Delmarva first baseman Trey Mancini understands that the grind of professional baseball is as much mental as it is physical. The highs and lows over the course of the campaign can lead to an emotional roller coaster if a player isn't careful. Throw in the stresses associated with travel, particularly in a long-distance league like the South Atlantic, and the constant evaluations being done while playing for pay, and the subsequent ups and downs can create an imbalance for those who aren't prepared.
"You're going to fail a lot in this game," Mancini said. "My junior year at Notre Dame, that's when I feel like I started to learn how to handle failure. I finally learned that I would get too down on myself when I'd get into a little slump. Now I'm doing a much better job of picking myself up while realizing there's always tomorrow to do well."
Mancini has had to put his lessons from college to work during the first month of the 2014 season. On April 18, his two-run, two-out single in the ninth inning proved to be the difference in the Shorebirds' 2-1 victory at Greensboro. A night later, he started a three-game stretch in which he went 0-for-13 at the plate, beginning with an 0-for-6 outing versus the Grasshoppers. On April 24, the first baseman bounced back by opening a five-game hitting streak, going 7-for-18 through games of April 29.
As with many amateur players who prove worthy of consideration by professional scouts, Mancini experienced much more success than failure early in his career on the diamond. He dominated in high school in Florida prior to becoming the first Notre Dame freshman to lead the Irish in all three Triple Crown categories while hitting .323 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in earning 2011 Big East Rookie of the Year honors. After a strong sophomore slate, Mancini led the Big East with a .389 batting average and 138 total bases while ranking second with a .603 slugging percentage as a junior, which led to his being drafted in the eighth round by the Orioles last June.
"I was going to stay in Florida and play close to home before Notre Dame called me in July prior to my senior year of high school," said Mancini, who says his overall maturity and defense at first base represent his biggest improvements while in college. "I went on a visit and I fell in love with the place. I knew right when I got there that's where I wanted to go. It was really an easy decision."
Mancini then made an impressive debut in pro ball by ranking second in the New York-Penn League with a .328 batting average while adding 18 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 36 RBIs in 68 games. In addition to helping guide the IronBirds to their first playoff appearance, the first baseman was tabbed as Topps New York-Penn League Player of the Year at season's end and was ranked among the top prospects in the Baltimore farm system by numerous media outlets.
"In pro ball, it's nice not having to deal with all of the school work," Mancini said. "I'm just focusing on playing baseball every day, which is pretty much what I've dreamed of since I was a kid. I try to appreciate having the opportunity to play baseball as my job every time I step on the field."
The first baseman takes pride in all aspects of the game and works hard on becoming a solid all-around performer. Delmarva manager Ryan Minor has been impressed with Mancini's determination to become a plus defender at the position, particularly when many players do not consider first base to be a premium position.
"A lot of people think, if there's an extra guy who's not that good at defense, then you can stick him at first," said Mancini, who has played first base full-time since he was 10. "But I believe a lot more people are realizing first base is a more important position than it's made out to be. You have to be athletic over there in today's game, and there's a lot to learn in order to play the position well. I take pride in playing it and I want to be the best first baseman I can be."
Offensively, Mancini possesses a picture-perfect line drive swing that should generate more power as he gains experience in pro ball. He says his swing starts with his quick hands so that his bat can remain in the strike zone for as long as possible. Mancini's approach also includes hitting the ball to the opposite field by driving pitches to right-center.
His mature approach is also seen in the clubhouse. Mancini was considered to be one of the leaders at Aberdeen last year, and his determined personality has led to his becoming one of the leaders on a prospect-laden Shorebirds club.
"I'm not a guy who's going to give a big Rudy speech to try to pump everybody up, but I do try to lead by example," Mancini said. "A huge group of us played together in Aberdeen last year and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. We get along great, and there aren't any huge egos on the team. It's kind of like a college or high school approach to the team, which isn't common in pro ball. We have a group of guys who want to do well and win as a team."
Valaika on a roll: Asheville shortstop Patrick Valaika was riding a 16-game hitting streak through games of April 29, going 22-for-58 (.379) during that stretch. The UCLA product has hit safely in 18 of his 19 outings this season -- the lone exception being an 0-for-4 performance against Delmarva on April 6 -- and ranks third in the SAL batting race with a .368 average.
McMahon mashes Augusta: After recording only two hits in his first 20 at-bats against left-handed pitchers this year, Asheville third baseman Ryan McMahon swatted a grand slam off Augusta's Christian Jones in the third inning and wound up with six RBIs on the afternoon in the Tourists' 12-2 victory on April 27. That performance left McMahon tied atop the league leaderboard with 21 RBIs while standing alone in home runs with nine, four more than his closest competitors.
Greenville driving the ball: The Drive established a franchise mark for runs scored while swatting 23 hits in a 21-6 triumph over Lexington on April 27. Greenville, which also had 13 walks and two hit batsmen, had innings in which the team scored six, five and seven runs to break the previous record of 20 tallies, established on May 17, 2006, also against the Legends. Jake Romanski led the charge with five RBIs.
Caleb K's the Shorebirds: Charleston left-hander Caleb Smith was named the SAL Pitcher of the Week for April 21-27 after tossing a career-high six innings and fanning a career-best 13 batters in a 6-0 victory over the Shorebirds on April 24. The Sam Houston State University product allowed only three hits and one walk and recorded the most strikeouts for a RiverDogs pitcher since the franchise became a New York Yankees' affiliate in 2005.