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April 10, 2007 at 9:50 AM

Twelve Questions with Jeff Natale

Jeff Natale recently took the time to answer some questions from the SoxProspects.com community. Thanks to Jeff for taking the time, particularly on the night following the first game of the season.

1. Jeff, thanks for answering our questions, and congratulations on making AA this season. Was the decision on where you would be assigned to start the season something you were kept in the loop on throughout the off-season and in spring training, or did they just simply tell you that you were going to Portland on the last day of the spring?
Jeff: A lot of the placement decisions are made late in Spring Training in order to keep the players hungry and fighting for their spots on each of the teams. I was told with about 3 days left in spring training that I would be heading up to Maine for the season.

2. It seems like it’s really tough to beat the rap of struggling defensively. How do you feel that your defense has improved this off-season/spring and what kind of feedback have you received from the coaching staff?
Jeff: Defense is a tough thing to measure. I feel like my defense has improved 100% since I first signed with the Red Sox. With that being said, I need to keep improving everyday. During Spring Training I worked with Bruce Crabbe a couple times a week for extra work either before or after our workouts to work on things like my foot-work around the bag, double play feeds, and routine ground balls. I think people sometimes get reputations early in their careers and they are tough to break. I think working with Arnie Beyeler everyday will keep me on my toes and continue to improve.

3. Have you been working out at any other defensive positions, do you feel comfortable at any positions besides second base?
Jeff: Good question. Actually I was told today by Arnie that I would be starting opening day at first base. I feel very comfortable there as far as taking throws, ground balls, footwork around the bag, but still need a good deal of work on positioning and relays.

4. Do you have a good chemistry with Jed Lowrie as a double play combo? How important do you think that chemistry is in the field, and how long does it take to develop that?
Jeff: Jed and I have great chemistry on the field. I feel that we've both improved a lot in terms of our double plays feeds. Last year, when I first got to Wilmington i think we were both a little slow with feeds and turns but as time went by we were a good combo. Chemistry really depends on the people. I think Jed is a great defensive player who has a ton of knowledge about playing second base (he played there in college). Everyday during Spring Training we'd talk about positioning, different plays that would happen, and things that I should try differently.

5. You have one of the best, if not the best, plate approaches in the organization. Is your patient demeanor something that can be taught or is it intuitive?
Jeff: I think the answer to that is both. During high school and college ball, I was pitched around a lot because I was lucky enough to have a lot of success. When you're getting pitched around, you can either do 2 things: chase balls out of the strike zone and cheat yourself, or you can stay patient and take your walks. Ever since I was able to swing a bat, my dad stressed how important it was to "get a good pitch." Learning it from a young age helped me out through high school, college, and now pro ball.

6. How much pitcher specific preparation to you do? For example, do you read over reports? Keep a pitch journal? etc.
: The Red Sox make you keep a "hitters log" while you are playing High A and below. So it forces you to keep tabs on every pitcher that you face throughout the year. Most of the time, I like to know what the starting pitcher on the other team is throwing (i.e. velocity, what pitches, location of pitches, his best pitch). I'll be keeping track of those types of things, but I'm not too big into studying the opposing pitcher. I like to see the ball, and hit it.

7. What aspects of your game has the organization stated that you need to refine to achieve a promotion to AAA?
: Well obviously defense is going to be the question mark throughout my career. If I keep improving defensively hopefully I'll be able to move up to AAA eventually. Right now, I'm just concentrating on having good ABs, and playing as well as I can at first or second base.

8. Jeff, thanks for taking the time. After having above average power through your career your power may have dropped off a bit in Wilmington. Do you feel that was influenced by the park, or just better pitching? How do you feel the adjustment to Hadlock field will be for you?
Jeff: Well, I think part of the problem with my power drop off was fatigue. This past year was the first time I had ever played a full season of baseball. With Trinity's schedule we would play 40 games max, then i would have 2-3 weeks off before summer ball started. I do agree that the pitching in the league was a big step up, but once I caught my second wind (in August and September) my power numbers and batting average were back up to what I considered normal. Another part of that was Frawley Field. You will not find a worse hitting ball-park in all of professional baseball. It was a huge challenge for all the hitters there and I think I became a much much better hitter playing at such a difficult hitters' ball park.

9. What coaches and/or players in the organization have had the greatest influences on your development?
: I think the 2 managers that I've had so far have made very positive influences on my development. Luis Alicea was probably the biggest defensively. He worked with me everyday in Greenville and basically transformed me into being a decent defensive player (even though most of you wouldn't agree with that. Haha.) As far as players go, there have been a bunch of guys that have made a positive impact on me - just to name a few Jeff Corsaletti, Andrew Pinckney, and Jed Lowrie because of their drive and desire to make the best out of their ability.

10. Jeff, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and good luck this season. I enjoyed watching you play in Wilmington last year and hope you have a great year up in Portland. What do you think the keys are for a small college player like yourself to make it to the professional ranks and succeed, and do you think a different approach is necessary from what a D-I player would use? You were also a hockey player in college. Is there any part of playing hockey that you feel has helped you on the field or in the box?
: Good questions. I think the most important thing about being a small D3 guy, drafted in the later rounds is to get off to a hot start. You need to prove to the organization that you belong. A lot of guys only get a small amount of time to prove that they belong and getting off to a hot start definitely helped me earn more playing time as well as a lot more looks from the front office staff. I think its basically the same approach that everyone needs because of the competition and high demand for successful players right away. I think hockey has helped my game in a ton of different ways. Hand/eye coordination is one. Having good wrist and hand strength is another. Shooting a hockey puck is not all that unlike hitting a baseball. It involves a lot of the same muscles and same movements in your hips and legs.

11. What players did you idolize growing up and what MLB players do you look up to now?
Jeff: Growing up I used to love watching Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter play (i was a shortstop growing up). Since I got both NESN and the YES network i would constantly be watching both of those guys play. Since then I look up to the little guys of the middle infield that make the absolute most out of their ability. David Eckstein, Dustin Pedroia are obviously two of them. Those guys are really fun to watch because they always make something happen.

12. What part of playing baseball do you enjoy most?
Jeff: There are a lot of things that I enjoy about playing baseball but I think the thing that I enjoy most is being able to play a game for a living. I email and talk to my good friends from college everyday and they constantly remind me "you could be working in a cubicle" so I don't take any days for granted because I know the nature of the game. You are always trying to take some one's job and they are always trying to take yours.

Bonus Q: What are you going to do with all of the free time you have due to Portland rain-outs this Spring?
Jeff: The two things I love to do most, video games and Ping-Pong. I've been working on my game everyday before batting practice in the players' lounge ... when my baseball career is over, I'm thinking about joining the World Ping-Pong Tour.