Brent Keys doesn't have a problem getting on base. Getting on the field, though, has proven more difficult.
"It's been beyond frustrating," the Miami Marlins outfield prospect said of his injury woes.
But when Keys has been able to play, it's been opposing pitchers who've felt the pain.
"It seems like every at-bat, he gets on base," Jupiter manager Andy Haines said of his leadoff man.
That's only a slight exaggeration.
Keys won the South Atlantic League batting title a year ago, despite two trips to the disabled list. He's hitting even better this season in the Florida State League, even though he missed the first month of the season.
The 22-year-old California native followed up his .335 average with Class A Greensboro a year ago by batting .353 in his first 34 games with Jupiter this season.
"He's off to a great start and it's even more impressive with the time he missed," Haines said.
Keys, who has a lengthy history of hamstring woes, missed the first month of the season after injuring his left leg at the start of mini-camp prior to Spring Training.
"I worked so hard all winter, and then it happened again the first day," said Keys, who had previously experienced more problems with his right hamstring. "It's been maddening."
If the Marlins' No. 20 prospect didn't have bad luck, he wouldn't have any at all. Hamstring woes limited Keys, a 17th-round pick in the 2009 Draft, to 43 games in 2011 anfter he missed nearly a month last year with the same thing.
"I had a hamstring strain my junior year in high school, but I didn't think it wasn't anything serious," said Keys, whose Simi Valley team won a Southern California title that year. "I don't know where all this is coming from. I've worked hard on my legs and do all the stretching. That's why it is so frustrating."
It was another injury, though, that almost kept Keys from qualifying for the battle title last year. He was hit on the wrist by a pitch, knocking him out of action for nearly two weeks in August and limiting him to 95 games.
"It seems like I'm due for some better luck," he said.
Of course, pitchers feel unlucky when they have to face the pesky left-handed hitter.
Keys joined Jupiter in early May and began hitting almost immediately. He had nine multi-hit games over a two-week stretch in the middle of the month, highlighted by a 4-for-4 game with a home run at Tampa. The former NFL Punt, Pass and Kick national champion batted .356 in 25 games during May and hit .343 over his first nine in June. His on-base percentage was .429 thanks to 17 walks, and he had struck out just eight times in 136 at-bats.
"His strike zone awareness and concentration at the plate are impressive," Haines said. "He knows his game and sticks to it. The more you watch him play, the more you appreciate just how good he is."
In high school, Keys listed Juan Pierre, the present Marlins leadoff hitter and left fielder, as his favorite player. Could he someday fill that role in Miami? The rebuilding Marlins have a lot of young outfielders coming up, but Keys is now in the prospect mix.
Simi Valley High School has produced a lot of Major League pitchers, including Jeff and Jered Weaver. Position players, though, have been scarce.
Keys could change that. All he has to do is get on base and stay healthy.
Carrying on: Fort Myers first baseman Kennys Vargas has been left to carry most of the offensive load after third baseman Miguel Sano, second baseman Eddie Rosario and center fielder Angel Morales were all promoted to Double-A New Britain after the Miracle clinched the South Division first-half title. It's a big challenge, but he could be up to it. Vargas, whom manager Doug Mientkiewicz called the team's MVP, led Fort Myers with 51 RBIs and was batting .294 with 12 homers in 60 games through Monday. The 22-year-old from Puerto Rico was selected to play in the FSL All-Star Game.
New life: Dunedin right-hander Scott Copeland, named to the North team for the FSL All-Star Game, has thrived since joining the Toronto organization last season after being released by Baltimore. He is 6-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 13 starts this year after going 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA in seven games at the end of last season with Dunedin. Copeland, 25, had one complete game in 2012 and has two this season. He was a 21st-round pick in the 2010 Draft by the Orioles out of Southern Mississippi.
Rolling along: Jupiter righty Anthony DeSclafani allowed just two hits over six scoreless innings in a no-decision against St. Lucie on Sunday, lowering his ERA to 1.67, third-best in the FSL. He was 4-2 and had 53 strikeouts to nine walks in 54 innings. DeSclafani, 23, came to the Miami organization as part of a blockbuster winter trade between the Marlins and Blue Jays. The former University of Florida standout was 11-3 with 3.27 ERA for Class A Lansing last year.