When Chris DeVito began playing college baseball, he was without a scholarship. A few years later, he's now contending for the label of the Appalachian League's top run producer in his first professional season.
The first baseman with the Burlington Royals went on an August tear, and it turned out to be a record-setting effort.
"I'm not about that," DeVito said of the individual accomplishment. "For me, I just want to finish what we've done here, trying to win a championship."
DeVito, 21, has done his part for Burlington, who won the East Division title for only the second time in its 10-year affiliation with Kansas City.
"It's a very, very impressive season," Burlington manager Scott Thorman said. "It's an accomplishment [to reach 50 RBIs] in short-season ball."
With one game left in the regular season, DeVito is just two RBIs behind the league lead with 50 (Bluefield's Bradley Jones has 52). It's the first time since 2011 that more than one player in the league has reached 50 RBI.
DeVito, an eighth-round pick after his junior season with the University of New Mexico, has made the defensive adjustment to full-time status as a first baseman after spending time as a catcher in college.
The left-handed batter has slugged nine home runs, though only two of those came during a recent surge of production. DeVito drove in 17 runs across a nine-game stretch that blended into the final week of the regular season.
"RBIs come from your teammates being on base," he said. "They've been giving me the opportunities.… That's one of my favorite things I do is driving in runs. I don't care how I do it because runs equal wins."
DeVito is anchored in the cleanup spot in Burlington's lineup. He's aided by shortstop Nicky Lopez, the leadoff batter, topping the league in runs scored with 54.
With DeVito at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Thorman said the first thing you notice is his size and power.
"He has been a force in the middle of the lineup from the first game," Thorman said.
DeVito has pulled off some stunning workouts in the weight room, but he said he has to temper those.
"I could do better, but I'm a baseball player," he said.
DeVito set the single-season team record, reaching the 49-RBI mark with five games remaining. That passed the previous standard sent by Patrick Leonard with 46 in 2012.
Burlington opens the best-of-3 playoff semifinals this weekend against either the Bluefield Blue Jays or Princeton Rays.
Win and they're in: The Elizabethton Twins have been in playoff mode down the stretch, particularly with a schedule that had them slated for their final six games against the Greeneville Astros, who were the only team capable of keeping them out of the postseason. The Twins won the first two of those matchups to wrap up a West Division playoff spot opposite the Johnson City Cardinals. "It's a strange schedule," said Twins manager Ray Smith, who's the all-time winningest manager in the league. "I don't know how that happened."
Birds with the bats: With three of the top four players in the league's batting race going into the last day of the season, the odds favor the Johnson City Cardinals producing their first league batting champion since 2008. Shortstop Allen Cordoba leads the way, with second baseman J.R. Davis and outfielder Matt Fiedler contending as well. Johnson City has four batters in the top seven in the league. Last season, the Cardinals had only two players finish above .300.
Champs go down: The 2015 league champion Greeneville Astros didn't qualify for the postseason, but manager Josh Bonifay said there were positive aspects of the season. "We've had a real good year development-wise," he said, pointing to numerous promotions and, therefore, roster changes. "It's always a challenge seeing new faces all the time coming through the clubhouse."