Albany, New York- Earlier this week, two of the best players in short season Class-A ball helped their teams land in the playoffs.
First basemen Trey Mancini and Conrad Gregor, both named two of HHOTF Best Players of the Year http://www.highheelsonthefield.net/my_weblog/2013/09/2013-new-york-penn-league-awards.html, spent their first professional season working through mental aspects of their game, aspects that, they say, once fully understood and put to good use, made all the difference.
Mancini, who led the BIG EAST for Notre Dame in hitting (.389), finished the season with the Aberdeen Iron Birds hitting .328 (2nd overall), with 84 hits (2nd overall), eighteen doubles, and 115 total bases. Gregor, a Vanderbilt product, was right behind Mancini at third with 78 hits, and finished second in walks with 37 for the Tri-City Valley Cats.
These results aren't surprising, they were high round picks (Gregor was selected by the Astros in the 4th round, Mancini by the Orioles in the 8th round), so the talent and projections were there. But once players hit the dirt for real, it can be an eye-opening experience. They aren't the best anymore. And it becomes a job. Both players picked up the bat with an emotional drive, a sense that they had something more in them.
"I came in with a chip on my shoulder," Mancini said. "A lot of people seemed to think because I didn't play in the Cape [Cape Cod Summer League] that that would hurt me, that it was the end of the world. I didn't see it that way."
When he talks about the chip on his shoulder, his jaw tenses, and there's fire in his eyes. His voice gets a little tougher. He heard the reports that maybe the shoulder problem, which bothered him every time he check-swung and he'd feel a pop, and then being forced to sit out of the summer league experience would affect his draft slot.
"I knew if I worked hard, everything would take care of itself."
Gregor knows about re-focusing. His was fueled less by anger, but it was still a profound experience: he was changing the kind of player he'd been in college.
"With my swing being more aggressive early in the count, I've learned how to drive the ball," he said.
The education was a process of working on situational hitting, hitting in different counts, getting a timely hit. That, he says, helped him be even more confident, and, overall confident as a team.
"We're under a microscope, but the players dictate their performance. It sounds cliche, but pitching and defense got us here, and what we learned about hitting was also very important."On Saturday, Aberdeen lost the best of three, and the Tri-City Valley Cats advanced for the second year in a row to the Penn League Championship.