hitters go into slumps and they're not hitting so well, they get away from their plan and they try to force it. They end up swinging at stuff that isn't part of their plan. So, this year, I've really refined it and I know what I want to do when I go up there right now. I think that's the reason why good things are happening.

Cole: Last year you batted .344 in the month that you were in Frisco at the end of last year. When you came back, having a lot of the same pitchers and managers in the Texas League, did you feel that they kind of knew you a little better?

Tracy: Oh yeah. I'm not sure how many managers and coaches are here, but I know there are some—Springfield is the same, TK [Terry Kennedy] was over here as a hitting coach last year. So you're playing against teams that saw you last year.

I think that definitely had a lot to do with it. I came here and succeeded for a month, and I think it was pretty obvious that they said, ‘Hey, he's going to be able to hit here, too.' So I had to work for it. When I first got here, they said, ‘Alright, we're not going to just hand it to you and start throwing you pitches you can hit.' Because when you first get here, everyone is going to challenge you and see if you can do it.

So they made me work for it. They started throwing me pitches out of the strike zone. I was swinging at them and getting myself out. I had to take a step back and say, ‘Alright, now I have to adjust back.' I had to take a step back here and make them come back to me—make them throw what I want to hit and then I'll go from there. It took me a little longer than I'd have liked early on, but I've gotten there and hopefully I can keep it.

Cole: You've got a Frisco record in runs batted in now [currently at 107]. I think Nate Gold previously set the record a couple of years ago. Does that mark mean anything to you?

Tracy: Absolutely. I was just telling Scott Garner that, as a run producer, I feel like it's my job to drive in runs. There are other guys—it's their job to hit .300, walk a whole bunch, and get on base. I'm hitting in the middle of the order—it's my job to drive runs in. So when they're out there, I feel like if I don't get them in, sometimes I feel like I haven't done my job.

As a run producer, that's kind of your benchmark. You want to drive in 100 runs, and I've wanted to do that ever since I've been with the Rangers. This is the first time I've been able to do it, and I'm very proud of it. I heard that it is a record for Frisco. I'm proud of that too. Mainly just because I feel like that's what I'm supposed to be doing, and I've done it this year. I'm happy about it.

Cole: In the past, you've been a guy that has hit your share of home runs, but you have been more of a gap-to-gap guy. This year, it seems like the ball is jumping off your bat a little more than it did in the past, and your home runs are up. What has been behind the developing power?

Tracy: Honestly I think it all goes along with the learning the strike zone and learning the swing thing. I don't feel any different this year. I think my weight is about the same. It's not like I'm immensely stronger than I was last year or the year before.

It's just as you learn your swing—this is my third year now, so I've got a pretty good idea of when I usually hit a ball good, where it is in the strike zone. Knowing where you strengths are, what you can hit, and where you can drive it. I've picked out more pitches this year that I can drive, and I just haven't missed them lately. I was early, but I haven't missed them lately.

I think most guys, when you get a good pitch to hit and you pick one out and you take a good swing at it, the ball is going to jump. I don't think it's necessarily that I'm a lot stronger, it's just that I've got a good approach at the plate. That's all.

Cole: You've been a good second half hitter the last two years. But this year, it seems like the power is even taking off late in the season. Have you done anything earlier in the season—like maybe take it easier at times—that has allowed you to stay this strong down the stretch?

Tracy: The weight training early on is big. I was pretty religious with that last year in Bakersfield. We have the same strength coach as we had last year in Bakersfield, Luke Chichetto. I've laxed with it a little bit towards the end, like I've told you.

At the end, you get so tired that you can't just go in there and lift weights for an hour and a half every day. Your body won't allow you to do it. You've got to come out here and play a three hour game.

But early on, I was in the weight room three times a week to do my leg work and stuff. I feel good. That's the whole goal is to get to August and your body still feels good, and you still feel like you can go out there and perform. Nothing intense—I'm not crushing the weights, but I maintained it and I tried to keep my body healthy and feeling good so what when we got to this time of year, I wasn't tired yet.

A lot of guys will get tired. They'll have a great first half and then they'll get really tired and they start to fall off. I try to stay good for all 140—just stay healthy.

Cole: Is that something that took you some time—having to go through a couple of seasons to kind of figure out your body?

Tracy did some catching in Clinton.
Tracy: Yeah. The first year in Clinton, I was exhausted. I was still catching some then. I think I caught like 25 or 30 games in Clinton. So I was catching about once a week and wasn't as religious with the weights. I struggled bad in the second half in Clinton. I had a good first half, but struggled bad. By the end, I was frail, I was tired.

And that's something that you learn at every level. I learned it in college my first year—the importance of it. You learn what areas you can take it easy in throughout the year to keep your body read to go.

I hit a lot too in Clinton. I took so many swings that by the end, I was just tired. You learn how to go through the year and be able to pace yourself a little bit more, so you have something left when August rolls around. I've definitely learned that.

Cole: It seems like you've finally settled on a position at first base. Have you even played a position other than first this year?

Tracy: Left field, early on. When I first got here—the first two months. Not every day, but I was playing left field three or four times a week when [Justin] Smoak was still here. Since he left, which was probably the end of May or something. Maybe June. Then I took over at first.

I like it there. I'm comfortable there. I've still got a lot of learning to do. I still make some mistakes with footwork and different things on footwork. And making accurate throws and stuff. But I think I've come a long way there.

Early on, when I first took over, I was a little uneasy about it. But because I've played there for three months now, you get a lot of reads, you get a lot of looks, and I'm pretty comfortable there.

We'll see if I stick there. If not, that's why I was out in left field and that's why I've caught a little bit. If they need me to play left field, I can do it. If they need me to play first, I can do it. But it has been nice to stay in one spot every day for three months. I think I'm getting there. We'll see.

Cole: I think you even did some catching last year in Bakersfield. But you haven't at all this year. Is that pretty much done with?

Tracy: We'll see. It'll never be just completely done with, I don't think. I did it for so long that I think it's going to be something that will always be tied to my name. It's like, ‘Hey, he can catch a little bit.'

I haven't really caught a ton of bullpens or anything. I need to do my infield work and stuff, because that's where I'm playing every day. I haven't been able to do any drills or anything, but I still have my catcher's mitts. I'll do little things here and there in the offseason just to kind of keep doing it.

I could end up in a situation with the Rangers or any other team where they might need me to throw the gear on and catch and work on it. I don't think it'll ever be all the way gone, but as of right now, I'm going to play first base for this team and see where we go from there.

Cole: Is this the first time that you've ever been an everyday first baseman?

Tracy: Yeah, with the exception of last year where I got called up here. I was playing outfield in Bakersfield and they needed a first baseman for the playoff run, so I played the last 23 games or something at first.

Cole: That's right. You didn't even play first in Bakersfield last year did you?

Tracy: No. I played two games. They said, ‘You're going to play first.' I played two games and I think I got one ground ball and they were like, ‘Alright, you're going up.' I was like, ‘Oh boy.'

Yeah, I had hardly any time, but it was more for the bat and helping out offensively. But yeah, you're right. This is the first year that I've regularly played first base in my whole career. I think it has gone a lot better than some people would've thought that it's going to go.

Cole: What have been some of your biggest challenges defensively and how do you feel you're overcoming them?

Tracy: There are so many—first base is misconceived. Everybody thinks you just stand over there and catch throws from the infielders. Which you do. But it's misconceived because there are a lot of different plays. There are bunt plays—guys are pushing balls at you. There are different double play balls, different angles.

The only way you're going to learn that is by being in the game. It has kind of been trial by error. I go out there and sometimes a play will happen and I'm like, ‘That's the first time I've ever seen that play.' You've just got to kind of run with it.

Just learning the bunt plays—when you can charge hard and when you can't. How to position your body to angle and make a throw. Just different stuff like that has all been a challenge.

I still make mistakes. I made a mistake last night with a horrible throw to second. But it's all part of learning and getting better as the season goes on. But it has gone well overall.

Cole: Even at the Major League level, first basemen are forced to dig a lot of balls out of the dirt. One of the things I've noticed about Chris Davis is that he has gotten excellent at stretching and digging a ball out of the dirt. How did that come to you at first, and was it a bit difficult?

Tracy: Early on, I wasn't doing great with it. But I think it came easier than it would for most because of the catching. When you're catching, everything is hands—being soft with your hands. So it was a little bit weird at first—just learning how to read the ball if it's far out there. How it's going to bounce. You can't just attack every one. Balls are going to bounce to you differently.

So actually, that has been the best part at first as far as my development at the position. That has been the best part—the picks have been good. That is the nice thing about playing first. If you make a mistake on defense or make a tough error, you have a chance to save two or three errors during the course of a game too. You can say, ‘He made an error, but we'd have had three other errors had he not picked those balls out of the dirt.'

That's gratifying as a first baseman. You can mess one up and then if the next guy throws you a really tough short-hop, you can dig it out and save one. Not too many positions do you get to make an error and then save somebody else from making one too. It's nice. I like that.

Cole: Obviously your dad has been a big league manager for quite awhile now, and he's having a heck of a year with the Rockies currently. How much do you talk to him about your season during the year, and what kind of advice has he given you down the stretch this year?

Tracy: We talk every few days. We talk about how things are going. We talk about how the team is doing. We're in a pennant race right now. We talk about my season. Early in the season, when I was struggling a little bit, he said, ‘Hey, remember last year. You did it last year. Just relax and go to the field every day with your head on straight and try to fix it and you will.'

The advice he can give, because he's been through it so much as a player and as a coach, is just awesome. To be able to have him a phone call away when my head is messed up. I can have a rough day and call him up, and he'll get you right back on track. Whether it's with my swing or with my defense or whatever. He's just so positive.

He works so well not only with me, but also with the young players that he's got. He works so well with young players. It has definitely been huge to have him there to help out.

Cole: Are you planning on going up to Colorado after the season is over with Frisco?

Tracy: Yeah. I think they're on the road for about a week. I'm going to go home for a week and then I'll fly out there for that homestand, so I'm going to be able to spend the last ten or eleven days of their season with him, which will be nice.

Cole: And hopefully more than that, right?

Tracy: Yeah. Ten or eleven days of the season and then hopefully a month all the way to the World Series, but we'll see.

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