The San Diego Padres surprised many, as they selected high school catchers with two of their first three picks in the June draft.
Luis Campusano was picked with the 39th selection (second-round pick) overall and Blake Hunt was drafted with the 69th pick (second competitive balance round) overall. Both are regarded as defensive-minded catchers with a strong likelihood to remain at the position. As a high school backstop, often it is difficult to gauge whether a player has the tools to remain at the position. Both men will be solid contributors behind the plate. That is for sure.
I was recently given the opportunity to speak to Blake Hunt, as the Padres arranged an interview with the young man for myself. In speaking to Blake, I got a real sense that he is proud of his defense. The young man also has a sense of pride about his offensive game, which has certainly improved of late. “The power is starting to show a little bit, but I need to cut down the strikeouts.” He knows that his bat is a work in progress. It will take hard work, but the Padres are pleased that his defensive side of the game is already above average for his age.
“I feel pretty confident with my glove right now. I take great pride in catching.” Hunt has worked with long-time MLB catcher Brent Mayne as a catching instructor in the past. His schooling also includes former Angels’ infielder Adam Kennedy, who has worked with Blake for the past four years in high school. Kennedy describes Hunt’s talent level as being “through the roof” and praises his work ethic in cooperating with trainers to get bigger and stronger.
Blake Hunt was not widely touted to begin his senior year, but he took his game to the next level. He did that with hard work, something that bodes well for his future in the game of baseball. He takes nothing for granted and is thankful for where he is right now.
Coming into his senior year, he was not highly scouted. Don’t get me wrong, scouts were aware of who he was. His value increased though, after an impressive showing in the Boras Classic this spring. He was also putting on a show at the MLB Pipeline showcase, held at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore before his senior year started. “Coming into the season I was considered a late riser. I got more comfortable as the showcase stuff got more frequent. Eventually I started playing my game.” Quite frankly, many scouts and evaluators were looking at other players during these So Cal tournaments and showcases. While many were there to witness Royce Lewis or Hunter Greene, it was Hunt’s impressive showing that put him on the radar. A large-framed catcher with excellent defensive skills and a power bat is special. The Padres recognized that, and did not hesitate to select the high school catcher when the time was right.
The right-handed hitting backstop was committed to Pepperdine University and really enjoys the school. He had to weigh his options after the Padres selected him with their second round pick. We spoke about his decision, as it wasn’t as easy as most people thought. ” I was really committed to going to school there. I really loved the coaching staff. I loved the other guys in my class and I really loved the campus and school all together. It was a really difficult decision. In the days leading up to the draft, I reached out to a lot of guys who I knew had been drafted. The Padres’ generous offer was something that I had to sit down and pray about with my family.” In the end, the idea of beginning his pro career close to home was too enticing to ignore.
Between Blake’s junior and senior year of high school, he put on about 20 lbs of muscle. Again, it goes back to his tremendous drive to get better and do what it takes to get to the next level. I asked him if he planned on bulking up any more and if the Padres had spoken to him about a certain program to strengthen his whole physique. “The team has absolutely talked to me about a lifting program. We have meetings with our trainers a lot here in Arizona. That was a big key to my senior year (getting stronger). I have a meeting next week to finalize my program.” We can certainly expect this man to get bigger and stronger as he gets older and progresses within the Padres’ system. You need a brick wall behind the plate, and the 6′ 4″ catcher will certainly provide that for the Friars.
Joining such a young organization, and being looked upon as a major part of it, has to be exciting for a ball player. Hunt grew up in California (a Giants fan, but we won’t hold that against him) and dreamt of playing major league baseball. The dream is well within reach, but still far enough to keep him humble. The words that come from his mouth flow with caution as you get a real sense that he is a thinker. As a major league catcher, you have numerous things fumbling through your head at any given moment. The responsibilities are endless behind the dish. Whether its contemplating pitch counts or worrying about base runners and positioning, the rigors of catching are deep. Blake Hunt has an early grip on the ideologies to be successful. The mental game is very underrated in the game of baseball and this young man has shown early signs of progression. The Padres are certainly delighted.
He is excited to be a member of this organization and I asked him about it. I wanted to know his impression of the franchise and his thoughts about all the young talent that is surrounding him every day on the ball field. “We drafted a lot of high school guys and that’s exciting. We want to be a homegrown team and its going to be fun growing up with these guys.” The conversation turned towards Luis Campusano. I had to ask him about the backstop who was drafted one Padre’ draft pick ahead of Hunt. I was curious to know how their relationship was and if the two have a healthy competition with each other. “I think its pretty interesting that we both got drafted around the same area. We are good friends. We spend a lot of time with each other at practice and working out. To have two guys with a similar mindset and skill at the same level in the organization is unique, but we push each other. We both know, you can’t take anything for granted. Knowing that he is there and competing for the same spot is a healthy way to get better.” These two men will help each other. This pairing of talents is a common theme in the A.J. Preller regime. Jacob Nix and Logan Allen have a great competition/friendship as does Cal Quantrill and Eric Lauer. Any extra bit you can get out of these young men to maximize their abilities is greatly appreciated. Hunt and Campusano will be competing for a while as they progress through the system. The Padres will reap the benefits of these two pushing each other to the next level.
Swinging a wood bat used to be catastrophic to some prospects back in the day. But in this day and age of modern baseball, more and more youth are swinging wood bats earlier in their careers. I asked Blake about his time with the wood bat prior to the AZL league and also if he has had a rough time adjusting to the higher level of pitching while swinging a wood bat. “I swung a wood bat for the last three summers on teams. I haven’t had to make a huge adjustment. Out here, the difference is not with my bat, but more with the quality of pitching I have seen. They are consistently throwing low to mid-90’s. I’m striking out more than I’d like and I need to adjust to that. I need to consistently barrel up pitches instead of missing my pitch and fouling it back.” His game is a work in progress offensively. He is making the adjustments and you have to think that the coaches at the professional level will only increase his offensive abilities.
Looking at Blake’s numbers, he has only caught 20 innings this season so far. I knew something must be up, so I asked the young man if he was feeling all right or if the team was just monitoring his innings behind the dish. “They are bringing me real slow into it knowing that I caught almost every game of my high school season. They wanted to give me a little time off. When I first came out here, I had a little bit of an arm injury. Its been nagging a little bit. They understood that this was my first full year, so they had me slow it down. I am just taking my time out here. I am going to come back 100 percent when instructs start.” Interesting that he has only caught limited games, but certainly understandable that the team is proceeding with caution. Blake reports to me that he is still having a little shoulder issue, and the team is developing a throwing program for him in the off-season. His time behind the plate will be limited from here on out this 2017 season.
He has caught various pitchers this spring in game action and such. I was curious if the catcher was impressed by anyone’s stuff. He paused for a moment and then quickly brought up the name Mackenzie Gore. The Padres’ first round pick has tremendous stuff and Blake enlightens me a little bit about the left-handed pitcher. “That guy can just throw. He is ridiculous. He hits the low to mid-90’s pretty consistently. He is a really cool guy too. I have caught plenty of bullpen sessions from him. Sometimes I don’t even have to move my glove while catching him. He is a stud.” Very nice to see that Gore has already built some chemistry with one of his young catchers.
He also mentioned Miguel Diaz as a pitcher he caught in a bullpen session. We spoke about the right-hander’s nasty, two-seam fastball and the movement he generates. “If I were to describe his stuff I would use the word electric. It’s a great opportunity to work with other pitching coaches and pitchers that are higher than me in the organization. It’s an opportunity to start a relationship with these older guys that will be beneficial for the future.” An amazing way to look at his situation. Just because he hasn’t gotten the game action he craves doesn’t mean that he is incapable of getting better.
In speaking about the goals he has for the 2018 season, he mentioned, “Going forward into instructional league, my goal is to play as much a can. I have not been able to catch as much as I would have liked to, out here. Obviously I would love to break camp next spring training with a full season squad. That’s my personal goal.” Starting next season in Fort Wayne will be tough, but a Tri-City start after an extended spring seems realistic. You can’t doubt this young man though. He has the intangibles you want from a young ball player. A.J. Preller and the scouting staff saw it in him to succeed and I too believe in this young man. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, he could very easily be wearing a Padres uniform at Petco Park one day.