EL notes: James rises to the challenge

R-Phils' athletic outfielder put pitching, football in the past

By David Driver / Special to MLB.com | June 26, 2012 6:12 AM ET

A three-sport athlete in high school, Jiwan James was a highly recruited football standout but decided to seek a career as a pitcher instead.

These days, James isn't focused on either of those pursuits. Now in his sixth season in the Minor Leagues, James is an everyday center fielder for the Reading Phillies in his first season at the Double-A level.

"I have no regrets," said James, who hit .259 in his first 69 games this year with nine doubles, three triples, six homers and five steals. "I feel like you have to be up to the challenge."

"He's a guy that will get real streaky," said Reading manager Dusty Wathan. "He'll use his speed to stay out of long slumps."

James committed to the University of Florida for baseball after his sophomore year at Williston High on Florida's Gulf Coast. By the time he was a senior, he had attracted attention for football from such programs as Florida State.

But James was committed to baseball, and he was drafted in the 22nd round by Philadelphia in 2007. He turned down the scholarship offer from Florida to sign with the Phillies, where he began his pro career in the Gulf Coast League in 2007 by going 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA in nine games.

James missed the 2008 season with an injury, and after that season, he said he approached the Phillies about becoming a position player. He had played center field in high school and believed it wasn't too late to make a change.

"That was my decision. I felt I could still play the outfield," he said. "It was a lot of work to play catch-up."

He hit .264 in 121 at-bats with Williamsport in the New York-Penn League in 2009, then moved up to Lakewood of the South Atlantic League the next season and hit .270 with 26 doubles, 33 steals, five homers and 64 RBIs in 556 at-bats.

James moved up again in 2011 to Class A Advanced Clearwater of the Florida State League and hit .268 with 26 doubles, 31 steals, four homers and 38 RBIs. He said playing in front of large crowds in Reading is a far cry from small crowds in Florida.

"The atmosphere is a lot different from Clearwater. You feel the fans' support," he said of a Reading club that averages 6,019 fans per game, second in the league to Richmond.

Does he have any specific goals for this year?

"I'm not a big goal-setter," he said, "as long as I see myself progressing."

In brief

Future in Reading: Reading had two pitchers -- Lisalverto Bonilla (Dominican Republic) and Julio Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) -- named to the World Team for the Futures Games, which will be played July 8 in Kansas City. "It's great. I'm really happy for those guys," said Reading manager Dusty Wathan. "Julio has not gotten some of the accolades that he may deserve."

Rough patch for aces: Two of the Eastern League's top pitchers early in the season have struggled in the past few weeks. Harrisburg's Dan Rosenbaum, who was 6-1 through May, fell to 7-4 with a loss at New Hampshire on Sunday. He gave up four earned runs in eight innings after allowing seven earned runs in his previous start at Portland. Reading's Trevor May, who was 5-0 in April, gave up four runs in seven innings June 20 at New Hampshire and had an ERA of 6.10 in his previous 10 outings.

Quick turnaround: After losing six in a row, New Britain won its fourth straight Sunday with a 7-3 victory at Richmond. Chris Colabello and Evan Bigley each had three hits for the Rock Cats, who entered this week with a league-worst average of .242 as a team. Bigley hit .400 in a 10-game stretch through Sunday with four doubles and two homers and was named the league's Offensive Player of the Week.

David Driver is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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