GROTTOES — Chris Huffman was recently released by the San Diego Padres organization, but the former Fort Defiance High baseball standout isn’t ready to call it a career just yet.
With the minor league season threatened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are releasing players and Huffman was one of the casualties.
Huffman, who was drafted in the 14th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft after three strong seasons at James Madison University, missed all of the 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Now, just more than a year after surgery, Huffman is ready to start throwing in earnest.
“I went through rehab and my arm feels really good,” Huffman said. “I think it’s time to ramp things up and see how it goes.”
Huffman started his pro career in 2014, playing for the Eugene Emeralds in the short-season Northwest League. After a year in A-ball at Fort Wayne, Huffman’s career trended upward during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
He spent the 2016 campaign playing in Advanced-A for Lake Elsinore, where he was a California League All-Star while posting a 10-5 record with a 3.78 ERA.
A year later, Huffman once again started the season at Lake Elsinore before being promoted to AA San Antonio, where he went 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA. Late in the season, he moved up to AAA El Paso and finished 3-1 with a 3.31 ERA. He won a game in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League playoff semifinals against Reno and started a game for El Paso in the PCL Championship series against Memphis.
At the end of the 2017 season, Huffman was named to the Padres’ organizational All-Star team selected by Minor League Baseball.
Huffman’s arm problems began the next season as he split time between AA and AAA.
“I kind of pitched through it in 2018,” Huffman said. “I felt like my mechanics were off a little, and I believed if I fixed that, my arm would start feeling better.”
Huffman finished the 2018 season with a 4-6 record and two saves between the two levels. He worked mainly as a starter in AAA before working mainly out of the bullpen in AA.
At the conclusion of the 2018 season, the Padres sent Huffman to the Mexican Winter League, where the arm troubles got worse. After 38 innings, Huffman was shut down and eventually had the Tommy John surgery on May 1, 2019.
Before the injury, Huffman thought he was getting close to making the Major Leagues.
“You never really know. A lot of things have to go your way,” he said. “But I played with and against a lot of guys who made it. Yeah, I thought I was close.”
If healthy, Huffman would like a shot to resume his professional career.
“The first thing is to make sure my arm feels good and I’m healthy,” Huffman, 27, said. “I feel like I put together a pretty good resume in the minor leagues, and I’m still young enough. If someone gives me a call, I’d like to give it another shot.”