Preston Mattingly has good bloodlines and enough raw talent for the Dodgers to have taken him 31st overall in last year’s draft. He also has a lot of work to do to live up to his potential. The son of former American League MVP and current Yankees hitting coach Don Mattingly, the 19-year-old prospect has struggled in his first full season of pro ball.
Playing at low Class-A Great Lakes, Mattingly is hitting just .179/.222/.248 and has gone deep only once. He has also struggled defensively at shortstop, committing a league-high 15 errors.
Baseball America: How would you describe Preston Mattingly?
Preston Mattingly: I’m a guy who likes to have fun, but I also know when it’s time to be serious. I’m a baseball player, but while I grew up around the game I probably look at myself as more of an athlete.
BA: What kind of hitter do you see yourself as?
PM: Obviously, I’m young, so I’m not sure that you can tell what kind of hitter I am yet. I think I’m someone who can help the team. I’m athletic, so I can run. I can maybe hit for some power. Right now I’m more of a gap-to-gap hitter, but down the road I’ll hopefully produce more power. That should come as I gain more experience and develop better pitch-recognition.
BA: What are biggest adjustments you’ve had to make since signing?
PM: The biggest difference between high school and pro ball is the speed of the game. The players are a lot better, and the pitchers can throw all of their pitches for strikes. At the plate I’ve pretty much stayed the same, although I have worked to shorten my stroke. You can’t get away with a longer swing like you can in high school.
BA: When you’re working with your hitting coach, Garey Ingram, are you generally focusing more on mechanics or on the mental part of the game?
PM: A little of both. You’re always doing something wrong and you always want to improve every part of your game. You want to be perfect. That’s not possible, but there are things you need to get better at. Last year I struck out too much, and I have too many K’s so far this season, too. That’s something I’m working on.
BA: What are the conversations like when you talk hitting with your father?
PM: He didn’t really see me play a lot in high school–just a couple of times because he was always away with the Yankees. So he can’t really tell me a lot about my swing. For the most part he tries to leave me alone and let me work with my coaches. When we talk, it’s more mental stuff. He tells me to stay focused and to be positive.
BA: Growing up, did you ever go through a period where you didn’t want to play baseball because you didn’t want to be compared to your father?
PM: Yeah, I did a little. I’ve always liked baseball, but it’s different from basketball where you’re always involved and are doing more on your own. In baseball you can go 45 minutes without an at-bat or without the ball being hit to you. It’s also a sport where you fail a lot, so it can be a frustrating game. My dad didn’t push me, but I still grew up watching him play. And I know that a lot of people are going to compare me to him. But I can’t think that way. I’m my own person, and I when I decided to play baseball I knew that I’d have to make it on my own ability.
BA: You excelled in three sports in high school, and were recruited by Division I basketball programs. When, and why, did you decide to go with baseball?
PM: Not until my senior year of high school. Basketball is still my favorite sport, but it became clear to me that my future was a lot brighter in baseball. The requirements for playing big-time college basketball and in the NBA are just too extreme. You have to be able to jump out of the gym. I mean, I can jump, but I don’t have a 50-inch vertical like a lot of those guys.
BA: Who are your favorite NBA players, and which are you most similar to style-wise?
PM: There are a lot of guys I like watching. I like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant. I really like Steve Nash’s game. I’m 6’3″ so I’m about his size. When I played, I was more Ron Artest-style, though. Not the off the court stuff, but how he plays. I’m into good defense and doing whatever it takes. Whichever sport I’m playing, I just want to win.
BA: How would you assess your defensive play right now?
PM: It’s frustrating to make errors. But I’m working hard to get better, and that work may translate to fewer errors later if I keep learning. And if I do make errors, I want to make them going forward. I want to be aggressive to the ball, not sitting back.
BA: Do you see yourself as a big league shortstop, or do you think you’ll eventually move to another position?
PM: I like playing shortstop, but I’m going to do my best wherever they play me. If the Dodgers decide I should be somewhere else, that’s where I’ll play. I’ll do whatever is best for the team.
BA: A lot of players say that their childhood allegiances go out the window once they sign a professional contract. Is that the case with you?
PM: I’ve always been a Yankees fan, and I won’t lie; I still am. I grew up with them, and my dad is still coaching there. But now I’m a Dodgers fan, too. Fortunately they’re in different leagues, so I can have a favorite American League team and a favorite National League team. If they meet in the World Series, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Of course, I’m still a few years away from where I’d be playing in the games themselves.