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SL notes: Rays' Kiermaier answers call07/02/2013 6:00 AM ET
By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com
Kevin Kiermaier couldn't stay on the field last season. This year, pitchers haven't been able to keep him off the bases.
"After what happened, it's about time I had some good fortune," Montgomery's fleet-footed center fielder said.
A year after breaking a bone in each hand, Kiermaier's only goal for this season was to stay healthy. He's been able to accomplish more than that, though.
The left-handed hitter led the Southern League with a .323 average at the end of June. He was also first with nine triples and ranked second with 59 runs scored. Not bad for a 31st-round Draft pick who played just 63 games at three levels a year ago thanks to some of the worst luck imaginable.
Kiermaier, 23, broke his left hand the second day of the season when he was hit by a pitch while with Class A Advanced Charlotte and then, after missing five weeks, broke his right hamate during a swing the second week back, this time being sidelined six weeks.
"I had never broken a bone in my life and then to have it happen twice," the Indiana native said. "I couldn't believe it."
Kiermaier, though, was honored as the top defensive player in the Tampa Bay system at season's end, and he's been showing off his two-way talent ever since. Getting a chance to make up some of his missed playing time, Kiermaier hit .348 in the Arizona Fall League and has continued that hot hitting for Montgomery this season.
Kiermaier batted .306 in April, .316 in May and .342 in June, when he took over the lead in the league batting race. He finished the month with 15 hits in his final 37 at-bats, including three doubles, three triples and two home runs.
After starting the year batting in the bottom third of the order, Kiermaier has thrived since moving to the leadoff spot, although he is not one to take a lot of extra pitches.
"I'm an aggressive hitter," said Kiermaier, who has 26 walks to 50 strikeouts and a .382 on-base percentage. "I'm ready to hit the first good fastball I see."
Kiermaier's speed, though, fits well with the leadoff spot, and he has capitalized on it with 13 stolen bases and more than a dozen bunt hits.
"I'm not afraid to lay it down at any time," he said.
That's all part of Kiermaier's redefined approach of the plate. He is not trying to do too much and as a result has been doing a lot.
"I've always been under the radar," he said.
As a pitcher and shortstop, Kiermaier helped lead Fort Wayne's Bishop Luers High School to an Indiana state championship. But until he was spotted by the coach at Parkland College in the title game, he didn't have an offer to keep playing.
After convincing coach Matt Kennedy to move him to center field, Kiermaier set records in five hitting categories at the Illinois school and his team twice reached the National Junior College Division II World Series, winning it his freshman year in 2009 as he took MVP honors.
Again, though, Kiermaier was underappreciated. Purdue now wanted him, but he was more interested in the Draft.
"I was told I'd go in the eighth to 15th round," Kiermaier said of the 2010 Draft. "So the second day, I had a Draft party and waited."
A call didn't come.
Finally, Tampa Bay took Kiermaier on the third day. When the Rays offered $75,000 -- more than the norm for a player taken in the 31st round -- he turned down Purdue and got started on his Minor League journey.
"I'm thankful for the way everything worked out. I know that I might not have ever gotten a chance at all," he said. "But I want to show that I'm a better player than some people thought. I've tried to outwork everyone, and that hard work is starting to pay off."
Power shortage: The possibility of the Southern League finishing without anyone hitting 20 homers increased when Jacksonville right fielder Kyle Jensen was promoted to Triple-A New Orleans. He led the league with 16 homers, three more than Huntsville's Brock Kjeldgaard and Chattanooga's Joc Pederson. Six players hit at least 20 homers last season. Hunter Morris of Huntsville led with 28, and Jensen smashed 24.
Streak over: Jackson snapped Nick McCully's five-game winning streak as a starter with a 5-3 victory on Sunday, but the Birmingham right-hander still leads the Southern League with a 0.86 WHIP. McCully, who made seven relief appearances before moving into the rotation May 9, is 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA and opponents are hitting .169 against him. McCully, 24, was a ninth-round selection by St. Louis in the 2009 Draft and picked up by the Chicago White Sox in 2011.
Heating up: Mobile shortstop Nick Ahmed ended June with a two-hit game, giving him a .287 average for the month. That's a vast improvement from the first two months of the season, when the slick fielder batted .163 in April and .113 in May. For the season, his average is .195. Ahmed, 23, is ranked as Arizona's No. 6 prospect.