Padres’ Blake Hunt improves mental approach at the plate in 2019

Credit: Journal Gazette

Credit: TinCaps

2019 was a year in which San Diego Padres’ catcher Blake Hunt improved his mental approach at the plate. He is looking for a big 2020 season with the bat, and it could very well happen for the catcher. 

The San Diego Padres have great catching depth.

Francisco Mejia and Austin Hedges currently have the Major League job on lockdown. In the minors, the Padres possess Austin Allen, Luis Torrens, and Luis Campusano, who are all performing well. Then there is Blake Hunt. A 20-year-old California native with a tremendous defensive profile. He is someone who is highly regarded for his baseball IQ. The bat has been a constant work in progress, but the right-handed hitter is starting to show some real promise with his swing. There is much to like about Hunt’s future.

If he can improve with his bat, the 6-foot-3 catcher has the defensive ability to be on par with Austin Hedges. With a profile like that, the Padres will take it slow with his offensive game. They have done just that, and it has frustrated the young catcher at times. This frustration and learning lesson in the game is only going to help him in the future with his production.

Hunt started slowly in the first half of the 2019 season. He hit .219 in April and .236 in May. There was a lot of hard contact from the catcher, and his walk numbers were right where they needed to be. He was not having any luck. Sometimes that happens in the game of baseball, and times like this are when you need to have a sharp mental edge. “The numbers the first 40 games or so didn’t reflect the way I was putting together at-bats. I was hitting the ball hard and not getting the results from it. I stuck with my approach and didn’t change anything mechanically. I just moved my contact point out a little bit,” Hunt explains about his tough start to the season. Just a minor adjustment with his swing resulted in a little more carry to his ball, and hits started to fall in for him.

The young catcher enjoyed a productive June as he hit .294 in the month and produced a .760 OPS. Still not where you want to see him offensively, but a big step in the correct direction. The catcher has a great attitude about his slow start in 2019. “I was not displeased with the first half at all. In fact, I think it was a good learning experience,” Hunt said. The game is about adjusting and learning, and the right-handed hitter did just that in Fort Wayne.

As he struggled in the Midwest League early in the year, Hunt was calmed by his interactions with the Padres’ organization. “They (Padres’ front office and staff) knew what was going on. That put me at ease. I was panicking a little bit early in the season, but at the end of the day, it all turned out alright. I had a decent second half,” Hunt said. The admission that he was a little concerned is refreshing. The young catcher pulls no punches when speaking about his development. He has the right attitude, and that dictates that he should only get better. “A lot of time, people look at the overall numbers, and that may have muddled the stats a little bit. I had a strong second half and started to show I could hit a little bit,” Hunt said with a smirk.

In finding his mental edge, Steve Finley worked with Hunt. The former Padres’ outfielder roams throughout the minors and works with individuals from time to time. “Honestly, all he told me was- slow the game down. When I have actual struggles at the plate, it is because my head gets in the way,” Hunt admits. He had spoken to Finley that day in San Diego as the veteran has continued his mentoring of the young backstop. “He gave me a phrase to remember- an aggressive mind, calm body,” Hunt said. The power hitter is starting to gain more control of his body with his swing. He is beginning to unlock new abilities. “Now that my mind has freed up a little bit, next year, I am going to be pretty dangerous,” Hunt said with the deepest sincerity.

Credit: EVT Sports

In glancing at his numbers, Blake Hunt recorded a .922 OPS against left-handed pitchers. Typically right-handed hitters do well against southpaws, but his numbers are terrific. “I don’t think too much about it. I am aware of the numbers. I do hit better against lefties. I don’t know why. Maybe hitting against them allows me to hit back up the middle against them. Perhaps I get tied up a little bit against righties,” Hunt said. The catcher can get a bit too pull happy against right-handed pitchers, and he is attempting to rectify that issue.

If you are a prospect in the Padres system, the team does a great job of showcasing your skills.

Participating in the Don Welke Classic is something Hunt does not take lightly. “This is my third time here, and I am blessed to be at this event again. It is nice to get out here to San Diego and get this experience and get at-bats here at Petco,” Hunt said while standing in front of the home team dugout. Getting comfortable in the area and within the stadium is essential to Hunt as he envisions himself being there one day, making his Major League debut.

Blake Hunt has an excellent defensive skill, and he works well with many pitchers. We spoke about some of the pitchers he saw this year as he shouted out to a few of them. “Efrain Contreras really impressed me, and so did Omar Cruz. I don’t want to get in trouble by leaving anyone out, but those two were impressive,” Hunt said, laughing. “Contreras has a high spin rate fastball and an effective curve, and we were able to tunnel that really well this season. We both grew as far as understanding how to pitch to hitters. Cruz has the same thing with a high spin rate fastball and a plus curve and change. Both of those guys for being that young, both dominated,” Hunt said. Those two pitchers stood out in his mind, but I asked him to give me the names of a few guys who were flying under the radar. The catcher was cordial as usual at the event and is sure to be a favorite with the fan base as they get to know him. In time, Blake Hunt could prove to have a very dangerous bat to go along with his terrific defensive profile. If he can attain this, there will be no stopping the young catcher.

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