A year after a shoulder injury limited him to just 27 games, New Britain Rock Cats catcher Tom Murphy is enjoying a fantastic rebound season, filled with health, positive results and a couple of well-deserved honors.
The Colorado Rockies top catching prospect and No. 7 farmhand has been the backbone of a strong Rock Cats team and was recently rewarded for his efforts with an Eastern League All-Star selection as well as a being named to Team USA for the upcoming Pan Am Games.
"If you can't go to the All-Star Game, I guess the Pan Am Games is a pretty good upgrade," said Murphy, who will be unable to participate in the Eastern League All-Star game on the 15th, since the Pan-Am Games take place from July 10-19. "Both are great honors and very respectable to be named to both games. The Pan Am Games is something I'm really looking forward to, with the national stage and that sort of thing. You get to represent your country and there's nothing better than that."
"He's a perfect person to get picked for that," said New Britain closer Austin House who leads the league with 19 saves. "He's an all-American kid."
Part of what has helped Murphy settle in from the start of the season has been his proximity to his family in Upstate New York, just a four-hour drive from New Britain.
It's the closest he has been to home since starting his professional career and he has been using the rare off days to spend time back at home, unwind and remove himself from the game for a minute.
"That's been the best part," said Murphy. "I can't be more thankful for that right now. Those off days are gold this time of year."
Being able to have that time away has helped him focus more when he gets back between the lines, but he also credits a calmer approach the game, which has aided him across the board, but most notably in the area of gunning down runners attempting to steal on him, something he has done successfully 39 percent of the time this season.
"If I try to rush things, nothing good happens," said Murphy. "I just make sure I catch the ball, make sure I got through my steps and good things will happen. You see your target, you pick it up and you throw it."
It's a similar approach that he takes with his pitching staff in making sure that they simply attack the hitters while he makes the necessary adjustments based on the pitchers strengths and weaknesses.
"It's nice coming out of the bullpen because he doesn't really screw around when calling pitches," said House, a fellow Eastern League All-Star selection. "It's just right at people."
Though Murphy did attack the season at the plate in the same manner -- hitting .286 with 8 home runs, 29 RBIs and 26 runs -- he has since cooled a bit, hitting .176 for June.
He works tirelessly to get better in every aspect of his game but feels that he needs to gain more consistent at-bats in order to continue to build the proper package to deliver to the next level.
"I started out really good and have been battling since then a little bit," said Murphy, who despite the recent struggles still leads the league with 13 home runs. "It's one of those things that's going to happen. The sooner I can figure things out the better off I'm going to be. Offensively, I want to be as consistent as I can be, especially with my strike zone discipline."
Power up: After hitting only two home runs in June, Trenton catcher Gary Sanchez has already surpassed that number in July by hitting long balls in three consecutive games. It's the second time that the Yankees No. 7 prospect has hit homers in three straight games, the last coming in 2011 when he played with Charleston. This season Sanchez has 11 dingers in 52 games, just two shy of his total from a year ago when he played in 110 games.
Resetting at seven: Despite a no decision, Matt Lujan had his best and longest outing of the season last Friday, going 7 1/3 innings -- the first six without allowing a hit. The Richmond lefty had gone 1-4 with a 5.59 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and 28 strikeouts over his first seven starts. In his last seven outings Lujan is 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 33 strikeouts.
Furious four: After twirling a nine-inning one-hit shutout, New York Mets No. 11 prospect Gabriel Ynoa improved to 5-5 on the season. Over his last four starts he has averaged 7.5 innings pitched with a 1.17 ERA, 3.3 strikeouts per start and only two total walks in 30 2/3 innings. That is a vast improvement over Ynoa's first 10 starts, in which he averaged 5.6 innings per start with a 5.72 ERA, 2.9 K's per start with 18 walks in 56 2/3 innings.
Craig Forde is a contributor to MiLB.com.