Over 126 games spanning his first two professional seasons, Ryan Rua batted a robust .297 with 50 walks. But he belted only 11 home runs.
In 42 games with Class A Hickory this season, the Rangers prospect already has surpassed that total. He smacked two more homers on Tuesday night, adding a double and finishing with six RBIs in the Crawdads' 7-2 victory over visiting Greenville.
The pair of round-trippers give him 13 for the year, leapfrogging teammate Joey Gallo for the South Atlantic League lead.
"I'm just trying to put myself in good hitting counts," Rua said. "I'm trying not to chase pitches and get pitches over the plate that I'm able to drive."
A few thinks have accounted for Rua's breakout. For one, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound second baseman has improved the way he prepares and maintains his body. He has a tendency to lose weight, especially in-season. But he's continued to improve the way he packs on muscle during the offseason and has made strides with his diet and in-season workout habits to maintain that bulk.
"My main focus is getting stronger, both in my upper and lower body," he said. "I tend to lose a lot of weight during the season, whether that's because of eating habits or playing every day.
"It's a maturing process and understanding that you're playing every day and out there every day. ... We get after it in the weight room here and try to pack in as much protein and carbs as I can."
Beyond improving his physical stature, Rua's made strides mechanically. While attending Lake Erie College, he developed a pre-swing leg kick, and the timing mechanism has created some problems for him in pro ball.
Rua's batting stance is slightly open. And as he strides to a position more lateral with home plate, he'll lift his left leg about a foot off the ground, using it to generate momentum and time the approaching pitch. It's a useful tool when it works, but when his timing is off or he gets overzealous with his stride, he'll often end up striding too far and lunging at the ball.
When he keeps the stride under control, his body can stay tall and his hands can stay back, putting him in a better position to see the ball and attack it. When it goes well, he gets results like Tuesday night, when he drove both of his home runs over the left-field wall.
"I'm just trying to be quick to the ball," Rua said. "I'm trying to use my hands a lot more, not muscle it out. I'm also staying back a lot more."
Rua's most timely hit was actually a two-run double in the sixth. After Nick Vickerson walked and Rangers No. 5 prospect Jorge Alfaro singled, Rua drove them in with a two-base hit to left. He came around to score on Gallo's single to right, giving Hickory a 4-2 lead.
Alfaro finished 2-for-4 and scored twice.