For as much as everyone else in the Double-A Mississippi lineup has been hitting, Van Pope falls into the ‘One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other’ category.
The 2004 fifth-round pick is hitting just .148/.204/.254 in 142 at-bats for the M-Braves.
“He shows signs of settling in, signs of coming around,” Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman said. “He’s very aggressive when he’s in the box and sometimes he just goes outside the zone too much.”
But for as much as Pope went out of the zone too much last season at high Class A Myrtle Beach–where his strikeout totals hovered close to the century mark–Pope is a much more disciplined hitter and consistently making better contact than he did in the Carolina League.
In those 142 at-bats, Pope has whiffed 28 times.
“For as aggressive as he is, he’s putting the bat on the ball,” Wellman said. “He’s just not getting it to the barrel as often as we’d like. It’s nothing in his approach, really. Not physically anyway . . . He just needs a more consistent mental approach with staying off bad offspeed pitches.”
Part of that might be the distraction of playing at home. Pope hails from Jackson, Miss., and the Braves park is in nearby Pearl.
“Everyone says how nice it is to play in front of their family and friends, but sometimes I think that’s a double-edged sword,” Wellman said. “It’s very easy to press–to want to do well and impress the people who got you where you are today, but you get out of what got you there in the first place.”
None of Pope’s offensive struggles have negatively affected his defense however. Rated the best defensive third baseman in the Carolina League last season in Baseball America’s best tools poll, Pope has always been a plus defender on the hot corner.
“He’s an unbelievable third baseman,” a scout from a National League club said. “He makes all the routine plays, he’ll turn in spectacular ones too. He’s good on slow rollers out front, good lateral movement and the guy’s got a cannon. Easily the best arm I’ve seen out of a third baseman this season.
“I love the kid. You’re just left wanting so much more out of the bat. It’s in there, though, that plus power. He’s already a plus defender. He just needs some kind of consistency at the plate. I think it’s a credit to him for not letting that carry over into the field with him, though. We’d take him in a heartbeat.”
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