Padres Prospect Graham Pauley Projects as a Plus Hitter in the Big Leagues

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Graham Pauley emerged as one of the most promising hitting prospects in the San Diego Padres system this past season. Selected in the 13th round of the 2022 draft out of Duke University, the 23-year-old left-handed-hitting third baseman slashed .308/.393/.539 with 23 home runs and an organization-best 152 wRC+ across Low-A Lake Elsinore, High-A Fort Wayne, and Double-A San Antonio.

Count Eric Longenhagen among those bullish on his potential with the bat. Earlier this month, our lead prospect analyst wrote that Pauley’s swing “is gorgeous — it often looks like a mini version of Corey Seager‘s cut, completely connected from the ground up.” He assigned Pauley a 45 FV, along with a 45/50 hit tool grade and a 50/55 game power grade.

Pauley talked hitting late in the Arizona Fall League season.


David Laurila: You put up some pretty impressive numbers this year. What do you attribute that to?

Graham Pauley: “I credit it to the Padres, but also to myself for putting in the work, day in and day out. Being a 13th rounder, you also don’t have a ton of expectations, so you can kind of go into it with a free spirit. Over the course of my time here — ever since being drafted, including throughout this year — I feel that I’ve gotten better. Minor swing changes, getting stronger, being more agile. That’s all helped and gotten me to where I am today.”

Laurila: Tell me about the swing changes.

Pauley: “I started out this year in Low-A, and while I was hitting well, I wasn’t always getting the results I wanted in terms of balls in the air. I was hitting the ball on the ground a lot. Making some swing changes — my bat path and how my body rotates, keeping my direction toward the center of the field — allowed me to elevate the ball. It also helped me to hit both fastballs and offspeed pitches.

“Staying on plane as long as possible was a big part of it. That comes from working in the cages, working on my first move, my rhythm, my load, and my timing. Getting into the right spots has helped me slot better. It’s allowed my bat to stay in the zone a lot longer, which allows me to both hit more pitches and elevate the ball.”

Laurila: I’ve read that you have quick hands. Is that your primarily attribute as a hitter?

Pauley: “That’s a big part of it. I would say it’s a mix between quick hands and having hands that I rely on. I like to think that my hand-eye coordination is up there with the best. It allows me to hit a lot of pitches. I felt like I didn’t swing and miss much this year, which allowed me both to keep my strikeouts down and produce a lot of hits.”

Laurila: Putting balls in play is obviously a good thing, but at the same time, doing so prior to two strikes isn’t necessarily ideal. It might not have been a pitch you could do damage on.

Pauley: “That’s true. It can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it does lead to weak contact early in counts if I’m a little too aggressive and chasing. I’m able to hit those pitches, but like you said, they aren’t the ones I necessarily want to be hitting. Over time, as I work on my game more and see more pitches, my ability to better select the pitches I want to swing at should improve. That will allow me to make solid contact more often.”

Laurila: Can having quick hands be both a blessing and a curse?

Pauley: “It definitely can be both. But again, I think that the swing change is allowing me to slot better and keep the bat on plane for a longer time in the zone. I’m able to catch pitches out front or deep, and hit balls to all parts of the field.”

Laurila: How much do you study your swing?

Pauley: “I study it a little bit, but a lot of hitting is feel for me. I want to feel my swing. I also want to know how my body is moving. I’ll watch video and see how I’m moving, but if it doesn’t feel right, then maybe there’s something else going on.”

Laurila: What about your approach at the plate? What are you focusing on?

Pauley: “I’ve always been a guy who wants to be on time with the heater and then adjust from there. To me, it’s a lot easier to go from fast to slow than it is to go from slow to fast. I’d much rather stay on the heater, no matter what the count is.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts on your development as a hitter?

Pauley: “One thing I’ve gotten a lot better at is hitting lefties. Throughout college, and then after I first got drafted, I always struggled against lefties. This year my splits were pretty much dead even. That’s come from a mix of seeing more lefties — seeing more and more pitches from lefties — and also from making that mental switch where I know that the ball is coming through the zone whether it’s from a righty or a lefty. Honestly, I almost see lefties better now, because I’m able to stay in there longer.”

Laurila: Keeping your front shoulder in should help you hit righties better, as well.

Pauley: “Exactly. It will help you hit all pitchers.”


Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller on Pauley:

“The quality of the at-bats were really consistent from day one, and that’s whether it was against right-handed or left-handed pitching. He knows the strike zone well. There is also his ability to play multiple spots. We challenged him at the end of the year to play a little bit of outfield, play a little bit of second base, and he’s gotten better as a third baseman. He was our Minor League Player of the Year, so he had a great year overall.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Jacob Berry, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Justice Bigbie, Cavan Biggio, Charlie Blackmon, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Will Brennan, Jay Bruce, Triston Casas, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Garrett Cooper, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Paul Goldschmidt, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Austin Hays, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Connor Joe, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Royce Lewis, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Marcelo Mayer, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Lars Nootbaar, Logan O’Hoppe, Vinnie Pasquantino, Luke Raley, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Marcus Semien, Giancarlo Stanton, Spencer Steer, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Spencer Torkelson, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Alex Verdugo, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Joey Votto, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Bobby Witt Jr. Mike Yastrzemski, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Barney Coolio
3 months ago

2024 might be a fun reset year for the Padres with low expectations.

They seem to be really dragging their feet on getting quality outfielders besides Fernando Tatis Jr. I think SD should just sign Jurickson Profar for OF/1b as he seems to really love it in SD and is a good teammate.

SD has three young prospects who play OF and tasted AA last year. Graham Pauley, Jackson Merrill, and Jakob Marsee.

3 months ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

Two thirds of that trio have combined for 83 total innings in the outfield as professionals, and 0 lifetime innings before that.

Barney Coolio
3 months ago
Reply to  realitypolice

Maybe I was unclear. I was thinking perhaps the Padres open 2024 with an OF of: Tatis, Jose Azocar, Oscar Mercado, and Jurickson Profar.

The three youngsters I mentioned open 2024 in either AA or AAA, and as the season progresses, you evaluate their progress with at least one of them being promoted at midseason.

3 months ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

OOF that’s not an outfield for a team with any intentions of contending.

Barney Coolio
3 months ago
Reply to  roydjt

Yeah, this year SD will have to get lucky to contend. Why not? It happens every year. Last year, SD massively underperformed based on their run differential, perhaps this year they can overperform. Maybe one of the non-Tatis guys I mentioned can break out. Maybe SD can pick up someone other than those they have and Jurickson Profar. Profar loves SD, I am optimistic that he can at least hold steady in LF.

The OF is weak besides Tatis. But SD is strong in the infield and at catcher. At C, they will finally hand the starting job to Luis Campusano who is 24 and appeared in the last four seasons. In the infield, Kim, Bogaerts, and Machado are strong. Machado will miss the early part of the season. Hopefully Jake Cronenworth can improve upon last season. He was on the up in July and August before going down with an injury.

SD has interesting infield bench guys like Matthew Batten and Eguy Rosario. I am interested in seeing what those guys can do. Batten has a bit of OF experience in AAA, and one start in the majors, this year might be a good opportunity for him to play more OF and hopefully do some good things.