When Evan Crawford
joined the Daytona Cubs late last season, manager Buddy Bailey was immediately impressed with the newcomer's speed. His hitting, though, left something to be desired.
"I thought you could knock the bat out of his hands," Bailey said.
That was last year. Not this season.
Thanks to a new batting stance and a busy offseason workout schedule, Crawford has gone from a relative pushover at the plate to a candidate for the Florida State League batting title.
"That would definitely be nice," said the right-handed hitting outfielder. "It would be something to add to my resume."
Crawford is batting .333 -- second behind Juan Lagares' .339. But Lagares was promoted from St. Lucie to Double-A Binghamton recently, making Crawford the leader among active qualifiers.
Well, Crawford is actually only semi-active at the moment. A back strain has the speedster out of the Daytona lineup temporarily.
"I should be back in there soon," he said. "They just wanted to give it a little time to cool down."
There has been no way to cool Crawford at the plate this season. He hit .361 in May and is batting .398 in July. His average was .333 when he played in the Florida State League All-Star Game, and it's .333 since.
How is that for being consistent?
"I've been pretty locked in all season," said Crawford, who also is fifth in the league with 23 stolen bases in 28 attempts.
Dropping down bunts and using his speed to create infield hits has helped keep the average up. But Crawford has also shown line-drive power at times, which really wasn't the case a year ago. Although he has just one homer, Crawford has 21 doubles and five triples, giving him a .436 slugging mark to go with a .393 on-base percentage.
"He's gotten stronger," Bailey said. "He's hit some balls harder this year than I thought he was capable of. His added strength has helped his bat speed a lot. If he keeps progressing like he has, he has a chance to hit a lot of doubles."
Crawford, who turns 23 on Aug. 5, was taken in the ninth round of the 2009 Draft by San Francisco after helping Indiana win the Big Ten title. He came to the Cubs on Aug. 14 last year in a trade that sent Major League infielder Mike Fontenot to the Giants.
"I was definitely surprised," Crawford said. "You don't expect to get traded, especially in August."
Crawford ended up hitting a combined .255 with Augusta of the South Atlantic League and Daytona, but he has been a different hitter this season.
The Cubs had Crawford change to an upright and closed stance from his former crouch. That has paid off. So have winter workouts at Ohio State with other Minor Leaguers, three of whom have made Major League debuts this season.
Crawford, who enjoys writing poetry in his free time, was born in St. Louis and continued to be a die-hard Cardinals fan after moving to Ohio. Now, though, it is with the rival Cubs that his loyalties rest.
"I'm glad to be with the Cubs, and I'd be happy to beat the Cardinals someday," Crawford said. "You have to be a fan of the team you're with."
Unbeaten no more: Darin Gorski finally lost after starting the season with 10 consecutive victories to break the St. Lucie record of nine set by Pat Strange in 1980. The left-hander gave up a tie-breaking run in the seventh inning Sunday to lose, 3-2, to Brevard County despite pitching a complete game in the opener of a doubleheader. Gorski leads the league with a 2.15 ERA, and his 10 victories were tied for second behind 12-game winner Julio Rodriguez of Clearwater.
Wracking up the Ks: Clearwater right-hander Trevor May raised his league-leading strikeout total to 151 in 112 innings after fanning 11 over six innings in a victory against Fort Myers on Sunday. It was the fourth time in his past 10 starts that Philadelphia's No. 6 prospect had struck out at least 10, including a 14-strikeout effort on June 22.
Getting back on track: Right-hander Alex Wimmers, Minnesota's first-round pick in the 2010 Draft and No. 8 prospect, rejoined Fort Myers. He walked six without getting an out in a start April 11 and was shut down to work on his control problems. He has pitched three times out of the bullpen in his return and struck out 10 while walking six in five innings. Twice named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year for Ohio State, Wimmers was 2-0 with 0.57 ERA in four starts for Fort Myers after signing last year.