Prado feeling comfort of second season with D-backs
Third baseman bringing energetic presence, veteran leadership to Arizona clubhouse
PHOENIX -- A year ago, Martin Prado was a newcomer to the D-backs after spending his entire career in the Braves organization, a veteran feeling like it was his first day in big league camp all over again.
This spring, as he returns for his second season with Arizona, he's back to being in a comfort zone again, and it's showing in his demeanor, his approach and perhaps even in his results in Spring Training games.
"I just feel like I'm being more myself, and that's one of the reasons I'm feeling more comfortable this year," the 30-year-old third baseman said Friday morning.
Being himself means not only being a dangerous hitter and versatile fielder, but also a positive influence in the clubhouse, an energetic presence on the team.
Prado admits now that when he arrived a year ago as the Major League star among five players dealt to the D-backs in the much-ballyhooed Justin Upton trade with Atlanta, he found himself feeling out of his element, uncertain how to act and unfamiliar with his surroundings.
"I don't deny it, I don't try to hide it," he said. "I was trying to be somebody that I wasn't, and now I understand I just need to go out there and do what I've done the last couple of years. I have to understand this is a team sport, and everybody in this locker room is pulling together."
The unfamiliarity with his new surroundings seemed to seep into the start of the 2013 season, with an April in which he batted .217 leading to pedestrian numbers at the All-Star break. Prado rallied with a strong second half, including 30 RBIs in August alone to bring his numbers closer to his career standards -- but there was an uncomfortable transition period he had to go through to get there.
For someone who can relate, Prado doesn't have to look any further than the D-backs manager's office. Kirk Gibson had to make a transition from coming up and starring with the Tigers to moving to the Dodgers as a free agent in 1988, and he knows it's not easy.
"Thinking back to being with the Tigers for eight years and then going to the Dodgers, it's different," Gibson said. "It's a different culture, it's a different spot. It's just not the same. We all have comfort zones, guys have a routine and when you break that routine, it takes something away and it takes time to get acclimated to that and get comfortable in that environment.
"It was what it was, so you try to deal with it the best you can. But I think him having played a year and kind of overcoming everything and finishing strong for us, now he knows he's comfortable, and he's just himself."
The results can be seen right away in the clubhouse, where he greets teammates with a smile and exudes positive energy. And, although the exhibition numbers will evaporate into the desert air once the regular season starts, some results can be seen in his performance this spring.
With a single in the third inning of Friday's game against the Brewers, Prado has hit safely in 11 of the 12 Cactus League games in which he has played. He added another single to go 2-for-3 in the game, putting him at 17-for-32 (.531) for the spring, including five doubles, five RBIs and eight runs scored.
Of course, the results don't mean anywhere near as much to Prado as the approach, which is back to the type of mentality that made him an All-Star with the Braves and the type of player the D-backs just had to have in return if they were going to move Upton two winters ago.
Whether the results reflect a better start to the season than a year ago or not remains to be seen, Prado says.
"It's hard to tell right now," Prado said. "We've still got a way to go. Right now, I'm just working on seeing more pitches and having good at-bats. I want to have the mentality where I'm trying to battle every single at-bat, make pitchers work and let my teammates know that I'm there every single at-bat."
With the D-backs starting the season a week before 28 other teams with the Opening Series in Australia against the Dodgers, time is fleeting before Prado will show how his 2014 season will begin.
But, already, he has a better sense of what he needs to do heading into the season, back to feeling like himself again.
"The intensity's going to be higher, but the approach has to be the same," Prado said.
Now, that sounds like the Martin Prado the Braves came to know, and the D-backs got to know as the 2013 season wore on -- a veteran with confidence, a player with talents that go beyond the field and into the clubhouse.
"He's an electric personality guy, extremely contagious with the way he treats people, his teammates, what his work habits are, and he's having a great influence on us," Gibson said.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB.This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.