I believe the term “Nightmare-ish” can describe how things have gone for Nick Hundley during the 2012 season. No matter how hard San Diego’s Catcher has tried to turn his performance around this year, it has been a “Murphy’s Law” type of season for Hundley, especially at the plate. From a .166 Batting Average in 193 At-Bats output in his first 55 games, to a demotion to Triple-A Tucson, to numerous struggles since his return, and relegation to second-string since, I do not think there is any Padres player which wants the season to end as badly as Hundley does. Unfortunately, the pressure will continue to be on Hundley over San Diego’s remaining 44 games and the final 40+game 2012 audition might be the most important stretch in Hundley’s major league career.
Competition/Cost Putting Heat on Hundley
One does not have to be an astute observer of baseball to know that Yasmani Grandal is the “future” for the Padres at the Catcher position and why. A switch-hitter that can hit for a solid average, possesses power to all fields, and is a reliable option already in the #5 spot in the batting order, Grandal has done a terrific job during his extended stint in the big leagues until he was put on the Disabled List for precautionary reasons with an oblique strain. Through his first 77 At-Bats, Grandal hit .312, posted a .349 On-Base Percentage and .597 Slugging Percentage, and hit 5 Doubles and 5 Home Runs.
While I do not believe that Grandal’s Defense is not on par with Hundley’s at this point in his career, it is not quite the issue which some have made it out to be. From the times I saw Grandal in Tucson this season to his performances in the majors this season, I could tell that the Rookie had improved a decent amount and in time develop into a steady option behind the dish. Over time Grandal will be asked to improve as a backstop, but when he can swing a bat like he does and produce and create runs, a little leeway I am sure will be given to him.
As far as other backup options, Hundley will face some stiff competition from John Baker. Sure, Baker has not lit the world on fire with his play by any means this season, but the veteran has been a reliable spot starter behind the dish, is a nice investment ($750,000 for this season) for a backup Catcher, and has been at least somewhat of productive bat off of the bench. By productive I of course mean that Baker has been more consistent than Hundley at the plate and has posted a .248 Batting Average in 157 At-Bats.
While the thought of the Padres (hopefully) increasing their payroll entices me, Baker proved this season that he is a cheaper, more reliable, and subsequently durable option than Hundley is, and could be a more cost-effective backup to Grandal if the Rookie indeed keeps his starting gig over Hundley. I mean, spending money is nice, but is it really worth it to shell out dollars for two more seasons (Hundley’s extension was for 3 years and $9 million) to a Catcher with injury issues and offensive woes, while another backup at the position is available for a fraction of the cost?
Hundley’s return to the majors has been less than “stellar” in terms of his offensive production. In fact, his woes at the plate seemed to have been waiting for him as he has gone 0 for his first 11, reached base only once on an Intentional Walk, and Struck Out 6 times. With a month and a half left to go in the regular season the Padres have to find a way to give Hundley At-Bats to help him out of his slump, but also have to consider that they might be hurting the team in the process if he continues to not produce anything of value as a hitter. The 2012 season might be “lost” at this point, but the Padres still will be trying to play “spoiler” and win games to build confidence for 2013.
I really believe that if Grandal comes back down the stretch run, and continues to play like he did during his extended stint, Hundley might be considered an expendable during the offseason. While I am not sure what other franchises would be willing to give the Padres in return for him, it is an option that Byrnes & Co. might want to mull over during the Winter Meetings. A choice they might want to discuss if Baker is a more “cost-effective” option which I alluded to above.
As I stated previously, these final weeks will be the most crucial of Nick Hundley’s career with the Padres. Can he erase his woeful start to the season which saw him put up a paltry .226 OBP, .259 Slugging Percentage, and record only 32 Hits in 55 games? Hopefully for his sake he can, because with Grandal on the rise, Baker on the cheap, and the team looking to rebuild, there might not be room for him on the roster soon.
Statistics Courtesy of: Baseball Reference