Southern notes: Sweeney picking his spots

Chattanooga speedster looking to improve his success on basepaths

Darnell Sweeney sports a .403 on-base percentage but has been thrown out on 11 of 20 steal attempts. (Chattanooga Lookouts)

By Guy Curtright / Special to | June 24, 2014 10:00 AM ET

The Chattanooga Lookouts had a dismal first half, their 26-44 record a team worst since the move to AT&T Field in 2000. There were bright spots for the last-place team, though, and infielder Darnell Sweeney was certainly one of those.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' No. 19 prospect posted a .308 average, drew 36 walks for a .396 on-base percentage, scored 40 runs and hit 21 doubles -- all good for Top 10 in the Southern League.

"He started in the All-Star Game for a reason," Lookouts manager Razor Shines said.

Sweeney's stats weren't all positive, though. He led the league by being caught 11 times in 18 stolen base attempts in the first half.

"He has to get better reads on pitchers and learn to run on better counts," Shines said. "Once he becomes a smart runner, he's going to become an effective base runner. He's multi-talented."

Sweeney, who has the green light, stole 48 bases last season in the Class A Advanced California League, although he was caught 20 times. He knows there is work to do and lessons to learn.

"I'd always just used my speed and that was enough," the 23-year-old said. "But as you move up, the catchers are better and the pitchers quicker to the plate. My goal for the second half is to be a lot smarter. I have to pick my pitches better."

The leadoff hitter started the second half by smashing his eighth home run of the season in his first post-break at-bat and was successful in his first two steal attempts while going 6-for-15 with four walks during the opening four games at Tennessee. Yet, the Lookouts still lost three times.

"It's been rough, but we've got to keep fighting," he said. "We started slow last year [at Rancho Cucamonga] and still made the playoffs. The core here is most of the same players."

Sweeney, who fell to the 13th round of the 2012 Draft after a down year at the plate as a junior at the University of Central Florida, had a whopping 61 extra-base hits last year for the Quakes, including a California League-best 16 triples.

The aggressive switch-hitter, though, also struck out 151 times -- way too many for a slender middle infielder. This season, he had 60 strikeouts in 67 first-half games.

"I have to try to stay consistent at the plate and have a good approach every at-bat," Sweeney said. "As the weather gets hotter, you need to stay focused on doing things right even more."

Sweeney started the All-Star Game at second base but finished the first half playing shortstop because that was where the Lookouts needed him. He also may get a look in the outfield before the end of the season.

"I just want to play," said Sweeney, who made 18 first-half errors. "Whatever the Dodgers ask, I'm ready to do."

"I think second base is his position, but he's done the job at shortstop, too," Shines said.

It is at the plate, though, where Sweeney has been the most at home this season. Now he has to become just as productive once he reaches first base.

"As he keeps learning, I think you'll see those stolen base numbers flip back around," Shines said.

In brief

New-look Wahoos: After Pensacola finishing last in the South Division during the first half, Cincinnati shook up the Blue Wahoos roster with the addition of seven players from Class A Advanced Bakersfield. Heading the newcomers is outfielder Jesse Winker, who is ranked as the Reds' No. 3 prospect and was hitting .317 with 13 homers and 49 RBIs for Bakersfield. Also promoted was the Reds' No. 12 prospect, right-hander Ben Lively. It was a homecoming for the product of nearby Gulf Breeze, who was 10-1 with a 2.28 ERA in the California League and was the starting pitcher at the All-Star Game against the Carolina League.

Moving on up: Is dominating the first half enough to win Player of the Year or Pitcher of the Year in the Southern League? Tennessee third baseman Kris Bryant and Huntsville right-hander Tyler Cravy will test just that. Both were promoted to Triple-A after the All-Star Game. Bryant was moved up by the Chicago Cubs after leading almost all first-half hitting categories, including average (.355), homers (22) and RBIs (65). Cravy was promoted by Milwaukee after going a league-best 8-1 and ranking first in ERA (1.72) and WHIP (0.85).

Packing them in: The Birmingham Barons are way ahead of the pace needed to set a new Southern League attendance record, despite finishing fourth in the North Division during the first half. The team averaged 6,272 fans for a draw of 219,529 over 35 first-half games at two-year-old Regions Field. With Michael Jordan's attempt at baseball the attraction in 1994, the Barons drew 208,913 at the same point that season en route to a league-record attendance of 467,867 at their previous home in suburban Hoover. The team should also get a second-half attendance boost from the 19th annual Rickwood Classic on June 25 against Mississippi.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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