McAnulty vying for spot on Friars roster

McAnulty vying for roster spot

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Maybe this year, the folks at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland will get a reprieve from the line drives and moonshots that Paul McAnulty blasted off of the side of their building.

This was a common occurrence last season when McAnulty, while playing for Triple-A Portland, would often knock balls off the side of the club that sits beyond the right-field wall at PGE Park in batting practice and even games.

Of course, for all of this to happen, McAnulty has to earn a spot on the Padres' Opening Day roster as the starting left fielder or a left-handed stick off the bench. He's considered a longshot for the job, though he's heard that before.

"Not a lot of people out here are giving me too much credit, calling me a longshot and all that," McAnulty said. "I'm going to push their hand as much as possible and try [to] make the decision as difficult for them as possible. I don't have control over that."

What McAnulty, 26, does have control over is his prodigious swing, one that has carried him to a career .305 batting average in the Minor Leagues. Last season, he hit .310 with 19 home runs and 79 RBIs in 125 games for Portland. He has nothing left to prove there.

That's why McAnulty is here doing whatever he can to stick with the Padres. So far, he's done his part during the first few days of Cactus League play, making two nice catches in left field, throwing a baserunner out at the plate and hitting a long home run off of Seattle pitching phenom Felix Hernandez.

"He's in the mix of guys who are battling for left field," Padres manager Bud Black said. "What he's done in the Minors with the bat warrants him a chance at this level. This winter we decided the best chance for him was in left field. He's definitely a hard worker."

While hitting has been McAnulty's forte in the Minor Leagues, he said people have been quick to discredit his defense. Yes, he did struggle with Portland last season during a 50-game trial at third base, but he's more than serviceable at first base and in the outfield, which is where the Padres are primarily looking at him this spring.

"That's actually my best position," McAnulty said. "That's where I have gotten the most playing time down in the Minor Leagues. People look at my body size and think I can't play out there. It's not a question of how big you are but how well you play."

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McAnulty, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 220 pounds, has spent extra time working with first-base coach Bobby Meacham, who works with the team's outfielders. McAnulty has been one of his star pupils in camp thus far.

But make no mistake, McAnulty's calling card is his left-handed swing.

"It's something special to watch him hit," said Padres catcher Luke Carlin, a teammate of McAnulty's in Portland. "He takes hitting very seriously. You can tell that he's locked in by looking at him. His mechanics are good but it's his attitude and approach that make him so good."

Carlin can't remember the opponent but he can easily recall the prodigious home run that McAnulty hit in Portland last season off the scoreboard in left-center field, an opposite-field home run that traveled well over 400 feet.

McAnulty proved his worth to the Padres on Sept. 6, when he launched a pinch-hit, walk-off homer in the 11th inning to lift San Diego to a 2-0 victory over the Rockies. That he did so in front of his parents, who drove down from Oxnard, made it that much more special.

"That was the pinnacle moment of my career so far," McAnulty said. "That was my first Major League home run and, especially the moment it came in, was awesome. We were in a pennant race in September and that win brought us one game closer to the Dodgers."

McAnulty would like nothing more than to help the Padres again this season, only on a consistent basis, as a member of the team's 25-man Opening Day roster. He has three weeks of Cactus League games to prove he belongs.

Longshot? Bring it on, he said.

"I get sort of short-changed a lot, but I like being the underdog," McAnulty said. "But I don't mind. I'm the one who gets to show up here every day and play."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.