Potomac catcher Adrian Nieto is maturing as a player, and his opponents are paying the price this season.
Nieto has grown after battling through some tough situations in his career, especially over the last two years. But everything's come together in 2013 as Nieto is putting the finishing touches on his best season to date, posting career highs in batting average, homers, RBIs and runs scored while helping Potomac become one of the Carolina League's top teams.
A fifth-round pick by the Nationals in the 2008 Draft, Nieto is hitting .294 with 11 homers, 49 RBIs and 65 runs scored in 103 games -- all career bests. In addition, the 23-year-old was an All-Star pick this season and said all of this success is giving him confidence.
"Finally, things are starting to come together," Nieto said. "I've always been told, 'You have the tools.' But now it's different. Now I'm seeing it."
Nieto's parents brought him to the United States from Cuba, escaping the island when he was 4 years old on a boat made in the 1950s. They spent 13 hours on the 20-foot wooden vessel until the Coast Guard rescued them, and the family wound up at Guantanamo Bay for just over six months before settling in Miami.
Nieto battled a groin injury in 2012 that sidelined him for six weeks, limiting him to 78 games, but it was a 2011 suspension that really woke him up. Nieto served a 50-game ban at the start of that season after violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He characterized it as an honest mistake, but took responsibility.
"The [suspension] was a big learning experience for me," Nieto said. "Those first couple of weeks, it was pretty tough. It was a reality check. I looked myself in the mirror and said, 'It's time to grow up.'"
He's done just that on the baseball field. After hitting poorly his first two-plus seasons, Nieto's average jumped to .278 in 2011. He hit .247 last year, hobbled by the groin strain, but everything has changed this season.
He batted .372 in June to help him stay around the .300 mark as Potomac prepares for the playoffs. Plus, he's thrown out 33 percent of would-be base-stealers this season.
Nieto played for Spain in the World Baseball Classic this year and said the tournament proved to be a tremendous learning experience. The youngest player on Spain's roster, he loved watching big leaguers such as Miguel Cabrera go about their jobs and paid close attention to the way they took batting practice. There always seemed to be a plan, and Nieto learned from that.
Potomac skipper Brian Daubauch, who also managed Nieto with Hagerstown in 2011 and '12, has seen his growth as a player first hand.
"Adrian's worked hard over the last couple of years," Daubach said. "I really felt like last year he was starting to come into his own. He's becoming a complete player."
Streak ends: Winston-Salem starter Jake Cose gave up one run on two hits over seven innings in last Thursday's 2-1 loss to Salem, ending his streak of 19 consecutive scoreless innings. The 22-year-old right-hander is 6-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 15 starts for the Dash.
That's wild: Lynchburg got some help from Wilmington pitcher Ali Williams in the ninth inning Friday. The right-handed reliever walked Chase Anselment and threw two wild pitches to move him to third. He uncorked a third wild pitch that moved another runner to second. David Rohm then gave Lynchburg a 6-5 victory with a sacrifice fly.
Walk-off walk: Glynn Davis came on as a defensive substitution for Frederick in the top of the 10th inning Saturday night versus Winston-Salem, but it was his bases-loaded walk in the bottom of that frame that gave the Keys an 8-7 victory over the Dash. The Keys went 6-for-12 with runners in scoring position in the contest.