See also: Previous Prospect Q&A with Greg Miller
Astros outfielder Hunter Pence, who is tied for the minor league lead with 13 home runs at Double-A Corpus Christi, is establishing himself as one of the best power prospects in the minor leagues.
After he hit a combined 31 homers between low Class A Lexington and high Class A Salem last year, Pence, the Astros’ second-round pick in 2004 out of Texas-Arlington, is on pace for another 30-homer season.
We sat down with Pence–who was on a 4-for-31 skid before going 2-for-4 with his 13th homer in the Hooks’ 9-6 win against Wichita on Monday–to talk about his mini-slump, his unorthodox approach at the plate, and a minor adjustment he made in his swing to create success in his first season in Double-A.
Baseball America: You got off to a great start this year, hitting for average (.312) and power (eight home runs) in April, but seem to have cooled off a little recently. How have things been going?
Hunter Pence: I was doing really well up until that last series in San Antonio. The wind was just killing balls out there. I thought I was crushing balls all over the place, but had nothing to show for it. It was pretty much just some hard luck, which happens a lot in this game. But it wasn’t just the wind; (San Antonio center fielder Sebastien) Boucher was eating everything up. Everything I hit that looked like it was going to fall into one of the gaps, he just appeared out of nowhere. Talk about frustrating.
BA: Have you made any changes in your approach at the plate coming into this season?
HP: I felt like I squared up a lot of balls last year, but I wasn’t really getting through some of them like I probably could have. So coming into this year, I just made a minor adjustment in my load, lifting my back elbow just a hair and turning my right wrist a little more. It’s been creating a lot of backspin and I think balls I square up are coming off the bat a lot better.
BA: You catch a lot of flak about being such a big guy (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) and choking up on the bat the way you do. Some people might consider that unorthodox, especially for having so much power.
HP: Man, everyone laughs at me for chocking up so much. I mean, even my mom makes fun of me. All I know is I see the ball, and I hit it. I don’t know how to change it to make it look normal, and I don’t care if it looks normal, really. All I can say is it feels normal now.
BA: Again, for being a big man, you already have four triples. How does that happen?
HP: Well, I’m not a slow guy. I can move pretty good, but all those triples just kind of happened. I think all four of them hit off the top of the wall, otherwise I might have some more home runs. Maybe I need to eat a few more hamburgers or something.
BA: You’ve played all over the place in the outfield, and everyone tends to knock your defense–I know you especially got hammered by scouts in your short stint in the Carolina League last year. Now that you’re pretty much playing right field exclusively this season, how has that been working out?
HP: Well, I was a little worn down when I got to Salem last year. It was my first full season and I didn’t really have the experience of playing so many games. So I think first off, I’m better prepared for this season to be more consistent for the long haul.
I’ve played them all, and I really think right field has been the easiest one for me to really get a handle on. Left is tougher simply because there are so many righthanded hitters and it’s tougher to get reads and jumps, at least for me. I definitely feel the most comfortable in right. All I can say is I’ve worked hard to improve defensively and a lot of that has to do with how comfortable I am out there.
BA: So anything you’ve been doing in your free time? Anything you’re trying to pick up while you’re on the road?
HP: Other than my roommate (Hooks righthander Chance Douglass) trying to teach me how to play Halo, not very much. I’m not sure what to think of that game at this point. I’m more into the football games–Madden and NCAA. I don’t really like the baseball games–the football games are just more fun. I had an iPod, but I think the motherboard got fried. And now I have no idea how to get it started up again. And the worst thing about that happening was it was one of the more expensive ones. My road trips have been pretty quiet since then.