SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The narrative was fairly well-documented last season: Martin Prado, the Arizona Diamondbacks prized offseason acquisition, was under pressure to fulfill a litany of expectations in a brand new clubhouse.
The mentionable lot in the trade that sent superstar outfielder Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves, Prado received a four-year, $40 million extension within a week of joining the Diamondbacks, adding to the hopes the team had already heaved upon him. His reputation preceded him. The hope that he could “win” the Diamondbacks their trade with the Braves — proving them right in their decision to part with a 25-year-old, former No. 1 overall pick — lingered.
“Last year, I was like trying to prove something,” Prado recalled prior to Thursday’s Cactus League game against the Oakland Athletics. “I was trying to be someone that I wasn’t.”
The proof was in the pudding almost right away. Prado, a career .295 hitter on the day he reported to Salt River Fields last spring, struggled out of the gate in Cactus League play. In 56 spring training at-bats, the Venezuelan compiled just 12 hits — breaking camp with a slash line split (batting average/ on-base percentage/ slugging percentage) of .214/ .267/ .250. And the funk carried into the regular season.
Over his first 73 games of the 2013 season — spanning from April 1 to June 22 — Prado had collected just 68 hits in 286 at-bats, good for a .238 batting average. His on-base percentage at the time was down to .287 and he had just 18 extra-base hits to his name. Compare that to the first 73 games of the season prior for Prado and it’s evident that there was something about the new atmosphere that was troubling him. With the Braves in 2012, a career year for the third baseman, Prado had 92 hits over 288 at-bats, racking up 20 doubles, three triples and five home runs to help him off to a .319/ .380/ .462 start.
“When you get to a new place, you know — it was the first time for me — I was trying to impress everybody here,” Prado admitted Thursday of his 2013 struggles.
Signed by the Braves out of Maracay, Venezuela as an 18 year old, Prado knew nothing but Atlanta and its system. His baseball life, his life in America — his adult life, in general — had been viewed through a Braves lens.
Born and raised Michigander Kirk Gibson had a similar experience to Prado’s in 1988, when he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after playing his first five years in the majors with his hometown Detroit Tigers — the team which originally drafted him 10 years prior.
“I remember when I went to the Dodgers — it’s different,” Gibson said Thursday. “I was with the Tigers my whole career — he was with the Braves. It’s a shock.”
For Prado, adaptation to a new clubhouse didn’t become evident until the second half of the 2013 season. Over his final 74 games and 295 at-bats of the season, he looked himself, batting .315 with a .840 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) to boot. He accrued 31 extra-base hits and ended the season with a career-high 82 RBI.
And this spring, in advance of his second season with the Diamondbacks, the 30-year-old appears far more adjusted to his no-longer-new surroundings. The difference, he said, is simple to describe.
“Just two words — comfortable and settled,” Prado said when asked to discuss the personal changes in acclimation from 2013.
“I know my routine,” he went on. “I’ve got more time. I think last year I was just trying to figure it out, trying to get to know everybody.”
He knows everybody now, at least if his demeanor around Salt River Fields can serve as any evidence of that.
“(This year) he’s come in here, he knows he’s part of the team, he’s talked to his teammates, he’s comfortable with his teammates,” Gibson said Thursday. “He gives a lot to his teammates. You guys have seen him — he comes in here and hugs everybody every day.”
Like it did in the second half of last season — a time in which Prado says he was “just being (himself)”, the comfortability is paying dividends on the diamond for the third baseman.
He is hitting .611 (11-for-18) in six Cactus League games thus far with four doubles, five RBI and three runs scored.
“He’s much more comfortable,” Gibson said, adding that he and the organization seemed to understand Prado better than they did a year ago.
The familiarity, naturally, goes both ways.
“I’m more familiar with everybody,” Prado said. “It just makes everything easier for me.”
On top of that — and perhaps more importantly — much of the pressure felt in the wake of the Upton deal seems to be alleviated.
Such strain, Gibson said, significantly affected Prado in the past.
“Last year when I had him in the two-hole and he was trying to be such a good teammate, I think he overdid it,” the Diamondbacks manager explained.
“He started pressing.”
In a new environment, and with a sizable contract to live up to, Prado said his aim in 2013 was to “impress everybody.” That backfired.
“I was fooling myself because I wasn’t impressing anybody,” he recalled Thursday.
Following the second half of last season and his hot start in Cactus League play, it looks like Prado — now oriented in his setting, hug by hug, at-bat by at-bat, paycheck by paycheck — is rewriting last year’s narrative. And Gibson and the Diamondbacks couldn’t be happier about it.
“He adds a lot to the makeup and the character of our team,” the manager told of his third baseman.
“His leadership is just kind of different. Great guy. Great teammate. Great work ethic. And he’s a great giver of what he knows.”