As temperatures have climbed from near-freezing to the mid-70s in the Midwest League, Great Lakes Loons left fielder Ariel Sandoval has seen his bat heat up as well.
Sandoval boosted his batting average nearly 60 points in the past 16 games and is burning Midwest League pitching for a .351 batting average since May 10.
Playing in his first full professional season, Sandoval, a native of Sabana Grande de Boya, Dominican Republic, has taken advantage of the thaw.
Sandoval, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound 20-year-old who hits right-handed, capped his recent surge with a grand slam in the fifth inning against Lansing on May 21, sparking the Loons to a 5-4 victory.
"The biggest reason is the heat," Sandoval said through a translator. "The heat coming in and the cold fading out has really helped. When it was cold, I never put pressure on myself to hit. I knew the cold was eventually going to go away, and I was going to hit.
"I've always kind of been the guy that likes to take a big swing. I've adjusted and swung at better pitches this past month. If I can swing at strikes, I'll be OK."
Maturity is another key factor in Sandoval's development. He signed as a 17-year-old for a $150,000 bonus. Growing up in pro baseball proved challenging. He hit .255 in 2013 and then dropped to .221 in 2014. Last season, he took a major step, hitting .325 in the Arizona League and earning a chance to advance.
"That first year was tough," Sandoval said. "I didn't have the greatest year. My second year, I ended up back in Arizona. Everybody else moved up. I had to gear up and be better and be more consistent so I could move up.
"I missed my family. I couldn't concentrate much, being away from home like that. It was tough, because I had never been away from home before for a very long time. Plus, the food, it's totally different. I had to adjust to eating different foods every day. I'm adjusting better now."
Great Lakes manager Gil Velazquez said the Dodgers love Sandoval's potential.
"Ariel is an electric player," Velazquez said. "He runs hard, he throws hard, he has a good arm. He just hits the ball hard. He hits it in the gap, he can hit for power. He's got a line-drive type of swing. When he puts a good swing on a good pitch, he has good trajectories on the ball. It's not sky high."
Velazquez said the Dodgers are committed to helping Sandoval -- and all of their young players -- mature.
"The Dodgers organization is really big on creating strong men in life in general," he said. "We try to teach our players that the little things matter. We stress team camaraderie. Ariel has learned a lot, and he's still learning."
Road warriors: The South Bend Cubs hit the road for 14 games in 15 days. Before the road trip, the Cubs were 4-6 away from home. On their recent 14-game swing, the Cubs went 9-5 and returned home in first place after a four-game sweep of Lake County. "It's tough being on the road for 15 days," Cubs pitcher Justin Steele said. "You're not playing in front of your fans. The home team always has an advantage. For us to come out of it 9-5 is really impressive. We embraced it. We all knew we had a 14-game road series, so we tried to make the best of it and come out on top. A road trip like that makes you mentally tougher. You're living out of a suitcase for two weeks. I thought we did a good job of adjusting to it."
Shutout artist: Cedar Rapids pitcher Randy LeBlanc ran up a scoreless streak of 34 2/3 innings, a stretch that spanned four starts. The streak ended with two outs in the seventh inning against Burlington, but LeBlanc still earned a 4-1 victory. The streak started after LeBlanc gave up a two-out RBI hit to Brendon Sanger on April 19, and it ended on a two-out RBI hit by Sanger on Tuesday night.
Line-up change-up: Fort Wayne underwent some coaching changes as part of a recent shuffle in the San Diego Padres farm system. TinCaps hitting coach Lance Burkhart was named manager of Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore on Monday. He replaced Francisco Morales, who resigned. Vinny Lopez, Fort Wayne's infield coach, is now the TinCaps hitting coach.
Curt Rallo is a contributor to MiLB.com.