Padres Prospect Interview: Danny Payne

Danny Payne

Another year and another learning experience for San Diego Padres prospect Danny Payne. Since entering the system, the left-handed hitting outfielder has tried to find his comfort zone. He may finally be hitting his stride.

You were put into the three-hole this spring. What was that about?

Danny Payne: Yeah. One of the things they've been preaching at me over the past three years is be more aggressive. So, they put me in the spot in the lineup where they force my hand a little bit. If they're going to keep pumping on some fastballs, I've got to try and be aggressive to it.

What have been the mental challenges for you over the last two years? You mentioned almost trying to be a different player than what your comfort zone was.

Danny Payne: Yeah. It's been tough. Sometimes I flip flop between what I want to do and what kind of player I want to be. I try to be aggressive and at the same time be patient. You get caught in between. I spent this off season deciding that I'm just going to be who I am. I'm not going to try to hit every pitch out of the ballpark. They liked me as I was when I got drafted. I'm just going to stay within myself.

Talk a little about this Petco Park small ball kind of thing. It almost plays into your strengths, one would think.

Danny Payne: Definitely. I think since they brought that up in the camp that's helps a lot of guys out. That definitely does play into my strengths. They're real high on defense, being able to run the bases. One of the things I really wanted to try to work on this spring training is up my contact rate and cut down my strike outs. I made some mechanical fixes to my swing, hopefully make it a little shorter to put the ball in play more. Hopefully, I'll use my legs a little bit. I think they've drafted for Petco. I think in a year or two, you're going to see a lot of guys who run well, play good defense, maybe a bopper or two, but mostly guys who can play to the park.

Do you expect to be extra aggressive on the bases this year when maybe in the past your focus was maybe more on the hitting side and ironing out those things.

Danny Payne: Definitely. It's also tough depending on where you hit in the lineup. I hit anywhere from 1-2-6-7-8-9. Last year, I hit eighth a lot. You don't ever want to be the third out and lead off the next inning with a 9 hole hitter. There're a lot of things that play into that. If you have a big guy like (Matt Clark) Clarkie up, and you want to keep first base open for him, things of that nature. At the same time, you can't let that dictate what you want to do. I think them having us out here early and being more aggressive on the base paths is going to help us. As soon as the season starts, we're all comfortable with our leads and our breaks. I like how they're forcing us to run.

One thing that Grady Fuson said – obviously he's no longer with us – was that you were close to breaking out. What does that mean to be close to breaking out?

Danny Payne: It means being consistent. I was up and down, up and down. That's the toughest thing in this game. If you can be consistent, then you're going to go a long way. I felt like I got close last year, regressed a little bit, and got down on myself some. That was my first full season. First and foremost, I was happy to stay healthy. That was my first healthy season since my freshman year in college. That was really something I really wanted to focus on, take care of my body. You can't do anything if you're not on the field. It was close. I know what I was doing right. I know now the adjustments that I need to make to finish breaking out. Close, but we'll be ready to go.

Where's the confidence now?

Danny Payne: It's good. Confidence. It's up and down. Every year, you're learning. You have another year under your belt. You start to see some guys that you've seen throughout the league. You kind of have an idea of how some teams are as an organization. The mental part starts to play a bigger part in the game the longer you play, because you start to recognize kids and teams, things of that nature. So, the confidence is good. You play around great players. The Padres have drafted well the last three or four years since I've been here. So, if you have guys that can do other things, it takes all the pressure off you.

How are you handling that outside pitch? It seemed like that was a bit of a trouble spot for you?

Danny Payne: That was definitely a trouble spot for me. I spent the entire off-season pretending there wasn't a right side of the field or a right side of the cage. That was exactly what I focused on all off-season. I didn't want to pull a baseball unless it was on accident. I still want to be able to pull a baseball, but it's not a focus of mine. I don't try to hit homeruns at batting practice. Left side and over.

Has there been almost a frustration level because you know you have the talent?

Danny Payne: Yeah. I don't think there's anybody out here that's ever satisfied with how they're playing. They're happy, but they probably feel like there's always something they could do better. Me, you know, it's always the consistency level that bothered me. The mental part, trying not to take the game home. That's something I've coped with and learned to leave at the ballpark. I'm happy. I'm comfortable where I'm at. All I can do is play to the best of my abilities and the rest will take care of itself.

You mentioned earlier the balance of being aggressive and maybe even being passive. How do you find that point where it's working?

Danny Payne: That's something that's different for each player. They preach to us that they want us to be aggressors in the box. That's a mentality you have to have. When you're somebody from the outside looking in at the pitcher, you can't do anything until he throws the ball. So, it's tough to be the aggressor when he's the one coming at you. There're different parts of your game where you can be the aggressor, like with the base pass, for instance, forcing their hand. I think when you're aggressive, also, on the count, it forces the pitchers to do something different. We've built up the reputation of taking the first pitch, working the counts. I think guys in these first two games have done a good job of being aggressive early in the count, but not swinging at pitches out of the zone. I think that's going to go a long way for us and I know it makes the hitters more comfortable.

Well, one thing former Lake Elsinore hitting coach Shane Spencer mentioned was that, "With Danny, I'm going to one day tell him that he gets to swing at that first pitch, no matter what the hell it is."

Danny Payne: Yeah. I think a lot of that goes with me being comfortable with hitting that outside pitch. You don't have a lot of pitchers who want to pump that middle line and fastball first pitch to hitters, especially left-handed hitters in ballparks in the California League. I think I feel a lot more confident and comfortable with that outside pitch now, so going into the box my first day, that's the ball I'm looking for. I can take my base hit first pitch. I'm comfortable with that. I think that being a part of my swing now, my approach, that's really going to help being aggressive in the first couple pitches of an at-bat.

We all know you have a lot of great teammates and this does not take away from anyone you don't mention. If you could have one hitter hitting behind you in the lineup all season to offer protection, who would it be and why?

Danny Payne: I guess that would depend on where I was hitting in the lineup.

Leadoff.

Danny Payne: I like Andy Parrino and I like Beamer Weems. I like the switch-hitters. I think them being able to flip flop, being high contact guys, being able to bunt, being some gap guys, being able to run. I think that enable us to do some double steals, allows us to be aggressive on the base paths. It allows me to steal early in the count because I know they're comfortable with hitting 0-2. I think that kind of mentality fits well with the whole Petco Park idea, as well. I don't feel like I have to be stuck on first with somebody who likes to hook the ball has that hole. I like hitting behind switch hitters.

Who is the one pitcher you are glad you have as a teammate and why?

Danny Payne: You know, I was really impressed with Simon Castro. I saw him throwing the other day. He looked phenomenal. I haven't really had a chance to stand in on him. Jeremy Hefner or Wynn Pelzer. Hefner knows how to pitch. He has a Big League mentality when it comes to pitching. Pelzer, those kind of guys, with just electric stuff. They can throw the ball aimed right down the plate. You have balls ducking and diving, going every which way. Those two guys I'm definitely happy to have on my team.

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