Singleton Makes Swift Impact In Lakewood

LAKEWOOD, N.J.—The 90 mph fastball from righthander Jose Ceda of the Greensboro Grasshoppers hurtled towards home plate at FirstEnergy Park, home of the Lakewood BlueClaws.

When it met the bat of lefty-swinging, 18-year-old first baseman Jonathan Singleton, it shot even faster in the opposite direction, scattering a few fans off blankets on the right field berm.

"I just want to hit the ball hard every time," the 2009 eighth-round pick of the Phillies said. "That's my goal."

For the most part, it's a goal that's been met with regularity by the 6-foot-2, 215-pound slugger from Millikan High in Long Beach.

The BlueClaws already had completed a month of their season when Singleton joined them on May 13.

He batted .373/.460/.672 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs in the first half of the South Atlantic League season. His average would have led the league had he enough at-bats to qualify—even factoring in a 3-for-18 skid during the final week.

But all's well that ends well. Singleton smashed two home runs and collected five RBIs in the first-half finale, a 6-3 win that wrapped up Lakewood's second straight first-half Northern Division title.

His nine home runs are two more than Ryan Howard hit in 2002 through his first 37 games with Lakewood.

"It (the slump) was a learning experience," Singleton said after the two-home run game.

"Those games actually led to today," he said. "I thought about how they were pitching to me and what they were doing."

Singleton's stunning progression has rapidly become the talk of the Phillies organization. In 31 games last year, he batted .290/.395/.440 for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League club.

"There's so little to his swing, there's not a lot that can go wrong," said Lakewood manager Mark Parent, a former journeyman catcher for 13 years in the big leagues. "He gets a short start, gets to the ball quick, and he's got a lot of power.

"And it's all to his credit. He's quickly becoming somebody to watch, that's for sure."

The Word Is Out

Veteran baseball writer Jayson Stark, in a recent interview on Philadelphia radio station 97.5 FM The Fanatic, said he's received glowing reports about Singleton.

"I had a scout call me last week and say, 'This guy is the best 18-year-old hitter I have seen since Manny Ramirez,' " Stark told the radio audience. "And I had another scout (say), 'This is the best minor leaguer I have seen this season. And he is going to be the best minor leaguer I see all season.'

"The scouts I've talked to believe he can play the outfield at some point."

With Howard signed to a long-term contract, an eventual position switch for Singleton might be in the cards.

"I definitely would consider playing the outfield if that was my only chance to make it (to the big leagues)," Singleton said.

Somewhat surprisingly, Singleton gravitated to baseball even though his father Rocky was a quarterback at the University of Oregon. Singleton said he played football in high school only as a freshman.

"I started playing baseball before I did football, it was just a lot more fun," Singleton said.

As a high school junior, Singleton said he batted in the mid-.400s. That, plus his size, power, and strong showing on the high school showcase circuit in the summer of 2008, quickly garnered the attention of scouts.

But his average slipped to .321 as a senior in the spring of 2009.

"I guess I was over-anxious, I wanted to do too much as a senior," Singleton said. "I wanted to carry the team on my back, pretty much. I wasn't ready for that and I guess that led to how I did."

Staying In Control

Singleton signed for $200,000 in mid-July a year ago, turning down a scholarship to Long Beach State.

"Jonathan has really improved since I saw him in high school," Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper said.

Looper has not only been impressed with the youngster's raw power but also his discipline at the plate.

"You don't see him swing at many bad pitches," Looper said. "For a young kid, that's outstanding."

Looper attended Lakewood's June 15 game, in which the BlueClaws went into extra innings tied with Lexington, 1-1. Lakewood loaded the bases with two outs for Singleton, who drew a walk-off walk after checking his swing on the 3-and-2 pitch.

"Particularly in a situation like that­—the game is on the line—you always want to be the hero," Looper said. "I thought that was outstanding on his part to be that patient."

In Singleton's debut with Lakewood, Parent placed him in the cleanup spot. In his second at-bat, Singleton blasted a home run over the right-field fence at Greenville.

"It's not like he came in here and I didn't know what I was working with," Parent said. "I watched him in batting practice, and I knew I had done the right thing.

"Because that's where he's going to be (batting in the middle of the lineup) wherever he plays."

Tony Graham covers the BlueClaws for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press. A version of this story originally ran in the Press.