Medica's hot bat has Padres looking for a spot for him
Former catcher working on outfield skills to add to versatility
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Tommy Medica is only 25 years old and has all of 69 Major League at-bats to his credit, but he has at least one timeworn baseball phrase down pat.
"I've learned that if you can hit the ball, they're going to find somewhere to play you," Medica said.
Medica's been doing that this spring, in a big way. Entering Wednesday's Cactus League game against the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark, Medica was batting .483 (14-for-29) with two home runs, two doubles, two walks and six RBIs. He had also stolen two bases.
This comes after a September callup with San Diego that resulted in more promising numbers: a .290/.380/.449 slash line with three homers and 10 RBIs in those 69 at-bats, including a long ball off Phillies ace Cliff Lee in his second big league at-bat. Prior to that in 2013, Medica had gone .296/.372/.582 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs in 280 at-bats for Double-A San Antonio.
The question of where Medica might fit in with the Padres when it comes to playing defense is the one the club is trying to answer. Medica, who was a catcher for the early part of his professional career before transitioning to first base four seasons ago, has been trying out the outfield.
He played left field in a recent simulated game, and again on Monday, against the Rockies at Salt River Fields, where he caught two flyouts without incident and fielded a single cleanly. He also was in left field Wednesday.
"I think in Spring Training it's a great opportunity to expose players to different positions, and we're doing that with Tom, getting him exposed to the outfield," Padres manager Bud Black said. "We've talked about it as a staff and as an organization, about increasing a player's versatility, increasing chances of playing time, and you do that by exposing them to different positions.
"With Tom, we think he has the wherewithal to play the outfield along with first base. We'll see how it plays out moving forward, to see if we have another potential outfielder on our hands."
For Medica, it's a flattering gesture. The team likes his bat enough to come up with creative ways to work him into the lineup, and he says he embraces the athletic challenge of trying out a new area of the field. He's been working with bench coach and former big league outfielder Dave Roberts and having fun doing it.
"Whenever you're in a new position, even though you're playing the same sport, it is a lot different, so it's a little challenging," Medica said. "You'd think just a fly ball or popup doesn't change, but they hit the ball a lot higher and a lot harder up here.
"But as long as you're getting the reps and the practice in, it becomes easier. It's amazing from the time in Double-A until now how much more comfortable I feel just from the minimal work we've put in so far."
Medica said he hasn't been lingering on whatever growing pains he might be facing in the outfield once he steps into the batter's box, and that has showed with his monster spring at the plate.
"I caught for my first 15 years of playing baseball, at least," Medica said. "And that's one of the most difficult things, to go from catching to hitting, just because you're spending so much time worrying about nothing to do with hitting that by the time hitting comes around, you're just like, 'All right, let's grab a bat and see what happens.'
"When you start playing other positions, the defense isn't as taxing on you because you're not in every single play."
That said, Medica is not taking the responsibility lightly.
"When the organization comes to you and says, 'We want to get you in left, get you as versatile as possible because that will give you the best chance to get as many at-bats as possible,' that's a good thing," Medica said. "But if you're playing defense, you don't want to be hurting your pitcher. You want to be helping your team by being out there. So that's the biggest thing."