The hope for many San Diego Padre fans rests in the fact that A.J. Preller is developing a quality farm system.
He is stockpiling young talent at the lower levels of the minor league system.
The parent club seems to have made a commitment to rebuild from the ground up. They are being patient and letting the young players develop properly. Many of these young players are pitching prospects, but there are some good position players out there as well. One player who has caught my eye this season. as I cover the Lake Elsinore Storm, is infielder Chris Baker.
Although he has not received a lot of hype, he is the type of player you love to have on your roster. Baker always plays with intensity, but is not so intense that he is taken out of his game if things are not going his way. He is a player who is not afraid to lay out for a ground ball to keep it in the infield, and he always produces a good at-bat. Baker was drafted in the 17th round (504 overall) of the 2016 draft. He was taken as a junior out of the University of Washington where he was named All-Pac-12. He was also named to the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team and was also honorable mention Pac-12 All-Academic two straight years.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Chris before a game the other night and discuss with him what the adjustment to professional baseball has been like for him. I first asked him to compare the college schedule to playing every day in professional ball.
“I mean last year it was a little different. I’d say the biggest difference is kinda knowing what your body wants. You gotta give yourself enough rest obviously, so with college you have those extra days. I mean you’re practicing, but even practice days you are feeling a little better because it’s not as mentally focused as you have to be for normal games. So you kinda just create a good routine where you’re getting enough done so you are ready to play, but also not over doing it. I’d say that was the biggest adjustment.”
I next asked him which level of the minor leagues compares most closely to playing in a major college conference like the PAC 12.
“I’d say it’s pretty close to where we are at right now. In terms of just organization and kinda getting players that know how to play the game a little better. College is very organized, practicing every single fundamental, whereas pro ball is kinda just letting players play for the most part, but talent is a lot better obviously at this level. Friday night arms are typically first round arms out of the PAC. Some of them are, at least, so I’d say it’s not too big of a difference there, but some of the just pure stuff from these guys is just unbelievable. When you are getting guys throwing 95 plus with really good secondary pitches, it makes it a little tough. I’d say that at Tri-City, I was a little above the curve when I was there, and then low A was a little closer, but here is just about college level, but with a little more talent.”
Knowing that Chris was named to the PAC 12 All-Academic team two years in a row and that he was drafted and signed as a junior, I mentioned that he must have been a good student and that I often wondered if players ever went back and finished getting their college degrees either in the off-season or when they finished their careers. I asked him if he had any plans to do just that.
“I actually went back last fall and cranked out my degree.” So not only is he a good ball player, but he has a good head on his shoulders and it shows on the ball field.
Baker’s position on his MiLB profile is listed as shortstop, but this season he has played mostly second base. I noticed in that in college his final year he primarily played third base, so I asked him which if any of the infield positions he prefers.
“I mean honestly its fun playing all, just because I played second, short and third in college and they are all unique in their own way, they’re all pretty fun and different in their own way. Second base was the one I had played the least going into this year; it was fun learning all the transitions.”
As a fan and someone who tries to spend time every season in Arizona during spring training, I have often wondered what it is like for a player going into his first spring training. What kind of adjustments do they make? Where do they stay during spring training, does the team set something up for them or are they on their own to make living arrangements for the six or so weeks they spend in Peoria? So I asked him what his first experience was like.
“It was definitely warm, it was fun, a little different, I had never really had to play baseball that early in the morning. Morning lifting in college was about the closest we had. Just the fact that you are pretty much in bed by nine o’clock at the latest every day, completely flip-flopped from the season.”
“As for the living arrangements they have a hotel and shuttles that go back and forth as like the bare minimum. After your first full season you can go get an apartment or a house or whatnot. It’s definitely a little bit of relying on yourself and being able to get where you need to be on time. Definitely don’t want to miss that early morning alarm clock.”
As I follow the Storm and get to know the players I remember back to when I was in my early twenties and how so much of my life revolved around social activities, whether it be having a girlfriend or just hanging out with a bunch of guys. These young players spend half their time on buses and in hotels. When they are home, they arrive at the stadium around 1:00pm every day and do not leave until after 10:00pm. I asked Chris if he is able to have a social life or if he basically just focuses on baseball during the season and worries about his social life after the season?
“It’s definitely, I think healthy to have your social life as well, something to take your mind away from baseball outside the facility is always good to clear your mind and relax. There is obviously days where you come home at eleven o’clock and you’re just like I’m tired and I gotta get some sleep. That’s where the six o’clock games kinda help. Sometimes just going out and getting a nice dinner with a couple of buddies on the team.”
Baker played his high school baseball in San Mateo California which is up in the bay area. I asked him if he still had family up there and if they are able to come see him play when the Storm travels up North?
“Yeah, it was pretty fun, when we played in San Jose a lot of friends and family were able to come out which was fun especially because the field we play on, San Jose Muni, is where we played high school playoffs, so it was a pretty cool place to come back and play again.”
So many times, as fans, we tend to think about the players as commodities, which they sort of are, but we also have to remember that they are people just trying to realize their dreams. They have friends and families. I would like to thank Chris Baker for taking the time to speak with me and I wish him continued success on his journey with the Padres.