The Lakewood BlueClaws center fielder has displayed five-tool ability early this season, even though the Florida native was considered to be strictly a pitching prospect upon signing out of high school as a 22nd-round Draft pick in 2007.
A three-sport star at Williston High School, James received extensive interest from colleges for his abilities as a quarterback, wide receiver and safety. He opted to go with baseball when the Phillies offered him a $150,000 bonus, which represented the first over-slot signing of 2007.
James did not have far to go, toiling for Philadelphia's Gulf Coast League entry in Clearwater, where he went 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA in nine games, including eight starts. At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, he possessed the ideal pitcher's frame, yet admits he often thought about hitting even when his focus was on the mound.
"It was always in the back of my mind," James admitted. "I used to go down to the batting cage and get a few swings in, just in case. You never know, even as a pitcher, when you might have to get up there. I always enjoyed hitting and then when my arm started hurting, I really started giving it a lot of consideration."
A stress reaction in his right arm wound up shelving James for the entire 2008 season. He tried pitching on several occasions, yet the strength was slow to return. With a desire to resume hitting and fielding bubbling beneath the surface, James approached the Phillies about becoming an outfielder. The organization gave the idea its blessings, then watched James hit .264 with 13 RBIs and seven steals in 30 games at short-season Williamsport in 2009, even as a left wrist injury sidelined him from mid-July through late August.
After that initial taste of playing every day, James started to open some eyes with his performance last fall in the instructional league. In addition to displaying solid instincts, he impressed scouts and the Phillies with his ability to hit for average and power from both sides of the plate.
"Everything started to click in instructs, which is where I saw a lot of left-handed pitching for the first time in my career," James said. "I was able to make some adjustments, both in the field and at the plate. That increased my confidence and I've been able to build on things from there."
James picked up where he left off by opening this season with a five-game hitting streak, during which he was 10-for-23 with a homer, triple, two doubles and five RBIs. After an 0-for-14 drought, he has hits in four of his last five contests, including each of the last three.
"I'm comfortable now, especially in the outfield, where I've been playing since I was 6 years old," James said. "I feel good about the direction I'm headed. I'm just trying to get as many repetitions as I can and do what I need to do to become a better player."
Lexington Legends third baseman Jonathan Meyer has hit safely in every game this season, extending the streak to 13 games in Tuesday's win over Asheville. Meyer has seven multi-hit efforts and a .404 average. ... SS Garabez Rosa, Delmarva's No. 9 hitter, drove a 1-0 pitch from Greensboro's Alejandro Ramos over the left-center field wall leading off the ninth inning to give the Shorebirds a 1-0 walk-off win on Tuesday. ... Kannapolis outlasted Rome, 3-2, in 20 innings on Tuesday at State Mutual Stadium. The Intimidators won for the sixth time in seven games when Kyle Colligan doubled on a 3-0 pitch to score Kyle Davis with the decisive run.