Sometimes, things just go the right way at the right time.
Royals outfield prospect Chris Lubanski, in just his second full season, has developed a little bit of a reputation as a second-half player. The end of his second half in 2005, however, exceeded even his own expectations.
The center fielder for the Class A Advanced High Desert Mavericks went an astounding 13-for-15 with three homers and nine RBIs in three California League playoff games to earn the MILB.com Class A Playoff Performance of the Year Award.
"It was a little insane," Lubanski said. "You have your streaks during the season. In the playoffs, everything you worked on fell into place at the right time. After the first game, the confidence I had coupled with the intensity of the games helped."
In that first game, Lubanski went 4-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs, an 8-5 loss to Lancaster. He actually made an out in the Mavericks' 15-11 victory in Game 2. Lubanski, the Royals first-round pick in the 2003 draft, went 5-for-6 and drove in another run.
It all came down to Game 3. Lubanski certainly didn't like the outcome -- an 11-inning, 9-8 loss -- but he can't say he didn't do all he could to help High Desert advance. Lubanski went 4-for-5, hitting for the cycle and driving in another four runs.
"I just had fun throughout the second half," Lubanski said. "The playoffs showed that. I just focused on the situation and everything just fell into place."
At the end of May, Lubanski was hitting just .214 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs. He had struck out 58 times and walked 13. Then Lubanski learned to relax, try not to do too much and trust his ability. He hit .349 with seven homes and 28 RBIs in June and never stopped hitting. From June 1 forward, Lubanski hit .355 with 18 homers and 85 RBIs, enabling him to finish tied for the overall Minor League RBI lead with 116.
Some of those numbers can be chalked up to the California League. It is, by all accounts, hitter-friendly, and Lubanski certainly enjoyed the cozy confines in High Desert, where he hit 100 points higher and belted 19 of his 28 home runs. Even Lubanski admits that helped his overall stats, but the 20-year-old also feels he's just scratching the surface of the tools which will make him a more complete and consistent hitter.
"The Cal League has its reputation, the power numbers are a lot higher," Lubanski said. "But I worked a lot on my physical part of the game. It's the first time I focused on getting stronger. A lot of my power numbers did come from the hard work I put in last year with weights and on my swing.
"I know I can get even stronger. My swing isn't even close to where I know it can be. I'm not close to tapping the full potential of my swing, using my legs more consistently. I've got more power in me."
It's been an interesting transformation for Lubanski, culminating in the unreal postseason for which he's being honored. He was originally drafted as a five-tool guy who probably would offer more in the speed than power department. But while it should be noted he greatly improved his stolen-base success rate (14-for-15), it now looks like he may grow into being more of a power hitter than was expected.
His physical growth certainly played a large role in his evolution as a hitter. Perhaps more important, as was shown in his ability to make adjustments midseason and put up the kind of numbers an organization loves to see from a first-round pick, are the mental strides he made over the course of the 2005 season.
"It was a big year for me," Lubanski said. "I learned a lot about the mental side of the game, and about my swing. I made a lot of adjustments.
"Towards the end of the season, I was real real relaxed. I've made a lot of huge strides. My defense still needs some work to play center in the big leagues. I made strides there, but made huge strides in my offense."