Julio Morban has been nagged by injuries throughout his brief career, and when the Mariners No. 2 outfield prospect went down last month in the season's first week, Jackson manager Jim Pankovits held his breath.
"There's no telling what kind of numbers he'd have now if he could play every day," he said.
But Morban is now healthy and indeed playing consistently, and the numbers are piling up. Seattle's No. 14 prospect went 4-for-4 with a go-ahead, two-run triple in the eighth inning to help Double-A Jackson overcome Tennessee, 8-4, on Wednesday afternoon.
Morban doubled in the second, hit a two-run single in the fourth, smacked his seventh double of the year in the sixth and broke a 4-4 tie when he pulled a triple to right off Brian Schlitter. In the process, the outfielder extended his hitting streak to 12 games and enjoyed his most productive day in about a year -- he tripled, homered and drove in a career-high five runs a year and a day ago on May 14, 2012, with Class A Advanced High Desert.
"He's got the type of hitter's approach that I don't think it matters where he hits," Pankovits said. "He's a line drive hitter, uses the whole field extremely well, hits the fastball and breaking ball equally well. He puts up really good at-bats."
The 21-year-old outfielder has been hampered by injuries since signing a $1.1 million contract with Seattle in July 2008. He spent two stints on the disabled list last year with hamstring problems and hurt his wrist after running into a wall with High Desert. Last month, he hurt his groin during the Generals' first series and, as a result, has played in only 21 games through the first month and a half.
"He tweaked his groin earlier this year and missed a little time, but he's back and healthy and picked up where he left off," Pankovits said. "He hasn't skipped a beat."
Morban hit .308 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs last season, mostly in the California League, but was limited to just 82 games. Following a promotion to Double-A this spring, he hit .306 in April and is batting .439 in May. His triple in the eighth highlighted a six-run go-ahead rally for Jackson.
"It was his fourth hit of the game -- he hit the ball hard three previous times up. He's just been solid all year offensively," Pankovits said. "He's swung the bat well, driven the ball, had really good at-bats. With runners at the corners in a tied game, he came through for us with a triple down the right-field line in the corner."
The left-handed native of the Dominican Republic has 18 hits, two homers, 10 RBIs and a .477 on-base percentage in his last 10 games for Jackson. He's hitting .500 with runners on base and .444 with runners in scoring position.
Numbers like that make things easier in the dugout for Pankovits.
"No doubt about it, he has been our most clutch hitter from day one," he said. "And it's unfortunate that he had a little tweak in the first series of the year at Jacksonville, because he was hitting well over .400 after that series, and then he missed some time."
Morban has played all three outfield positions and possesses a strong arm, making him pretty versatile in Jackson's defense.
"He's played right field for me because of his leg issue early on. We didn't want him to do as much running in center, but I'm told center field may be just as a strong of a position for him. He has the arm strength to play them all. It's just a matter of being healthy and running [fly balls] down."
Pankovits said he's also been impressed with Morban's transition this year, moving from one of the most hitter-friendly venues in baseball into the Southern League.
"I think most kids that play at this level, for the first time, I think it's one of the toughest jumps," Pankovits said. "And for him, it's just being consistent and continuing to use the whole field and not over swinging and not lunging, not doing too much."