Always On The Run

Justin Christian hasn’t had much of a chance to get settled anywhere during his baseball career. In college, he played a year at Skyline (Calif.) Junior College, a year at Auburn and a year at Southeast Missouri.

He hasn’t been able to get settled at a position, moving from second base to shortstop this season. He earned the position switch by showing improved arm strength during spring training.

He doesn’t get settled in any one spot on the basepaths, either. Blessed with 6.5-second speed over 60 yards, according to River City manager Randy Martz, Christian stole 25 bases in the first 28 games of the Frontier League season.

But Christian has shown he can get settled in at the plate. Installed in the leadoff spot at the start of the season, Christian has responded with an MVP-caliber season for the River City Rascals. He led the league in batting (.454), on-base percentage (.522), stolen bases (26), runs (31) and hits (53). And he was second in slugging percentage (.706).

“He’s not a typical Judy guy at the top of the lineup. He can drive the ball into the gaps and get doubles,” Martz said.

Christian’s production at the plate isn’t surprising. He hit .493-9-45 at Skyline JC, and his .376-13-48 season at Southeast Missouri in 2003 earned all-Ohio Valley Conference honors at second base and the league’s rookie of the year award. But it wasn’t enough to get him drafted, so he headed to River City, where he hit .301-1-15 with 19 stolen bases last season.

Those numbers were solid, but the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder has been a different player this season. He reached base in all but one of his first 28 games, and over a nine-game stretch in June, he was 26-of-39 (.667) with 15 runs, 11 RBIs, 11 stolen bases and four home runs.

While his arm may not be strong enough to handle shortstop every day, he has been able to showcase his versatility and improved arm strength.

“His defense was limited because of his arm last year,” Martz said. “But he came back focused and stronger this year. He’s pretty good up the middle, but in the hole, he’s got to work on that.”

At the plate, Marte has few complaints with Christian’s approach. He’s beaten teams with his legs—in a series against Rockford he scored the game-winning run from second on an error to win one game, and stole home for the game-winning run in another—and with his bat, as he did with a three-home run performance against Florence.

As Christian kept his average above .400 with the season into its second month, he was an obvious MVP’ˆcandidate. But he won’t get a chance to win the Frontier League’s top award, not that he minds.

Seeing his domination of the Frontier League, the Yankees have signed him and are sending him to high Class A Tampa.