In 2010 Jim Murphy was teammates at Clearwater with Darin Ruf, a 20th-round Draft pick who led the entire Minor Leagues with 38 homers last season before gaining a September callup to Philadelphia. This year Murphy has has eyes on a similar feat, bidding to become the second Reading player in a row to lead the Eastern League -- if not all the Minors -- in long balls and hopefully even follow Ruf's road to the Majors.
Murphy, a 17th-rounder in 2006 out of Washington State, homered against Trenton on July 16, then hit two more the next day versus the Thunder and went deep again Saturday at Portland to give him a league-high 19 roundtrippers on the season. Over his first 97 games with Reading, the 27-year-old first baseman has batted a career-best .293 with 62 RBIs and a league-leading 185 total bases.
"I try to have quality at-bats every time up," Murphy said. "I think my approach has been very good. I don't worry too much about numbers. If my process is good, the results will be there."
Indeed they have. Murphy hit .300 in April, amassed eight homers and 21 RBIs in May and batted .292 in June while earning a nod to the Eastern League All-Star Game.
It's been a long road for Murphy to get to this point. He had a solid season at Lakewood in 2009 but hit only .239 the following year at Clearwater and repeated both levels in 2011-12 before finally earning his first taste of Double-A to open this season. His career high in homers came in 2011, when he went deep 22 times in his second go-round with the BlueClaws.
"A tribute to perseverance," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. "Most guys learn to hit for power later in their career. Last year he had a nice year -- this year he is putting together a nice year. He's always been a pretty good hitter."
He spent last winter back home in Seattle before heading early to Spring Training in Clearwater.
"I just wanted to get down there and get acclimated with hitting outdoors. Being in the Northwest, it's tough to get a lot of field time" in the winter, said Murphy, who hails from Kirkland, Wash.
Murphy said he has more to prove as a late-round pick who, unlike Ruf, was not among the Phillies' top 20 prospect heading into this season.
"That's always the case when you are a senior [college] sign instead of a high school sign," he said.
Does he worry about being stuck behind the likes of Ruf, Ryan Howard and Lehigh Valley first baseman Cody Overbeck?
"You can't control anything like that," Murphy said. "I have to worry about myself and help my team win."
Though he's a long way from home, Murphy's parents have made trips to see him play this season. His mother helped throw out the first pitch on Mother's Day in Reading back in May. His father, who grew up in the Boston area, was an all-state quarterback growing up and walked on at Notre Dame. Some of Murphy's relatives from the New England area have also been able to support him on the road this season.
Getting results: Reading starter Jesse Biddle, the No. 1 Phillies prospect per MLB.com, improved to 4-9 with a 7-5 win over host Portland on Thursday. He had lost his previous two starts against the Sea Dogs this season. Biddle gave up two runs -- one earned -- on three hits in seven innings Thursday. "He did a nice job. His fastball command was a little bit better," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. "He's right where he needs to be." It was the seventh loss in a row for Portland. "It was good to get some runs on the board," Portland manager Kevin Boles told The Press-Herald. "Hopefully that's a positive sign for things in the future."
Something's catching: The dog days of August are around the corner and attrition seems to be taking a toll on some Eastern League clubs, especially among catchers, as Akron's Chris Wallace and Harrisburg's Sandy Leon both landed on the disabled list Thursday. That same day, Bowie activated backstop Brian Ward from the DL and sent Ronny Paulino to Norfolk, while the Senators got Brian Jeroloman from Syracuse.
Double your pleasure: Trenton first baseman Andrew Clark had three hits -- all doubles -- and drove in a run as the Thunder beat visiting New Hampshire, 8-2, on Sunday. A 13th-round pick of the Rangers in 2010 out of Louisville, Clark was signed by the Yankees on June 20 from Evansville of the independent Frontier League, where he was hitting .421. He batted .299 with 10 doubles and three homers in 107 at-bats in his first month with Trenton.