This time last year, A's prospect A.J. Kirby-Jones was rehabbing a knee injury that cost him a month of his sophomore season.
With a clean bill of health and more confidence than ever, he's eager to continue his rise through the organization.
Kirby-Jones became the first Minor Leaguer this season to smack three homers in a game as he powered the Stockton Ports to an 8-0 victory over the visiting Lake Elsinore Storm on Wednesday.
"It felt good. The only other time in my career that I had three home runs was in college," said Kirby-Jones, a ninth-round pick in the 2010 Draft. "I had a great night tonight and I wasn't trying to do too much.
"I was just trying to stick to my approach and follow my game plan. I wanted to put myself in good hitter's counts and square the ball up."
The 23-year-old first baseman sent an 0-1 fastball from Storm starter Burch Smith over the right-field fence in the first inning, then connected for a two-run blast off Yefri Carvajal in the seventh.
Kirby-Jones knew he'd need at least one of the three hitters in front of him to reach base in the ninth to get a chance at a third homer. But he said he tried to take everything in stride.
"You never try to go up there and try to hit a home run. I was due up fourth, but I knew I had a chance to bat again because we have a good lineup and everyone was swinging the bat well," he said.
"[A third homer] was on my mind, but it had the opposite effect. I told myself not to get too big and to just try and put a good swing on it. If anything, my effort was lower because I didn't want to press too hard and roll over on it."
Dennis O'Grady fell behind Kirby-Jones, 2-1. Facing another hitter's count, the Tennessee Tech product had a pretty good idea he'd get a pitch to hit.
"It was a pitch up," he said. "He challenged me with the fastball and I tip my hat to him for that. It was a mistake pitch and I got around on it. I was just trying to look for my pitch."
Last season, Kirby-Jones played only two games before missing a month with a bone bruise inside his left knee. When he returned to the lineup for Class A Burlington, he said was too eager to make up for lost time. Pressing at the plate, he slumped and found himself batting .194 into the second week of June.
"I definitely learned a lot from last year's injury," Kirby-Jones said. "It taught me a lot about my swing and reminded me that I had to be patient, and I have to be myself to be successful.
"In college, I had a really big and violent load. I had more of a leg kick and I was really jumpy. After the injury, I became quieter. And that's why I'm seeing the ball better."
Kirby-Jones, who smacked 14 homers for short-season Vancouver in 2010 and 13 more for the Bees last year, is batting .385 with four homers and nine RBIs in 11 games.
On Wednesday, his production made a winner of Blake Treinen (2-0), who allowed two hits and issued three walks while striking out seven over seven innings. Connor Hoehn worked around a pair of walks in the eighth and Zach Thornton fanned two in a perfect ninth.