The No. 3 prospect in the Padres’ organization, Matt Antonelli has good plate discipline and a swing that produces line drives. He also has a new position. The 17th overall pick in last year’s draft, Antonelli has moved from third base to second base. What hasn’t changed is his ability to get on base.
Hitting mostly in the two-hole at high Class A Lake Elsinore, the Wake Forest product is currently second in the California League in hits and sixth in walks. Overall, Antonelli is hitting .318/.427/.475 and has stolen 13 bases in 14 attempts.
Baseball America: You’re now a second baseman. How did that move come about?
Matt Antonelli: I’m pretty sure it was a bunch of guys in the organization getting together and making the decision. When I showed up in instructs they played me there and told me that it was a “just in case” thing. I handled the position pretty well, and in spring training they worked me there again. A few days before we broke camp they said I’d be a full-time second baseman. Since I reported to Lake Elsinore, that’s what I’ve been.
BA: How has the transition gone so far?
MA: Not too bad. I think I’ve done OK, although a few things have come up from time to time. I know that the first few weeks I had to think about things rather than just react. For instance, when a ball was hit into the outfield I’d have to think about what my coverage responsibility was, or where I needed to be for a cut-off. Even though I’ve always played baseball, everything I had down was on the other side of the infield.
BA: Are you working out at third base at all?
MA: Not really. I’ve only played one inning there this year, and that was when our third baseman got hurt and I had to move over for the ninth inning. The coaches have asked me to take a few balls at third once in awhile, mostly so I don’t forget how, but that’s about it.
BA: Are you using a different glove at second base?
MA: I’m actually not, because I already used a smaller one. I had played shortstop before, and even though they kept saying that I should switch to a bigger glove at third, it just didn’t feel comfortable to me. I’d put on a bigger glove and it felt like my hand didn’t know what was going on.
BA: There have been questions about your ability to hit for power. Do you feel it’s important for you to develop more?
MA: If I had stayed at third base, it could have been an issue because that’s supposed to be a power position. Now that I’m at second base, power is more of a bonus. So far this season I have five home runs, so I’m not worried. Last year I didn’t hit any, so I’ve worked on my load a lot, and it’s starting to come together.
BA: What adjustments have you made to improve your load?
MA: I’m loading my hands. When I first signed, my hands were so still that I was basically starting my swing from a complete stop. Now I’m moving them back slightly, toward the catcher during the pitcher’s delivery, which gives me better rhythm. That’s the only real difference. My lower half is the same as it was when I got here.
BA: When you look at your approach at the plate, and your hitting style, is there anyone you’d compare yourself to?
MA: So far my style is more line-drive than anything else. I’m primarily a singles and doubles hitter; I’m not a slugger. I get on base, although I’m not sure there’s anyone I’d compare myself to.
BA: As you’re a disciplined hitter who draws his share of walks, would Kevin Youkilis be a good comparison?
MA: That might be a decent comparison, at least philosophy-wise. I probably take more pitches than a lot of guys. I used to take the first pitch in almost every at-bat, and when I was in high school I wouldn’t even swing until I had taken a strike. They tried to break me of that habit in college, but I still took a lot of pitches early. I’m a little more aggressive now. The basic hitting philosophy in the Padres organization is to make sure you get your pitch, and to go after it when you do, so I’ll swing if it’s something I can drive.
BA: Does the organization emphasize attacking fastballs?
MA: They do. They want you to hit fastballs in your zone. Curves and sliders–balls with a lot of movement–are harder to hit, so you don’t want to go after them, especially early in the count.
BA: Who has had the most impact on you since you signed?
MA: There have been a lot of guys, really. There are about 20 coaches working with you between here, instructs, and in spring training, which is a great thing about the organization. Rob Deer, our hitting coordinator, is one guy I’ve learned a lot from. He’s really good at explaining things, especially the mental side of the game. He’s been a main guy for me.
BA: Who’s the best pitcher you’ve faced so far in pro ball?
MA: I’ve always had trouble with Daniel Bard. I’ve only had two at-bats against him since turning pro, but in college I was 0-for-I don’t know how many against him. I know he’s been struggling this year, but not when I’ve come to the plate. I step into the box and he’s throwing nasty stuff.
BA: You were the Massachusetts high school player of the year in football as a senior. Which New England Patriots player were you most similar to when you were on the field?
MA: Oh, man. I don’t know. Tom Brady is my favorite player, but I wasn’t really like him. I was more of a flanker/wide receiver who went into the backfield once in awhile. I played cornerback on defense, but I don’t know who I’d compare myself to there. I’m a Ted Bruschi fan, but I wasn’t like him either. I’m too laid-back, and was more of a quiet guy on the field. Even in baseball, I’m not an aggressive, rah-rah kind of guy. Bruschi seems like a good dude, though. Maybe I’m a little like him off the field?
BA: You were also the Massachusetts high school player of the year in hockey. Who was better at what they did: Wayne Gretzky or Babe Ruth?
MA: Man, I don’t think I can answer that one, either. Ruth was the best ever in his sport, but so was Gretzky. I kind of wish Ruth wasn’t so long ago, so I could have seen him play instead of just watching old, grainy film clips. I did get to watch Gretzky, and he was obviously great. Each was the best at what they did, so it’s too tough to say.
BA: From a mental standpoint, how does baseball differ from football and hockey?
MA: That’s why baseball is different from all of the other sports: it’s such a mental game. The others are more team sports, while baseball is kind of about you. There are so many at-bats in a season, and there’s no room for error in any of them. It’s 100 percent focus every time. In the grand scheme, your focus is shorter but a lot more intense.