Michael Gettys Puts His Tools To Work

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif.—One of the reasons the San Diego Padres ate so much salary in trading Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton Jr. was to open up outfield playing time for Travis Jankowski and Alex Dickerson, with Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot in the wings at Triple-A El Paso.

But the Padres’ most talented outfielder might be in high Class A Lake Elsinore where Michael Gettys, a five-tool talent, is patrolling center field. Gettys has hit .307/.364/.444,with 33 stolen bases and 50 extra-base hits between low Class A Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore this year, while playing some of the best defense in both leagues.

“He’s been controlling the strike zone much better this year,” said Lance Burkhart, his manager with the Lake Elsinore and his hitting coach last year with Fort Wayne.

“He’s not chasing as many pitches up or down in the zone. But Michael has a ways to go, and he would be the first one to tell you that too. He knows where he wants to be and he’s working everyday to get there.”

Gettys was drafted by the Padres in the second round in 2014 from Gainesville High in Georgia, where his ability to throw a mid-90s fastball, cover an amazing amount of ground in center field and hit baseballs far off into the Georgia sun made him one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft.

The knock that kept Gettys from being a first-round selection was always a question about whether he could make consistent-enough contact to unleash his enormous physical talents.

“Although the strikeout numbers might not bear this out, the approach is better and he’s made a number of adjustments on the mechanical side—particularly with his timing in spring training—that I think really show a lot of progress,” Padres farm director Sam Geaney said.

“A lot of the credit with Michael goes to Lance (Burkhart). In one of those spring training taping sessions, Lance and Michael talked about getting more athletic with his swing, in essence a little more rhythm. He starts out with a back stretch that gets him not only in a better position to hit but also enables him to track the ball better.”

Coming off of a professional debut in which he slashed .310/.353/.437 in the Arizona League, the 2015 season was a letdown. Gettys hit just .231/.271/.346 with 162 strikeouts in 122 games for the TinCaps. The consensus among those who saw him play was simple: he needed to have a better understanding of the strike zone.

“It is also important to remember that Michael was only 19 and around three years younger than nearly everyone in the league,” Geaney said about his struggles last season. “A big part of his development in the offseason and this spring was also learning how to deal with and improve upon failure, because no one has higher expectations of Michael, than Michael.”

This year Gettys turned the numbers around in Fort Wayne, hitting .304/.372/.416 with 24 stolen bases and 18 extra-base hits in 68 games. With 69 strikeouts he was still punching out once a game—slightly less than last season—but with a 100-point jump in his on-base percentage before being promoted to Lake Elsinore.

“I’ve been trying my best to not to worry about stuff as much this year,” Gettys said. “I think if I can become mentally more consistent, I’m going to be more consistent in the field.

After his promotion to Lake Elsinore, Gettys has battled an assortment of injuries ranging from a dislocated finger to a pulled groin and a stiff back, but has still managed to stay in the lineup for most of the games. At the plate, he has continued to show the same improvement with a .310/.358/.473 slash line. The only noticeable decrease has been in the declining number of stolen bases from 24 with the TinCaps to nine with the Storm.

“Right now I am a little banged up so I have to focus a little more,” he said. “It’s tough. You want to finish the year strong and be there for your teammates in the field as much as you can.”

In addition to his offense, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Gettys is one of the better defensive outfielders in the league and might have the best outfield arm. He was selected as the best defensive outfielder in the Midwest League in 2015 and his coaches rave about his closing speed on fly balls.

“He’s a very good outfielder,” Burkhart said. “He has great instincts, but for me the separator is that he can really go and get the ball and he will run over or through a fence to get it.”

With 14 outfield assists between Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne, Gettys also enjoys showing off his plus right arm.

“I enjoy all parts of playing the game, but that is one thing I really like to do,” Gettys said on his number of outfield assists. “A lot of it is just being aggressive because if you want to do that, you have to attack the ball.

“I am pretty fast, but there are people that aren’t that fast that play a really good outfield because they attack the ball. You never know what is going to happen, but you aren’t going to make plays unless you try to.”

Geaney also noticed a notable maturation in Gettys that he attributes both to just getting older and Gettys becoming more comfortable with the process of developing into a major leaguer.

“We have noticed that as organization a maturation in Michael, not only in how he absorbs information but in the emergence of leadership qualities in the locker room as well,” Gainey said. “Both of us know that because of his physical talents he can become a very good player. We also both know that it is not going to happen overnight, but we are on the right path.”

John Conniff is a contributor to FoxSportsSan Diego and you can follow him @madfriars.com.

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