IT HAS been over 13 months since Joe Baker-Thomas’ AFL journey began, and St Kilda development coach Paul Hudson couldn’t be happier with the 18-year-old’s progression in a relatively short amount of time.

“Week by week Joe is progressing,” Hudson told this week in an exclusive interview.

“What’s really good about him is how diligent he is. He has had a football in hands at every opportunity which I think has really helped him become a better player.”

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The Kiwi rookie, who was St Kilda’s first international recruit prior to US import Jason Holmes late last year, has played four games for Sandringham’s development squad, and further four in the TAC Cup for the Sandringham Dragons.

Each match is another chance for Baker-Thomas to learn the intricacies and subtleties of the craft , and it is in the backline that he’s spent the majority of his time across the first two months of the season.

“We’ve been playing him predominantly in defence because we want him to learn this aspect of the game,” Hudson said.

“In the second half of the year we will probably start to push him forward more so he can gain a greater understanding of AFL by playing some different roles.”

While he hasn’t starred, Baker-Thomas has invariably done a good job on one of the opposition’s most dangerous key forwards.

According to Hudson, this experience holds him in good stead for the future.

“I remember Allan Jeans put me down in defence for an entire year just to teach me how a defender thinks.

“The other aspect of his game that has been really impressive has been his tackling. He’s really cracked in, but is still learning how to go and get the ground ball.”

(Photo: Dave Savell)

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But like all new players to the game who haven’t grown up playing Aussie Rules, there are areas to work on.

While the Saints are committed to patiently guiding the youngster through the formative years of his career, Hudson said this doesn’t mean they will mince their words, rather constructive criticism is the ingredient that will fast-track Baker-Thomas’ evolution into what the club hopes will be a senior-listed player.

“He gets turned around as a defender too easily,” Hudson said.

“Sometimes he just follows his defender around instead of really trying to physically impact the play.

“With Joe it’s about knowing when to sag off and when to play tight.”

Right now Baker-Thomas has a mild case of shin splints, but on his return, the development coach expects his young Kiwi to spend more time at the other end of the field.

“He’s having a week or two off at the moment but on the whole his defensive work like his spoiling has improved greatly.

“He does show some natural ability to know where the goals are which is really pleasing for a kid that hasn’t been playing the game for that long.”