One need only look at the box score from a June 7 game between Lancaster and Rancho Cucamonga to define Zach Daeges as a ballplayer.
The 23-year-old left fielder doubled, tripled and homered in his first three at-bats that night. With the JetHawks leading in the seventh inning, 13-4, he ripped a line drive over the right fielder's head.
No one would have blamed Daeges, drafted by the Red Sox out of Creighton University in 2006 (sixth round), for stopping at first base. The game was well out of hand and hitting for the cycle is rare, even among Minor Leaguers. But Daeges busted it out of the batter's box and raced around first to pick up his second double of the game. He scored later that inning and again in the eighth, capping a career-best five-run game.
Daeges raised his batting average to .326 that night and finished the season at .330 with an on-base percentage of .423. He slugged 21 home runs and led the California League in runs scored (124), RBIs (113), doubles (55), walks (82) and total bases (298). For his outstanding play, he was named MiLB.com's Class A Advanced Offensive Player of the Year.
"I'm most proud that I was able to stay consistent throughout the season," said Daeges. "In Short-Season last year, I had a few prolonged slumps of a week or more and I wanted to erase those this year. I made a goal of making sure I didn't dwell on a 0-for-4 night and made it important to get a couple of hits the next night."
So with consistency at the plate his immediate focus, Daeges began his season looking to minimize his hitless nights. He went 0-for-4 on April 9 and smacked two hits the next night. After another 0-for-4 on April 23, he went 10-for-19 over the next four games. Daeges backed up almost every hitless game by notching a hit the following game. In fact, he went hitless in back-to-back games only three times during the regular season and his batting average dropped below .300 just once (on May 30).
"It's important to take your walks," he said. "The coaches and scouts in our organization talk about it all the time. They stress a selectively aggressive approach at the plate. By taking walks, I know in my head that I'm still seeing the ball well and that my approach hasn't changed. That, more than anything, helped me to stay hot at the plate. I didn't try to change anything."
Daeges turned himself into the kind of player that baseball statisticians fantasize about. His All-Star break numbers (.326, 57 runs, 88 hits, 25 doubles, 54 RBIs and 41 walks) were nearly identical to his post All-Star stats (.335, 67 runs, 82 hits, 30 doubles, 59 RBIs, and 41 walks). He had 58 multiple-hit games, three two-homer games and walked twice or more in a game 18 times.
It was quite a different experience for Daeges than in 2006, when he batted .288 with a .420 on-base percentage, 32 RBIs and 24 runs with the Class A Short-Season Lowell Spinners. Though a very productive season, Daeges is the first to admit he battled through a few slumps that lasted longer than he would have liked.
"I feel like this year was kind of the opposite of last year," he said. "There were weeks last year, especially toward the end of the year, where it felt like I'd get a hit one night and then be hitless for a week. My walks went down and my strikeouts went up. I probably tried a bit too hard to break out. I kept it much simpler this year."
As for any regrets about missing out on a chance at baseball history on June 7, Daeges wouldn't bite.
"It just felt like the right thing to do that night," said Daeges. "I don't regret it, even though my teammates ribbed me about it, joking that I had lost my only chance at a cycle. But the ball went over the right fielder's head, and I'd have felt terrible not turning that into a double."
Spoken like a true ballplayer.