First-year Orem manager Bill Richardson marvels at Cal Towey's approach at the plate. The fact that Towey owns the rare distinction of having walked more times than he's struck out speaks volumes.
"The big thing is that he controls every at-bat," Richardson said of Towey, a 17th-round pick in 2013 by the Angels. "Whether the [pitcher] has really dynamic stuff or whatever, he clears his head before he gets in the box. He will not swing at pitches he can't do damage on, and that's the hardest thing for a first-year hitter to do, to be able to command the strike zone.
"Guys like that have a chance to go to the big leagues."
Indeed, Towey is a Sabermetrician's dream. Entering July 24, the rookie out of Baylor boasted a league-high 25 walks compared to just 24 strikeouts in 29 games and owned a league-leading .434 on-base percentage.
It's nothing new for Towey. By the time he left college he'd drawn 123 career walks, which ranks sixth in Baylor history. Towey was a first-team All-Big 12 selection after his senior year this spring.
"It's about getting the pitch you want to hit," Towey explained. "It's just something I've kind of always done. It gets me in trouble sometimes though, like if it's 3-2, I'll take a pitch that's questionable and get rung up on it occasionally. But I've always been like that, taking my walks whenever I can get them and trying to get on base."
Typically, first- and second-year hitters spend an abundance of time working on their approach in specific situations. Whether they're ahead in the count, behind in the count or shortening their swing with two strikes, young players do whatever they can to find an advantage.
But Richardson says Towey is ahead of the curve.
"I don't think he changes his swing," Richardson said. "We don't even get into a two-strike approach with him. He does a pretty good job of staying within himself regardless of the situation."
As a junior at Baylor in 2012, Towey tied for third on the program's single-season list with 16 hit-by-pitches and was second with 16 total sacrifices. He finished third on the team and fifth in the Big 12 with 51 RBIs. Additionally, Towey posted a .428 on-base percentage and a .529 slugging percentage in conference games. He was a second-team All-Big 12 pick that year. Still, it wasn't good enough to get drafted.
"I thought after my junior year that I put up good enough numbers," said Towey, a native of Seattle. "I got a lot of calls, but none of them are the one you want. It disappointed me a lot. I thought I deserved the chance."
Now, Towey believes it happened for a reason, and that he's in the right situation in Orem.
"The biggest adjustment is getting used to doing it every day," Towey said. "It's more of a job now, so you work on things. In college it's about getting hits any way they come, and here it's more about hitting the ball hard.
"You just have to try to get better every day and find something to work on every day. Work on your swing, take ground balls … and then do it again. You just have to play hard and give it all you've got."
First-half fight: Helena and Grand Junction are in position to capture the league's first-half division titles. Entering July 24, Helena led Great Falls by three games in the North standings with six games to play, while Grand Junction was up on Orem in the South, also by three games. The first half ends July 29 for the North and July 30 for the South.
Still hitting: With a single in the third inning at Great Falls on July 23, Grand Junction's Raimel Tapia extended his league-best hitting streak to 22 games. Tapia, who leads the league with a .393 average, was five games shy of the club record and 10 away from the league record set by Billings' Chris Valaika in 2006.
Continued dominance: Missoula right-hander Felipe Perez pitched his second complete game of the season on July 18, a two-hit victory over Ogden. In six starts, Perez is averaging just better than seven innings per outing. Previously, the undrafted 19-year-old out of Anaheim, Calif., threw a nine-inning shutout against Helena on July 1. Entering July 24, Perez led the league with 48 innings pitched.