Hudson Potts is used to facing advanced competition. Just 17 years old when the Padres drafted him with the 24th overall pick in 2016, Potts has used his prodigious bat to propel himself through San Diego's rich farm system. He climbed to Double-A by the end of his second full season and capped 2018 with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League.
After a bumpy year back in the Texas League, the No. 11 Padres prospect has returned for another shot at the AFL. Although it's not unheard of for a youngster to get a second crack at the prospect-rich autumn showcase, it's a rare opportunity for a position player in a system as loaded as the Padres'.
For Potts, taking advantage of the second fall ball stint is all about finding the one thing that he couldn't all season: consistency.
"Maybe I didn't need to make as many adjustments as I thought I did this year," he said.
The 20-year-old opened 2019 with his first taste of big league Spring Training and made a positive impression on fans and club personnel alike. However, San Diego had signed Manny Machado to a 10-year contract in February. This meant that Potts -- primarily a third baseman -- would likely need to add another position to his arsenal to make the big leagues with the Padres in the next few seasons.
Fernando Tatis Jr. was eventually named the team's starting shortstop, and with Eric Hosmer at first base, second base -- albeit the home of rising Luis Urias -- became the only infield position where Potts could get some work in. Out of camp, Potts was assigned to Double-A Amarillo, where he was expected to see plenty of time at second.
But then a different problem arose. Usually a steady hitter, Potts struggled at the plate throughout the season. In 107 Double-A games, the Texas native compiled his lowest career slash line (.227/.290/.406). But despite the inconsistencies and an oblique injury that cost him most of June, Potts powered his way to 16 home runs and 59 RBIs, proving he hadn't lost his ability to drive the ball. It just wasn't showing as often as he liked.
"It was a weird year," he admitted. "I struggled with my approach, and it was a new league. I needed to adjust but still stay true to my game."
With the Javelinas, he's out to strike a balance between making adjustments and overthinking to the point that he doesn't have a consistent approach. Peoria hitting coach Oscar Bernard, a roving hitting instructor for the Padres, wants Potts to keep things as simple as possible in the AFL.
"We're trying to minimize and simplify," Bernard said. "This was more of a learning year for him. This year was [also] a lot of trying to do different things. Now, we're sticking with one process."
The aim of that process is for Potts to bombard the middle of the field. The results haven't quite paid off on paper -- he's 3-for-15 (200) in five games. But according to Bernard, who's not too worried about those early results, there's a noticeable change in Potts' demeanor.
"The confidence he has right now is a sign of someone who's going to get it and get better," he said.
While admittedly frustrated at times, Potts prides himself on learning new things about the game each day.
Video: Amarillo's Potts goes yard
"I tried to stay consistent with my daily work," he said. "I had a lot of ups and downs throughout the year, and I'm trying to learn from everything."
The season wasn't a total loss, of course -- Potts helped the Sod Poodles win a Texas League title in their inaugural season, hitting a three-run homer in the eighth inning of the decisive Game 5 of the Championship Series. He spent 19 games at second base, where he focused more on increasing his versatility than on standing out at the position.
"I don't really think about that down here," he explained. "I just let things play out. ... I'll play wherever they want me to, and I'll work as hard as I can there."
Offseason MiLB include
On a personal level, Potts enjoyed spending the year with teammates like MacKenzie Gore (the Padres' No. 1 prospect) Luis Patino (No. 3) and Owen Miller (No. 10), guys who have advanced through the system with Potts. He also helped welcome baseball's No. 28 prospect, Taylor Trammell, aboard. He noted that it was special to win a championship with a group that is expected to revamp the culture of an organization that has never won a World Series in its 51-year history.
But at the same time, Potts is not one to get wrapped up in what the future may hold. That's not his style. When AFL play concludes at the end of October, he'll continue working throughout the offseason and hope to report to big league camp when Spring Training rolls around again. For now, though, his focal point is simple. Relax, find something that works and stick to it.
"I'm really just trying to find a true hitting approach," he said. "I'm trying to get my swing right and find a consistent approach that I think will work for me."