The number that stood out the most about Cody Ehlers heading into the 2006 season was 248.
That would have been a great figure had it been the number of RBIs he had driven in through his first two professional seasons. It would have been a fantastic number if it was his hit total over those two years as well.
Put a decimal point in front of that number, though, and you get Ehlers' batting average in his first two seasons after being drafted by the Yankees out of the University of Missouri in 2004 (11th round). So when the 2006 season rolled around, not too many folks were paying attention to the Oklahoma native when he suited up for Tampa in the Florida State League.
But they're paying attention now after Ehlers put together a spectacular season on the Class A Advanced circuit, putting himself squarely on New York's prospect map and showing the type of promise that has folks in the Bronx eager to see what he'll do for an encore. Ehlers put together a career season, batting .298 with an FSL-leading 106 RBIs.
Ehlers also had 18 homers, was third in hits (148) and slugging percentage (.487) and first in doubles (38) and extra-base hits (57). For his efforts, he was tabbed as MiLB.com's Class A Advanced Offensive Player of the Year.
And all it took to turn around what was slowly becoming a mediocre career was a better outlook and approach. It sounds simple but only because Ehlers made it look that way.
"You know, maybe I caught a few people off guard this year," said Ehlers, an FSL All-Star. "But the ones that count, like myself, my parents and my coaches, they knew what I was capable of. Last year (2005), I had a decent year, but I didn't do everything I was capable of doing. I learned a lot of positive and negative things last year.
"I just started to focus on the positive and minimize the negative. Just use your head because baseball is such a mental game. If you lose your head, things can snowball in a hurry. Last year, I never had a really negative outlook, but I had some rough times as far as hitting was concerned. And when things aren't going your way, your average is going to suffer."
So Ehlers decided it was simply time to focus on remaining consistent. He also seems to have come to terms with the fact that at this point in his career, he's not going to be a big-time power hitter. Ehlers has finally made the adjustment to a wooden bat and has become a gap threat as a result. Look no further than his extra-base hit total for proof.
He also got stronger as the season progressed, hitting .346 with 20 RBIs in August. And left-handed pitching didn't seem to provide much of a problem for him, either. He hit .316 (37-for-117) against southpaws with a homer and 20 RBIs.
"I've turned into a gap guy with occasional power," said Ehlers, who hit 18 homers as a senior at Missouri. "I have a natural loft on the ball and it tends to go out if I square up right on it. I'm just looking to get stronger and more experienced now. If I do that, I don't see why I can't hit 20 home runs next year and become a 25- to 30-home run guy every year. It will come with my development."
Ehlers also believes that he has "the whole Yankee thing" figured out now, too. He's thrilled at being in a winning system and having such a wonderful array of Hall of Famers and coaches with whom to work. But he's aware that despite the recent success of Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano, getting promoted in the New York system sometimes can be more difficult than with other organizations.
"If you can succeed in the Yankees organization, though, you can succeed in any organization," said Ehlers, who figures to start next season at Double-A Trenton. "Of course, you'd be foolish not to be positive and believe in yourself. You have to play and think like you should be in the Major Leagues, whether you're with the Yankees or the Devil Rays.
"It's just a matter of getting out there and letting things fall into place. That's the best way to look at it."
And everything certainly fell into place for Ehlers this season.