San Diego Padres’ catching prospect Blake Hunt is already regarded as a great defensive catcher by many in the sport. He is now working on his swing, as he attempts to become a more well-rounded professional baseball player.
At the 2018 Padres On Deck Don Welke Classic, I caught up with catching prospect Blake Hunt as he wrapped up his batting practice session before the night game. As always, the young backstop was in great spirits as we sat down for a few minutes to discuss his year in the minor leagues.
Blake is approachable, knowledgeable, and intelligent about the game of baseball. From the time he was drafted, we have kept in contact with each other as he progresses through the system. I enjoy speaking to him about his passion for the game.
As a young catcher, it takes time to climb the ladder in professional baseball. More often than not, catchers are the last group of players to reach the major leagues from a certain draft class. A backstop must first learn the nuances of the game defensively. They then move onto study habits and preparing for each and every day in regard to their defense. Catchers must also work with individual pitchers, learn their thought processes, and how each separate pitcher prefers to attack hitters. It is a daunting task to be prepared defensively. Then comes the time when you can work on your swing.
Thankfully for the Padres, Blake came to them with advanced defensive abilities. His pop times out of high school were phenomenal and he was widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the 2016 draft class. Hunt is still widely regarded for his defense and he is an excellent communicator. He is now perfecting his swing in an attempt to catapult up the Padres’ depth chart behind the plate.
I watched his BP session on Thursday and noticed a difference in his swing from the spring, when I saw him several times. Blake was a bit pull-heavy in March and seems to be much more free and easy with his swing now. I asked what he has been working on with his swing mechanics and this is what he told me:”Staying short and driving the ball to the opposite field. If they throw inside I got it, I am just working on keeping my hands through the ball.” He knows his strengths and is well aware of his weaknesses. Blake is consciously trying to use the opposite field in his current approach.
We started to talk about his shoulder and his past injuries issues with it. I asked about his health, in which he replied with an enthusiastic smile. “Great. I have not had one hiccup all year. I had normal soreness because I was catching five or six games in a row, but I feel great.” It is certainly nice to hear that his arm troubles are behind him.
Blake finished his year at Tri-City going 18-for-39 with a .462 batting average in his last 10 games. I asked him about his hot ending to the year and what he attributed it to. “Right after the month of July, I had a rough month then, I had to make some changes. So all of August I was with all my hitting coaches trying to shorten it up and use a little more of my legs. I changed my two-strike approach, choked up and I am trying to play pepper a little bit. Funny enough, that is when the power started coming.” The little things can sometimes lead to big differences in a swing. Blake has learned to shorten up and let the ball travel a bit. He could really be poised to be an offensive weapon if he continues to grow and adapt with his approach at the plate.
There are several young pitchers in the system, and the two of us started to talk about several of them. Here is a bit what he told me about a couple of pitchers in the system who were favorites for him to catch in 2018: “In Tri-City, Omar Cruz came up about halfway into the season. I caught three of his four starts. He just absolutely dominated. He was sitting like 89-90 with his velocity, but he hits his corners. He also has great command of his secondary pitches. Henry Henry also had a really good year and got called up. Out of the bullpen, Jordan Guerrero shut the door every game.” This is some great insight to some of the young pitchers in the system from someone who sees them every day and knows each of them on a personal level.
In speaking about some players, the topic of the language barrier came up. I asked Blake if he had trouble communicating with some of the Latino players on the team. “In season, a lot of the Latin guys that I already caught have been in the U.S. for over a year. We had already built relationships with each other… I know enough words to communicate with them, they know enough to communicate with me.” It is not an issue. The Padres have done well to organize classes for these young men as they learn the English language and how to better communicate while in the States.
In instructionals, this past month, Blake had the opportunity to work with many of the very young pitchers. “Recently, I just caught some of the 17 and 18-year old that came over from instructs. They are fresh from the Dominican and they are young, but after talking to them for a while it is just fine. Frank Lopez when I first caught him this spring was raw with his English. By the time I caught him recently in instructs he was way more fluent.”Again, in speaking about the communication factor, the Padres have done their homework to make these men more comfortable as they arrive in the United States. The fact that some are taking advantage of it and not taking it for granted, bodes well towards their work ethic and how well they will prepare themselves throughout their careers. I have already reported on Lopez and his high ceiling. It is nice to hear that he is making strides outside the game of baseball too.
The intangibles on Blake Hunt are very high. In speaking to him, you gain a sense that he has a very high baseball IQ. He understands the highs and lows of the game and you can be sure he will not let the game get too big for him. At the age of 19, he has plenty of time to develop in the system. Blake Hunt is a name to remember in a system overflowing with talent.