AFL Spotlight: Chad Huffman
|Chad Huffman (Photo: IPI)|
We are about ten days from the conclusion of another season in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). That leaves about seven to eight games for several prospects all around the league to make one final impression.
Cleveland Indians outfielder and first baseman Chad Huffman is one of those players looking to finish strong and get the bad taste out of his mouth for good from a very disappointing 2011 season.
Huffman, 26, was picked up off of waivers a year ago in September from the NY Yankees and came into this season with a belief that he could help the big league team in Cleveland as a right-handed hitting outfielder. But the promise of a new team and season quickly evaporated after he was removed from the 40-man roster over the course of the season and struggled to hit just .246 with 13 HR, 58 RBI and a .766 OPS In 124 games for Triple-A Columbus.
“I started off the season well and had a good spring training, but in the middle of the year I have never been in a slump like that in my life,” Huffman said in a recent interview for the IPI. “It was tough to deal with, but luckily I came out of it and came out strong and played well in September and throughout the playoffs.”
Huffman started the season strong hitting .301 with 5 HR, 18 RBI and .966 OPS in 21 games in April, but the wheels quickly fell off from there as in May he hit .220 with 1 HR, 8 RBI and .630 OPS in 22 games, in June he hit .245 with 4 HR, 15 RBI and .737 OPS in 30 games, and then he cratered in July hitting .082 with 1 HR, 5 RBI, and .446 OPS in 23 games. From May 1st through July 31st he hit a combined .192 which was the worst batting average over that time period in the International League.
“I had six hits in all of July which is absurd,” Huffman said. “In August I had [twice as many] doubles than that. The slump started off with me hitting the ball hard right at guys and then it started snowballing into other things. I can’t explain it. I have been playing baseball my whole life and I have never in my entire life been in a slump as severe as that. Luckily I finished up strong and I did not end the season like that as it would have been tough to have that hanging over my head the whole offseason.”
Huffman was a proven minor league performer coming into the season as in five seasons he owned a career .286 batting average and .841 OPS. He has hit at all levels of the minors, but over the last two years his performance has been in decline as in addition to this season he also hit just .274 with 10 HR, 45 RBI and .763 OPS in 104 games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010. He feels he made a slight adjustment at the end of the year which will help him with his hitting going forward.
“I need to continue what I was doing at the end of the year in Columbus,” Huffman said. “I was closing myself off a little bit, so the only way I could swing a bat was to pull out and all I could do was hit balls to third or foul them straight back. I created that habit after putting pressure on myself being in that slump, and once I got rid of that habit I woke up one day and was out of it.”
To Huffman’s credit he kept at it and found a way out of his slump and finished the season very strong. In August he hit .364 with 2 HR, 12 RBI, and 1.037 OPS and then in September and the playoffs he hit .370 with 2 HR, 5 RBI and 1.118 OPS. So far in the AFL things have not been great for him at the plate as he is hitting just .230 with 1 HR, 10 RBI and .715 OPS in 15 games. He also has 10 walks and 11 strikeouts in 61 at bats.
But the bat is not Huffman’s focus right now as the Indians have him in the AFL to get more acquainted with playing first base. He is a good athlete as he is a solid outfielder and is a former college football quarterback at Texas Christian University, but now has the challenge in front of him to make first base an option for him on a more regular basis.
Including this season Huffman has played just 33 total games at first base in his minor league career, so he has limited experience at the position. If he can be a more regular option at first base it will provide him some versatility to stay not only with the Indians next year but also create value to other teams as well.
“I am here in the AFL to work a lot at first base and to get better defensively,” Huffman said. “Obviously I want to hit, but my main concern is first base and defense. I have not played that much first base. I have played there a little bit, but I need to fine tune some things like working around the bag, picking the ball on double plays, and stuff like that. There is not one thing I need to work on, it is just more about feeling comfortable and getting a feel for the position so when it does come spring training time they can feel comfortable putting me out there.”
As the AFL season wraps up in the coming days so will Huffman’s frustrating 2011 season. A year where he felt he came into the season as a legit option to make the big league club at some point, but because of his horrific slump a good opportunity slipped through his fingers.
“I had a great opportunity, and I thank the Indians for it.” Huffman said. “I feel like I let them down a little bit. It drives me nuts as it was in my hands and I had a great opportunity. It is on me. It is my fault. I have to get better and be more consistent to be able to go up there and help them out. It was definitely my worst year, but I can say it might be one of the most proud years I have had because I was able to dig myself out of that slump.”
The Indians control Huffman for next season and after that it remains to be seen where his career takes him. But he feels that even with the struggles he endured this past season that he will be better for it, and believes he still has a promising future with the Indians.
“I think this season kind of made me grow as a baseball player and person,” Huffman said. “It was challenging going home knowing the opportunity I was given and what was in front of me. It eats at you. But that’s life though and I have an opportunity to make up for it next year.”
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).
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