Sam Eberle had trouble adjusting to the velocity of the pro game in his first stint with Salem-Keizer last summer. This time around, the rest of the Northwest League is having trouble keeping up with his impressive pace at the plate.
Eberle blasted a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth inning Friday night, sending the short-season Volcanoes on their way to a 4-1 victory at Everett.
The Giants prospect struck out in his first two at-bats before homering to right-center field off AquaSox starter Thyago Vieira with a man aboard and one out in the sixth. The Brazilian right-hander had allowed just one run over 22 2/3 innings this season before Eberle connected on a fastball up and away.
"[Vieira] had good stuff. He kept the ball down in the zone, located in and out well and mixed in the curveball from time to time, which really throws off your timing," Eberle said. "He really knows how to pitch."
The 23-year-old DH is riding a six-game hitting streak and three homers in his last three games to bring his season total to four, tying him with Boise's Yasiel Balaguert for the league lead. Of Eberle's 25 hits, 15 have gone for extra bases.
"It's just being used to the pitching, and I made a few adjustments during Spring Training with my swing," Eberle said. "I got down on my legs more, used more of my legs to stay through the ball and catch up to the velocity [of professional pitchers]."
The 2012 25th-round Draft pick has done his damage in all situations. He has a 1.040 OPS with the bases empty, a 1.029 OPS with runners on and a 1.203 OPS with men in scoring position. He leads the league with a 1.034 overall mark.
Last year, Eberle had a .630 OPS in 36 games for Salem-Keizer. The Volcanoes' cleanup hitter had just come off posting a .548 on-base percentage for Jacksonville State University before struggling in his first taste of pro ball.
"It was a pretty humbling experience, just facing guys that are great and that are at a higher level," Eberle said. "It teaches you a lot about the game. Having to deal with failure is a big part of it. I think that experience has helped me a lot this year."
The difference has been working in the cage on facing higher velocity than Eberle saw in college.
"My mentality is different this year," he said. "I wasn't prepared fully last year for the velocity I was going to be facing, really facing guys that threw that hard every day."
Eberle's blast proved decisive as Jeff Soptic, Cameron McVey and Eduardo Encinosa combined for four scoreless frames to preserve the win for starter Andrew Leenhouts (3-0). Leenhouts gave up a run on three hits while striking out four over five innings in a battle of the league's top two teams.
The victory was Salem-Keizer's franchise-record eighth straight on the road, where the Volcanoes are a league-best 10-1.