Bobby Borchering says he's happy to be back in a lineup, even if he's returned to a level that he probably never envisioned just a year ago.
The 22-year-old infielder, a first-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2009 who reached Double-A last season, is a Rookie leaguer again with the Greeneville Astros.
"I had some time off," said Borchering, who went home to Florida after Spring Training for what he termed a confidential matter. "It's good getting back in games and playing under lights again."
On the surface, it's not like Borchering's career has been in a freefall. He belted 24 home runs last year between Class A Advanced and Double-A. He also was involved in a late-July trade from the D-backs organization to Houston in a deal that sent big league infielder Chris Johnson to Arizona.
Until June, Borchering's only time in Rookie ball came in 2009 after he was drafted out of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla., and joined Missoula of the Northwest League.
"It's kind of like reliving my Minor League career," he said. "I'm happy to be back playing baseball and getting my feet wet again."
Greeneville manager Josh Bonifay equated Borchering's appearance in the Appy League as "a rehab assignment."
"He's an older guy and has been able to help the younger guys," Bonifay said.
In reality, though Borchering's experience level is greater than others in the league, there are four position players on the Greeneville roster who are older. He became familiar with many of his current teammates during the spring, then met others who came on board from June's Draft.
"I've made a lot of good friends with the new signees," he said. "It's good to be around some guys who are around the same age. … Gives you a lot of perspective."
His role on the Greeneville club comes as a boost to the Astros, with both his bat and his experience.
"He's a class act," outfielder Marc Wik said. "He keeps everyone in a good, positive mood. He's working his way back up. He's slowly getting there."
All this comes as Borchering adapts to a new organization. He called his goals undeterred.
"I'm still the same guy, the same person," Borchering said. "Doing what I can do to get back there and get to the big leagues."
Borchering played mostly as a third baseman or outfielder the past few years. Now, he appears targeted as a first baseman, though he said the best description would be as a corner infielder.
"I just mainly like to hit," the switch-hitter said.
He's batted either third or fifth in the order in 11 games for the Astros and connected for his first homer of the year July 1 against Burlington. He batted in the fourth and fifth spots during the times when he said he was most comfortable during his climb in the D-backs organization.
In many ways, he was accustomed to the spotlight as a first-round Draft choice. He said some of the scrutiny might have waned.
"You do have a lot of attention on you [as a high Draft pick]," he said. "Now you feel a lot more relaxed going through this."
He helps his teammates by being in the lineup. Wik has noticed.
"Especially with him behind me [in the batting order]," Wik said, "it's great."
Borchering pushed his batting average to .250 at the start of the week, buoyed by a 6-for-12 stretch in three games against the Royals. It's a matter of rediscovering his timing, Bonifay said.
"Borchering is starting to come around," he said. "You've seen his stats. You've seen what he has done in the past."
On the other end: Johnson City reliever Fernando Baez seems to be making a nice transition to the mound, with 12 strikeouts over his first five innings of the season. "It's been exciting to watch his development as a pitcher," manager Joe Kruzel told the Johnson City Press. "He used to be a catcher. He's just really starting to pitch."
He could get used to this: Princeton Rays righty Nolan Gannon, a 19-year-old and a fourth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays last year, has shown good control by racking up eight strikeouts without a walk across his first two outings. For a Southern Californian who turned down a scholarship offer from San Diego State, it has been an adjustment in the Appalachian League. "My goal is every day to just to get a little bit better, a little bit better and catch some eyes and just compete at the level that I am capable of competing at," Gannon told the Bluefield (W.Va.) Daily Telegraph.
No birthday gift: Right-hander Chris Flexen returned for his second season with the Kingsport Mets. After not allowing an earned run over four innings in his first outing, he gave up three solo homers to the Elizabethton Twins in his next assignment Sunday night. That came on the eve of his 19th birthday. He allowed only two homers in 32 innings last year.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.