Headley has 'makeup' to be a star

Prospect Headley has 'makeup' to be a star

LANCASTER, Calif. -- On a very hot day in July, the Padres' Class A California League affiliate Lake Elsinore Storm are taking batting practice in Lancaster before a game against the JetHawks.

Storm third baseman Chase Headley is taking any ground ball that comes his way, smiling almost the entire time. He's multi-tasking, talking to nearby teammates while fielding grounders or line drives.

Once the first pitch is thrown, however, Headley's pleasant demeanor fades to the background. There's a game to play.

"I would describe myself as easygoing, fairly easy to get along with," said Headley. "But on the field, that kind of switches. I'm really intense on the field."

Not to worry. Storm manager Rick Renteria does not have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation on his hands.

"He's an intense person, who at times shows it," Renteria said. "But he's not necessarily going out and rah-rahing everybody. He brings a pretty good balance of that, actually."

At 22, Headley, one of two second-round picks for the Padres in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, seems to have found a balance and perspective beyond his years: separating baseball from life, understanding what his strengths and weaknesses are, and it's all wrapped up by strong work ethic in whatever he's involved in. All of that, combined with solid defense and a patient eye at the plate, gives the Padres many reasons to be hopeful for their future at the hot corner.

"I'm ecstatic with the year he's had," said Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson about Headley, who leads the Storm with 12 home runs.

Through Aug. 30, Headley is second on the team in doubles (31), walks (71) and RBIs (71). While Fuson praises Headley's strength -- thanks to his 6-foot-2, 195-pound build -- his good hands, his great baseball instincts and his discipline at the plate, he's even more impressed with the 22-year-old's character.

Baseball guys refer to it as a player's "makeup." Fuson considers makeup a player's drive to get better, a passion to play baseball, a guy's character, morals and discipline. Simply put, Headley's got everything going for him in the "makeup" department.

"He's a poster child for being a baseball player," Fuson said. "He's just a well-grounded kid. He has an idea of where he wants to go and how to get there."

Headley is fairly new to third base, having transitioned from shortstop his freshmen year of college at the University of the Pacific. He led his team in hits and the Big West Conference in walks, before transferring to the University of Tennessee.

It was right after heading to the Volunteers that Headley learned to keep baseball -- in success or in slumps -- between the lines, or he would drive himself crazy. In that sophomore season, he missed most of fall ball due to meniscus surgery on his right knee, and after only a handful of games, a hamstring injury hindered him from playing to the level he thought he was capable of.

"When I came back [from the hamstring injury], I just never really got back into things, and I had a rough year -- at least a rough year for me," said the Fountain, Colo. native. "I was miserable, on and off the field. It just ate me up. I learned you can't carry it off the field or you'll just put more pressure on yourself on the field. It was a good thing for me to learn at that stage in my life. In pro ball, it's even more. It's your job, it's your career."

When he is on the field, doing his job, Headley works hard. But baseball was never the only thing he put energy into. He was an all-conference basketball player at Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Colorado, and the valedictorian, as well. He was also a first-team Academic All-American at Tennessee in 2005 with a 3.63 GPA in sports management.

"He's a poster child for being a baseball player. He's just a well-grounded kid. He has an idea of where he wants to go and how to get there."
-- Grady Fuson on Chase Headley

Is the former Volunteers standout one of those guys who has been blessed with natural talents in anything and everything? Headley assures that he is not, and nervously laughs off such a suggestion.

"Obviously, to play at this level, you have to have some gifts," said Headley. "When I look around at some of the guys I played against, I don't think I'm as talented as some of those guys. I may be physically, but I really pride myself on trying not to be outworked.

"I guess that kind of helped me in the classroom, as well. I never missed class. I just did those things to try and stay on top of things, and you've got to try to do the same thing in baseball. I know I'm not the most talented player out there, so I know that I may have to work a little harder, and that's fine with me."

That's just fine for the Padres, as well, and his current manager sees tremendous improvement from Headley, who played in just four games at low Class A Fort Wayne before moving onto his current stop at high Class A Lake Elsinore.

"His swing has become much more fluid, a little more explosive now," Renteria said. "He's getting the bat head through the zone with some consistency, and he's actually brought with him a very good eye. He's very patient and has the ability to recognize pitches and stays on them pretty well."

One of the few knocks on Headley is his power, a criticism Fuson is not concerned with in the least. Doubles in the Minor Leagues have a way of translating to power later on, and Headley has plenty of those this season. Power is also the last skill -- where productivity is concerned -- to emerge, according to Fuson. He plans on seeing Headley in the Arizona Fall League, not usually a place for players one year removed from the draft.

For now, Headley is in Lake Elsinore, soaking up all he can and taking as many ground balls as possible to continue getting more comfortable at third base.

"I really like playing third," he said. "Actually, I think it's a little bit easier for me than playing shortstop, just because at short, sometimes I found myself in a bad place, trying to be a little too specific, trying to do something that really wasn't necessary. At third base, you don't have time to do any of that. The ball is hit, you catch it, it's on top of you. I like it. Hopefully I can stay here [at third] for a long time."

The Padres are hoping the same thing.

Amanda Branam is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.