With less than a week to go in April, Drew Stubbs (Reds) was hitting .176/.300/.206 with a solitary extra base-hit, no stolen bases and two caught stealing attempts. Hello rock bottom.
But less than a month later, Stubbs is leading the International League in doubles (13), is third in the league in stolen bases (11) and is hitting well over .300. So what’s changed? Nothing dramatic, it’s just the continued maturation and tweaking that comes with the first full season in Triple-A.
"He was not using his lower half … We made a little adjustment. He was getting too forward, so we straightend him up and got him more balanced. He was popping up a lot of balls. He had a little loop in his swing," Louisville hitting coach Smokey Garrett said. "Now he’s getting behind the ball and driving it."
It’s been a loud turnaround. Since April 26, Stubbs is hitting .397 with 12 doubles and 11 in 12 attempts. He had a seven-game doubles streak snapped last night, but he’s seen his overall average climb to .320/.400/.454.
Wednesday night against Wade Davis and the Durham Bulls, Stubbs showed the good and bad of his game. In his first at-bat against Davis, he was struck out on three straight fastballs. The second time up, he looked nearly as helpless on a four-pitch at-bat that ended in an infield pop-up. And he was fanned a second time by Davis when he fell behind 0-2 on a curveball and changeup, then was struck out two pitches later on another curveball.
He headed into the sixth 0-for-3 with two rather helpless looking strikeouts. But once Davis left the game, Stubbs was able to inside-out a pitch from reliever Joe Bateman for a bloop hit to right field. For most hitters it would have been a no-doubt single, but Stubbs was out of the box quickly, got down the line to first in 4.2 seconds, cut the corner on the bag at first base and slid into second with a double.
It was a sign of why the Reds drafted Stubbs in the first round coming out of Texas in 2004. He has the speed to steal bases and cover acres of ground in center field. At 6-foot-4, he has the size to become a power hitter.
There’s always just been one big if. One that has followed him since the day he stepped onto the campus at Texas as a college freshman. As one scouting director put it to BA in a pre-draft feature in 2006:
"Some of my guys love him, but I don’t think he can hit," one scouting director says. "On 29 of the 30 teams, I bet he’s compared to Rocco Baldelli, because there’s no one else like that. All the other four tools are fine or better if you give him usable power."
Three years later, that question still follows Stubbs around, but the reality is that his bat has made some major strides since then. He’s still an exceptional center fielder with a plus arm who is a threat on the base paths. But what’s surprising is he’s ended up being a better hitter although with less power, than was expected.
He struck out in 25 percent of his plate appearances in the Pioneer League, but he’s managed to reduce that at every step up the ladder–he’s striking out in 21.8 percent of his plate apperances this season. His walk rate has remained nearly the same–he walked in 12.9 percent of his plate appearances in rookie ball, and he’s walking 11.8 percent of his plate appearances now.
"My approach is improved," Stubbs said. "I’m a lot more selective at the plate."
But according to Stubbs, the cut in his strikeouts is not because of significant changes to his swing. Garrett said it’s a little shorter than it was a couple of years ago, but there haven’t been any massive changes. While he choked up for a week or two in Dayton in 2007, which helped him go on a tear, he says that was just a short-term approach to help him get back untracked–he quickly went back to putting his hands near the nob of the bat.
He has hit less home runs as he’s moved from Class A to Triple-A. He hit seven last year and has hit none this year, but his overall isolated power numbers haven’t changed that much–he had a .148 isolated power in Billings, which isn’t much different than his .134 isolated power this season. He still hits plenty of doubles, and according to Garrett, the home runs will eventually show back up.
"He’s doing it," Garrett said. "I’m not worried about the power. That will come. He’s got leverage."
With his newfound selectiveness (and a .400 on-base percentage), Stubbs is closer to being a fit as a leadoff hitter than he appeared to be coming out of college. Whether he’ll end up hitting for the power that brought on Mike Cameron comps is still to be determined.
Moving On Up
The Red Sox have promoted outfielder Ryan Kalish from high Class A Salem (Carolina) to Double-A Portland (Eastern). Kalish, the Red Sox’ ninth-round pick in 2006, was hitting .304/.435/.504 for Salem with 5 home runs and 8 steals in 11 attempts.
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