TinCaps catcher looks to stay hot

April 3, 2019

Jonathan Mathews likes to tell his players that his job title is hitting coach, not swing coach.

“Not that there won’t be some mechanical adjustments with some guys, but I want them to learn how to hit,” said Mathews, who is in his second season with the TinCaps. “Anybody can learn how to swing.”

That’s an approach that will be welcomed by catcher Blake Hunt, a California native who was drafted 69th overall by the Padres in 2017. 

Last year, while playing with the short-season Tri-City Dust Devils, Hunt was scuffling at the plate, hitting about .200 in the month of July. Hunt said Tri-City hitting coach Pat O’Sullivan helped simplify his swing, making it more “short, sweet and simple.

“I’ve tried to minimize any outside voice going on, and really just focus on making contact and playing pepper with the pitcher,” Hunt said. “Taking all the mechanics out of the swing, I think is best for me, and just literally trying to make contact. Because I’ve learned, I’ve changed my two-strike approach, how whenever I shorten things up and simplify, that’s when my power and my hard contact starts to come.

“So I’m just taking that approach from the get-go, from the first pitch of the at-bat.”

The philosophy worked, as Hunt hit .462 with two home runs and 11 runs scored over the Dust Devils’ final 10 games.

Although Hunt’s skills at catcher were reputed to be stronger than his hitting when he was drafted out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, Mathews said he is not surprised by Hunt’s late-season hot streak. 

“My dad actually scouts for the Colorado Rockies, and I remember, he told me about this high school kid he had seen in California, he had told me about Blake as an amateur player,” Mathews said. “He’s a very conscientious kid. He wants to do well, and he’s got some big upside with that bat.”

Hunt turned down a scholarship to Pepperdine to sign with the Padres, who offered him a signing bonus of 858,000.

“I recently was just texting the college coach that recruited me from Pepperdine, he’s going to come out here and see me play,” Hunt said. “Signing was a good choice for me, because I’ve matured. I’ve had to grow up and mature quickly in order to play at this level. And I’ve learned a lot about routine and how to take care of my body along the way.”

Hunt estimates he has caught half to three-quarters of the TinCaps’ pitchers in games, either in rookie ball or last season with the Dust Devils in the Northwest League, and knows the rest of the pitching corps from bullpen sessions and spring training. 

″(Ryan) Weathers, (Angel) Acevedo, (Gabe) Mosser, all these guys, I’ve caught multiple times,” Hunt said. “Luckily, I’ve gotten to forge a lot of relationships, so that makes it better. Whenever we have a good relationship off the field, it makes it easier in game, because you’re playing catch with your friend.

“Weathers and (Joey) Cantillo and I are roommates. So we’ll be playing video games, and Weathers and I are talking about the next day, and Joey and I are talking about the next day, or how they pitched, and I can give them feedback. It’s more of a laid-back environment.”