Since last June, outfielder Alex Presley—no relation—has drawn raves at Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indians.
The 25-year-old was batting .335/.386/.520 with eight homers and 10 doubles through 227 at-bats this season. The lefty-hitting Presley ranked third among International League batters in average and third with 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts. He led the Indians in average, on-base, homers, steals, runs (40) and RBIs (32).
The Pirates have a set outfield with Jose Tabata in left field, Andrew McCutchen in center and a platoon of Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz in right. Presley had played mostly left this season (44 games) for Indianapolis, while seeing occasional time in center (15 games) in deference to Gorkys Hernandez.
The Pirates called up Presley last September after a breakout season in the high minors. He started just two games for Pittsburgh and batted 6-for-23 (.261) in sporadic play.
"It was awesome," he said of his big league debut. "It was a little bit different because I wasn't starting games—I was coming off the bench. There was a little bit of an adjustment there. I got to see how tough it was to pinch-hit.
"All around, it was a great experience, and good to get up there and get my feet wet."
Finding A New Gear
As a senior at Neville High in Monroe, La., Presley hit .441 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs. He also starred in soccer and football. "I played mainly baseball and soccer," he said. "In football, I was a kicker. I only kicked for one year. I was pretty good at it, with my soccer background."
In three years at Mississippi, Presley teamed with several future big leaguers, including Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan, the National League rookie of the year in 2009; Rockies outfielder Seth Smith; Reds lefthander Matt Maloney; and Cardinals righthander Lance Lynn, who made his big league debut on June 2.
In 2004 Presley set Ole Miss freshman records for triples (six) and stolen bases (nine). Pittsburgh made him an eighth-round pick in 2006 after he batted .336 as a junior and led the Rebels with seven triples.
Presley graduated from the short-season New York-Penn League in 2006 and low Class A South Atlantic League in '07 before becoming bogged down with high Class A Lynchburg in 2008 and '09. In 781 plate appearances in the Carolina League, he batted a mere .257/.313/.379 with 10 homers and 22 steals.
At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Presley was 24 and looked more like an organizational player than a big league prospect. "I don't think he was really on the radar in the organization," Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said.
Assigned to Double-A Altoona for the 2010 campaign, Presley went on a rampage. By mid-summer his .350 average topped the Eastern League, so on June 25 Pittsburgh promoted Presley to Indianapolis, where his hitting, hustle and speed quickly made him a fan favorite. In 69 games with the Indians, he batted .294/.349/.460, solidifying his case as the organization's minor league player of the year. He led the Pirates system with a .320 average and ranked fourth with 85 RBIs.
Consistency and attitude were the keys to Presley's turnaround. "I think more than anything, I didn't put pressure on myself to do well," he said.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Presley, who can play all three outfield posts, reported to Pirates spring camp this year at Bradenton, Fla., with no delusions. His best shot at going north with the big club was in a reserve role. "My goal coming in was to make the team," he said.
Presley made a believer out of big league manager Clint Hurdle, who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "I like what I've seen from Alex . . . He can drive a baseball."
Detractors claimed Presley's arm was below-average and his fielding needed improvement. While his speed earned him his share of infield hits, critics said he needed to work on stealing bases. So Presley returned to Indianapolis. "It's always tough to get sent down," he said.
Room For Improvement
Undaunted, Presley picked right up where he'd left off with Indianapolis. He racked up 30 hits in his first 90 at-bats.
The Pirates challenged Presley to steal more bases this season, and he's on pace to establish a new career high.
"You look at the first year, and you want to see him repeat that—and he's surpassed that," Treanor said. "Defensively, I think he has improved. If you watch him in the outfield, he's ready all the time. So he gets good reads on balls (and) good jumps."
Presley's glovework preserved a 3-2 win for the Indians on May 20. In the ninth inning, visiting Buffalo had the tying run on second with one out when Bubba Bell lifted a flare into short left field. Presley, who had just moved over from center as part of a double switch, charged in to make a fine diving catch. From his knees, he fired to Josh Harrison at second base for a game-ending double play.
Presley contributed in a big way to a 13-2 win against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 2. He went 3-for-5 with six RBIs and a pair of home runs, including a towering fourth-inning blast.
"Offensively, as you can tell by the numbers, he's a force in this league," Treanor said. "Defensively, he's right there."
Even with the improved defense and baserunning, Presley's not sure what the future holds. "I just do what I do here," he said, "and keep playing hard, keep trying to keep positive. I mean, stuff like that's not really in my control . . . so I try not to worry about it."
Treanor believes it's just a matter of time. "Things have a way of always working out," the skipper said. "He just needs to remain ready. I think at some point you force the organization's hand. Obviously, that's a very strong outfield up there. But this guy has a lot to offer."
Pete Cava is a freelancer based in Indianapolis