Lucas Erceg hit the ground running last summer for Rookie-level Helena after being selected in the second round of the 2016 Draft. He's doing it again a year later, this time against significantly better competition.
The Brewers' seventh-ranked prospect ripped three hits and drove in two runs Friday to lead Class A Advanced Carolina to a 5-3 win over Frederick. Erceg doubled twice in his ninth career three-hit game.
"Right before the game, I got into the cages and [my hitting coordinator and I] were talking about finding an efficient routine that will help me on a daily basis but not overload my swing," Erceg said. "Eight games into the season it'll mostly be day to day, but we just talked about being able to see the ball, track the ball and hit the ball hard every time."
Erceg did just that in his first two at-bats, ripping a double to right field off Orioles No. 21 prospect Brian Gonzalez (0-2) in the first inning to score Luis Aviles with the game's first run. In the third, he took Gonzalez's first pitch to right for a single, plating Brewers No. 5 prospect Isan Diaz to put the Mudcats ahead for good, 3-2.
The left-handed-hitting third baseman battled deep in the count in his final plate appearance against Gonzalez in the sixth before striking out on the eighth pitch. He came up in the eighth against left-hander Reid Love, again working the count before doubling the other way on the 10th pitch to finish his 3-for-4 night.
Video: Carolina's Erceg hits two-out RBI double
"[In my first at-bat], I was just trying to get on base and hit the ball hard," Erceg said. "I had a pretty good at-bat in my third at-bat when I ended up striking out -- I was pretty upset about it, but at the end of the day I was really disciplined in sticking with my approach. My last at-bat came to 3-2 and I was thinking, 'Stick to my approach and hit the ball hard.' And that's what I did."
Erceg had his season-opening six-game hitting streak snapped Thursday after going 0-for-4 against the Keys. His big Friday night boosted his slash line to .303/.343/.394 and tripled his extra-base hit total for the year, a sign that his power might be picking back up after he hit nine homers and drove in 51 runs in 68 games for Rookie-level Helena and Class A Wisconsin in his debut campaign.
"Since the season started, my No. 1 goal is to just stay healthy, stick with a consistent approach at the plate and go out and compete, win and not press when things aren't going my way," Erceg said. "I've had a past of doing too much at times and it only ended up hurting me. ... I told myself to come out, have fun and not worry about the results -- focus on the approach and see where that takes me."
While he may not be focusing on results, the 21-year-old Menlo College product sure got them in big league Spring Training, batting .417/.481/.708 with two homers and seven RBIs in 27 plate appearances. That included a two-homer game off the bench on March 6. In fact, Erceg hasn't stopped hitting since he was drafted, as he put up a .327/.376/.518 line with Helena and Wisconsin in 2016.
"It's easier said than done, believe me, but being able to be consistent, stay healthy and go out and compete [has] been treating me well so far," Erceg said. "I'm having fun and I'm excited for the rest of the season to play out to see how well I can do and how many wins we can get."
Carolina starter Cody Ponce (2-0) went seven innings for the second straight start, allowing three runs -- two earned -- on eight hits while striking out five. Brad Kuntz and Jon Olczak each pitched a scoreless frame to close out the win, with Olczak earning his first save of the year.
Orioles No. 10 prospect Jomar Reyes ripped a career-high three doubles in four at-bats to boost his average to .500. He has multiple hits in six of eight contests this year, including three with three hits.
Gonzalez took the loss for the Keys after allowing four runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.