HONOLULU–Players in Hawaii Winter Baseball still can't believe their good fortune to be assigned to play in paradise. With two days off a week most weeks, players have found a lot of down time for hitting the beach or sightseeing.
"It's tough playing baseball in Hawaii," joked New York Mets farmhand Mike Carp with a smile.
Recently, Carp has had a lot to smile about. In a league where the top five pitchers in earned run average is under 2.00, Carp is fifth in the league in batting at .283 (as of Nov. 8). After starting off trying to pull the ball, the North Shore Honu's lefthanded hitting first baseman reverted to what made him hit .287/.379/.450 with high Class A St. Lucie: going the other way.
"He tried to pull everything," Hono hitting coach Mike Lum said. "Now he has a better idea of what to do."
Carp went hitless in four of the Honu's first six games. He got his first hit in the seventh game of the season to start a modest six-game hitting streak. Lum said some of Carp's biggest hits in HWB have come when tried to use the whole field.
"Mike Lum really knows his hitting," said the 20-year-old Carp, a ninth-round pick by the Mets in 2004 out of Lakewood (Calif.) High. "He's helped me out when I struggled when I started off."
Carp hopes to improve on what his best pro season. His batting average at St. Lucie was a career-high, as were his 27 doubles and 88 RBIs. His 17 home runs were one shy of what he hit at low Class A Hagerstown in 2005. His performance got him ranked as the eighth-highest prospect in the Florida State League by Baseball America.
"I just want to improve on what I did, using the whole field and getting more at-bats," he said.
Although the pitching in the league has made it hard on the hitters, Carp likes the challenge.
"The better the pitching (you face), the better chance you have of moving up the next year," Carp said.
While Carp seems to have found his groove, teammate and Dodgers' infield prospect Blake DeWitt is trying to regain the rhythm he had at high Class A Vero Beach. DeWitt batted .268 with 16 doubles, 18 home runs and 61 RBIs, earning him the rank as the ninth-best prospect in the FSL. But then he earned a promotion to Double-A Jacksonville and hit a wall. His average plummeted to .183 with one double and a lone home run in 104 at-bats.
"In Vero, I saw that I was being patient and getting good pitches to hit," said the 21-year-old second baseman. "That's when I saw my power numbers go up. But I think I've gotten into a rhythm of being too patient, taking too many pitches that I should have been hitting. But I've learned from it and trying to improve on it here."
A little past the halfway point of the 40-game season, DeWitt has shown some improvement–even though he's only hitting .206 in HWB.
"As of late, I don't think I've been aggressive enough," said DeWitt, the 28th overall pick out of Sikeston (Mo.) High in 2004. "At times in the past, I was too aggressive. I think I'm starting to take a few too many pitches, where you have good pitches to hit (and don't swing) and it hurt me a little bit. "Hopefully, I can find a happy medium and have a good season next year."
Several weeks ago, Dodgers' hitting coordinator Bill Robinson spent a week in Hawaii monitoring the lefthanded-hitting DeWitt and the five other Dodgers in the league (outfielder Xavier Paul, first baseman Cory Dunlap, catcher Kenley Jansen and pitchers Zachary Hammes and Wesley Wright). It was about the same time DeWitt strung several multiple-hit games together.
"I put the fear of God in him," joked Robinson.
Robinson trusts DeWitt under Lum's guidance. The two hitting coaches have a long history dating back to when they were in the minor leagues in the Braves organization. Each made their big league debuts with Atlanta a year apart with Robinson in 1966 and Lum in 1967. Robinson was traded to the Yankees after the 1966 season.
"I'm glad that Mike Lum is here with him," Robinson said. "Mike and I go back. We've known each other over 40 years. We broke in together. Mike's another lefthanded hitter who can show Blake some things also. I'm very happy with what he's doing (for DeWitt) now."