San Diego Padres: Chase Headley No Longer an Underachiever

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San Diego Padres: Chase Headley No Longer an Underachiever
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When he was named Texas League Player of the Year in 2007 while at Double-A San Antonio, it was all but confirmed that Chase Headley was arguably the top prospect in the Padres organization.

After all, a young switch hitter batting .330 with an on-base percentage of .437 will put those kind of expectations on himself.

After a brief stint with the Padres in the middle of the '07 season, the then 24-year-old Headley was called up full-time in June of 2008 and began the '09 season as the starting left fielder in San Diego.

However it didn't take long for the Padres and the Friar Faithful to grow tired and wary of the inconsistent hitting, strikeouts and general lack of home-run power Headley was offering at the plate.

The lack of power could be blamed on many factors. Not the least of which would be Petco Park, the picther's park that shuts power hitters down quicker than a hard slider.

Speaking of which, Headley was frustratingly inconsistent in his plate discipline as well. Flailing at pitches that would dive out of the strike zone while unable to catch up to anything above the low-90s.

So, rather than beat himself up over the fact that the player he was becoming may not be the player the Padres were expecting, he decided to embrace the offensive oddities that come with playing at Petco Park, and to make his at-bats more productive becoming a better overall hitter.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Chase Headley finally seems to have grown into the hitter the Padres have waited for.

Headley's first full-time campaign was in 2009 which saw him remain largely in left field, which was away from his natural position at third base. While he was still able to maintain a little power in his bat (hitting 12 homers that season), the struggles with plate discipline and the cavernous Petco Park proved specifically troubling, despite his overall average of .262 at season's end.

In a rather stunning show of faith, the Padres traded away third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to Oakland prior to 2010 Spring Training, ensuring Headley an opportunity to return to the hot corner and play a more desired type of game that he has become accustomed to ever since his collegiate days at the University of Tennessee.

After a blistering Spring in 2010, which saw him hit over .400 in stretches, Headley was prepared for his first MLB season at his natural position.

The Padres shocked the league last season by racking up 90 victories and falling just short of a playoff berth, despite leading the NL West for the majority of the season.

Headley was also showing signs of improvement and, although he played in all but one game, could never find a consistent spot in manager Bud Black's batting order, playing at least two games in every batting order spot except leadoff.

The majority of the season saw Headley hitting cleanup behind Adrian Gonzalez, however after the team traded for Ryan Ludwick at the trade deadline, most of his plate appearances came from the fifth spot. 

Although he was still a player looking for a solid identity, many Padres fans could tell that his game was progressing both offensively and defensively.

San Diego again chose to re-sign Headley for 2011 in what was essentially seen as a "put up or shut up" season for the third baseman, as well as an opportunity to further his leadership role as a clubhouse veteran on a team full of new faces.

So far, Headley has surprisingly been the Padres most consistent offensive threat. Although only hitting two home runs so far, his average to this point has risen to .308 after a .264 campaign in 2010.

The strikeouts are still there, but fortunately for San Diego, so is a new-found plate discipline.

As of July 3, Headley's .308 average is good for 10th in the National League, and shockingly enough he leads all of MLB in hitting since June 13, at a .483 clip.

While it is not a surprise to see Padre batters hitting better away from Petco than at home, Headley's .364 average on the road is clearly nothing to ignore, and the message may be slowly getting around the league that this is a hitter worth taking seriously.

Another impressive feat that shows the progression at the plate are his walks. Headley has drawn 40 on the season—also good for 10th in the NL—and is well ahead of his pace to reach the total of 56 from last season, as well as almost totaling his doubles from last season as well.

It's no secret the Padres rely on pitching and defense, even more so in the post-A-Gon rebuilding era. However there are worse places to start than a maturing corner infielder who has managed to end the first half of the season in the NL's top 10 in batting.

Don't expect the evolution of Chase Headley to come to a halt anytime soon. After all the ups and downs, it seems as if he and the Padres are coming together to form a perfect fit.

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