|© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
Nix contending for Rockies' second-base job01/11/2008 12:30 PM ET
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- Jayson Nix is about to experience his first real chance to earn the second-base job with the Rockies, who made him their first pick in 2001.
In a sense, it's also a last chance. Because it has been so long, Nix is out of Minor League options and would have to be exposed to other clubs should he not make the club. But Nix's finish to last season gives him reason not to entertain uncertain thoughts.
Years of tinkering with his swing and experiencing less-than-thrilling results -- all the while with the Rockies making other plans at second -- began falling into place last August at Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Through the season's first four months, Nix hit .278. But he batted .328 with six home runs and nine doubles from Aug. 1 through season's end, compiling a .549 slugging percentage in the process. He continued by putting up a Most Valuable Player performance while helping Team USA to the gold medal in the World Cup in Taiwan.
Now, there is an argument that Nix, 25, enters Spring Training as the front-runner to replace Kazuo Matsui, who parlayed a strong year-plus with the Rockies into a three-year, $16.5 million contract with the Astros.
The Rockies say Nix, selected 44th overall in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, will be given his chance, even though they have signed veteran free agent Marcus Giles and have a whole host of competitors from their system -- all of whom have Major League experience. Clint Barmes has been a starter, Omar Quintanilla is a first-rate defender, and power-hitting corner infielders Jeff Baker and Ian Stewart are athletic enough to give second base a shot.
Nonetheless, Nix feels ready.
"I know who I am, I know what I can do as a player and I know what I can do for a team," Nix said. "I'm not going to put any extra pressure on myself. I'm just going to work on my game, refine it and try to stay sharp."
Rockies Minor League officials and scouts thought all along that Nix, a shortstop in high school who is the younger brother of Brewers outfielder Laynce Nix, could play defensively at the Major League level.
The strong finish to 2007 and the work with Team USA, when he hit .316 in Arizona Fall League play and .371 in the tournament, suggests he deserves a chance to answer the final question.
"It's the best we've heard him play and the best our people have seen him play," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said recently. "They were glowing. [Team USA manager] Davey Johnson had good things to say."
Preseason work with Rockies hitting coach Alan Cockrell followed by the tutelage of Colorado Springs hitting coach Carney Lansford, recently hired by the Giants' Major League staff, helped. But the difference between Nix now and the previous 2 1/2 years -- he hit .236 at Double-A Tulsa in 2005 and .251 at Colorado Springs in 2006 -- came from within.
"Once I got that comfortable feeling and trust in my swing, I took off really quick," Nix said. "'Ace' [Cockrell] and I worked hard the year before, and that helped me understand what I needed to do with my swing. Carney helped me find that comfort zone. Then I found a happy medium between what I did the year before and what I did last year."
No longer worried about mechanics, Nix simply enjoyed himself.
The Rockies didn't reward him with a promotion to the Majors in September, basically because they were in a playoff race and didn't have at-bats for him. Nix said he cheered for friends that received the callup. Then he put up a cheer-worthy performance in the international event.
"Many of the other teams weren't at the highest level, but Chinese Taipei had solid players and of course the Cuban team did have players that could compete with anyone, so there were players who could play for a big league club and it was good competition," Nix said. "Plus, when we played Chinese Taipei, the atmosphere was out of control. It was the rowdiest crowd I've ever played in front of.
"It was an unbelievable experience, playing for my country, not trying to do too much, but just doing my part. It's something I'll remember for a long time."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.