FSL notes: Szczur conquers struggles

Daytona outfielder flashing potential following sluggish start

By Guy Curtright / Special to MLB.com | May 16, 2012 6:38 AM ET

The shirts play off the pronunciation of Matt Szczur's last name (pronounced like the Roman emperor Caesar) and are a clever way for the Daytona Cubs to make a few extra souvenir sales. "Hail Szczur," the $15 T-shirts read, with a laurel wreath crown surrounding Szcur's No. 4 and the D-Cubs logo.

It's a good thing the shirts didn't arrive until fairly recently, though. There wasn't much to hail the first couple of weeks of the season when it came to the center fielder or the team.

Szczur, the Chicago Cubs' No. 4 prospect, had just five hits in his first 37 at-bats and was hitting .176 when Daytona's record bottomed out at 2-11 on April 19.

But the former Villanova football standout began hitting as expected soon afterward, and the D-Cubs have improved as well, although they are still near the bottom of the Florida State League's North Division.

"It was a tough start," Szczur said. "But things have been getting better."

The early struggles in Daytona were in contrast to last year, when the D-Cubs started red-hot en route to the North's first-half championship and won the Florida State League title with a three-game sweep of St. Lucie in the championship series.

Szczur joined Daytona for the second half after hitting .311 for Peoria of the Midwest League and batted .368 in the postseason.

But with Brett Jackson playing center field for Triple-A Iowa and Jae-Hoon Ha doing the same at Double-A Tennessee, Szczur found himself back in Class A Advanced to start this season.

Szczur, 22, insists it wasn't disappointment, though, that contributed to his slow start at the plate.

"This is a tough league," he said. "It's a challenge. I obviously still have things I'm working on."

Szczur's .250 average through 33 games may not be where he'd like it yet, but his stolen bases and walks show that he has been making solid strides even with his early lack of hits.

Szczur, who took a few days off to attend his grandmother's funeral, had drawn 17 walks compared to 22 strikeouts and had swiped 16 bases in 21 attempts. Last season, he had 26 walks and 24 steals in 109 games with Peoria and Daytona.

Last year was Szczur's first full year of baseball. After being taken in the fifth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, he got $1.4 million from the Cubs early last year to pass on the NFL Draft in addition to his original signing bonus of $100,000.

The MVP of the 2009 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game was a do-everything offensive threat for Villanova. But the New Jersey native picked baseball, and it is his speed and aggressiveness that set him apart as a prospect.

Szczur can already run down almost any ball in center field. But the would-be leadoff hitter needs to get on base more frequently to maximize his disruptive potential.

After going full speed year-round while playing both football and baseball, Szczur took time off last October to visit Hawaii and hike the Grand Canyon.

"It was great being able to have a month to relax and let my body recover," Szczur said. "But then I got right after it so I'd be ready for Spring Training."

In brief

Mejia gets first win: St. Lucie's Jenrry Mejia got a victory in the second start of his comeback from Tommy John surgery, allowing a run on three hits over six innings against Bradenton. The one-time top Mets prospect struck out seven and walked one, the run he allowed coming on a homer.

Burgos promoted: Brevard County's Hiram Burgos, who led all regular Florida State League starters with a 0.87 ERA, was promoted to Double-A Huntsville. The right-hander was 2-1 in seven games and had 41 strikeouts to six walks over 41 1/3 innings.

Surgery for Fields: Lakeland center fielder Daniel Fields will need surgery to repair an abdominal muscle tear. Fields, who is ranked as the Tigers' No. 7 prospect and received a $1.6 million bonus as a sixth-round choice in 2009, was hitting .250 with 13 RBIs in 18 games.

Neil stays unbeaten: Jupiter's Matthew Neil pitched six scoreless innings against Palm Beach, improving to 6-0 while lowering his ERA to 2.06. The 6-foot-6 right-hander walked one and struck out four.

Guy Curtright 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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