“Those reports were completely false, they were 100-percent false,” Baxter said. “I was sitting in Cape Cod and somebody sent me the article that Mike Baxter is hesitant to play outfield. That is silly.
“I don't how long the future holds at first base. I'll probably end up in the outfield, which is fine. As far as other positions are concerned, I can play third base, and in a real bind I can play second base, a real bind. I got thirty games in the outfield under my belt last summer in the Cape Cod League, the first thirty of my life. That is something that I have a lot of work to do.”
Selected in the fourth round, Baxter ended up being one of the last picks to sign. He kept his game honed by playing for the Hyannis Mets in the Cape Cod League – where he played in the outfield.
Ironically, it was in the Cape Cod League that the Padres first caught a glimpse of Baxter in 2004.
“We got him in late and he already had some games under his belt,” the Padres’ vice president of scouting and player development, Grady Fuson, said. “Nice swing that can hit the gaps.”
Baxter led Vanderbilt in average (.374), home runs (nine), RBIs (48), and stolen bases (26), playing primarily at first base this past season.
He was sent directly to Fort Wayne where he assumed the first base role after the release of Lachlan Dale.
After a solid start, hitting .275 in July, the left-hand hitting Queens, New York native saw his average tank as he hit just .197 the rest of the way. The biggest adjustment for Baxter was shortening his swing from the switch to wooden bats.
Baxter was a victim of hitting it to the wrong spots late in the year. He makes solid contact with the ball and does not strike out a whole lot – just 29 times in 45 games.
Baxter ended the year with 40 hits in 183 at bats with 14 extra base hits and 17 RBI’s.
“He held his own initially in Fort Wayne,” Bill Gayton, the Padres’ director of scouting, said.
Perhaps it is no surprise that Baxter lists John Olerud as his favorite player. His approach at the plate is similar to that of Olerud, sacrificing some power to maintain an even swing that is conducive to line drives in the gaps.
“Bright kid,” Gayton said. “He can defend and swings the bat well. More of a gap type guy.”
The only difference is Baxter has speed built into his 6-foot, 190-pound frame.
While the 21-year old stole just four bases for Fort Wayne in five attempts, he does possess the ability to get down the line.
His speed is one of the reasons the Padres would like to see him in the outfield.
“You can get him running down the line pretty good,” Gayton admitted. “The plan is to move him to the outfield and see what he can do out there. He needs to get stronger. An interesting pick where we selected them.”
Baxter has room to add some weight to his frame and the Padres would like to see him get stronger. He logged a ton of games last year between Vanderbilt, the Cape and Fort Wayne and must increase his stamina for a 140-game campaign.
The transition to the outfield is expected to happen this coming year, giving him the off-season to prepare for the challenge. He will be available to play first base as well, depending on the progress of other prospects.
Baxter’s future ties directly to his ability to put the ball in play and hit the gaps. The Padres aren’t expecting more than 15 homers out of him necessarily but would be thrilled with a plus .300 average along with 30-plus doubles.
He will be 21 throughout the 2006 season and still has time to mature. He could very well transform his body into more of a power guy as he matures but it will not be at the expense of his average and ability to make contact.