Name: Danny Payne
DOB: September 8, 1985
There is a reason the Padres tag the word "aggressively" in front of "patient" – they want the two to pair up and make a formidable combination. One isn't worth a thing without the other. If you are simply aggressive, you will be swinging at a lot of balls. If you are patient without a hint of aggression, hittable pitches will fall in for strikes and you will get yourself out.
Payne fell into the latter category.
The outfielder, a supplemental first-round pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, drew 53 walks in Eugene while fanning 53 times.
The results are a bit hard to argue with since he claimed a .444 on-base percentage for the year, but the Georgia native left a lot of potential hits on the table.
While walks mean reaching base, Payne has allowed good pitches to skate by early in the count, putting him on the defensive. Then he would swing at balls outside the zone.
"Because he is so patient, he ends up hitting behind in the count all the time," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "Then you get more defensive."
Perhaps it was a product of reaching base in over 90 straight games between college baseball and the professional ranks before he was finally put down in each plate appearance. It could have been the transition to the wood bat that had him tentative to swing and swinging for the fences when he did make a pass at the ball, specifically with men on base.
"He is going to be one of those philosophy guys – the more pitches he sees, the more walks, on-base percentage," 2007 Eugene hitting coach and current AZL Padres manager Jose Flores said. "He needs to know, as he gets older, those things are going to have to change with his approach.
"The worst thing you want to do as a hitter is to not always be hitting behind in the count. He found himself hitting behind in the count. How aggressive can you be when you are behind in the count? How many balls are you going to pull and drive? When you are behind in the count, you take a two-strike approach and don't try to do too much with the pitch. You try to put the ball in play and hope for a hit or maybe even drive it.
"You are not really going to drive a lot of pitches when you are behind. You might get it every other at bat but not every time."
It appeared that Payne was more concerned with being a power hitter, driving runners in, than trying to put a good swing on the ball in each at-bat.
With the bases empty, Payne hit .305 but managed to bat .250 with runners on base.
Whether that was an attempt to muster more solid contact because of the wood bat or just an aberration is unclear, but his approach didn't change until the final month of the season – and he carried that over to the Padres fall Instructional League, swinging at pitches earlier in the count.
Selecting the right pitch became a newer challenge, as he was forcing himself to swing rather than using his excellent eye to tell him which pitch to offer at.
Several scouts from opposing teams weren't thrilled with his demeanor, noting he was a pain to deal with for the coaching staff – someone who already knew all the answers.
"He was a Shell answer man," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current major league scout Bill Bryk echoed. "He knew all the answers and didn't want to listen to nobody."
"He has a little bit of stubbornness in him," said Riddoch. "That is the way he was successful. Until you trust somebody, you want to stick with what got you there.
"If a kid came in the first year and we totally changed his swing, and he hit .200 the scout would be saying, ‘What are you doing? The guy was a good hitter.' We don't tweak with their swings that first summer. We just say whatever got you here go with. If you want help we will give it to you but we are not going to totally change your swing.
"We talked to him all the time about it but he did not make that adjustment – the key word is "yet". Most times, people don't make adjustments until they fail and the year is over and the learning takes place and then they take the adjustment."
Battling complacency and over-aggressiveness, finding the comfort level and balance will enable Payne to keep his walk totals up while also allowing him to connect on pitches he can drive.
The Padres believe he will turn the corner and take his game to the next level. He has line drive power and is at his best when he is keeping his swing compact and level.
"He swung like a big guy, had a long swing," said Bryk. "He may come back and show what the scouts saw. He has to come back and listen. He has to earn a job. I think we will see a different guy next year."
Payne has deceptive speed, as he has the appearance of being stocky and slow. Watching video of his mechanics on the bases and eyeing different moves paid off well. Picking up tendencies gave him that extra edge.
With a good first step burst, Payne can get to top speed quickly and is advanced at reading a pitcher's move, getting that extra half-second running start towards the base he is stealing. The result was 17 thefts in 20 attempts with short-season Eugene.
Defensively, Payne has very good range and takes good routes to the ball. Covering a lot of territory has been a definitive strength. He does have a strong arm – end saw time on the mound at Georgia tech - but has not been as accurate as one would hope and is still learning when to hit the cutoff man and where to put the ball to allow a play to be made.
ETA: Payne has a lot of potential to race up the prospect charts. With solid range in the outfield and a good eye, the outfielder seems to have ideal leadoff hitter ability. Finding the balance between walking and not missing his pitch will lead to more balls to the gaps and extra base hits. Provided he can make those strides, Payne could move at least a level each year and make noise in 2010.