Szczur stays hot in Smokies' loss

Cubs' No. 10 prospect collects four hits, drives in three runs

Matt Szczur is fifth in the Southern League with a .298 batting average. (Ed Gardner/

By Robert Emrich / Special to | June 22, 2013 9:17 PM ET

Matt Szczur and Joc Pederson are similar in many espects. Both stand 6-foot-1, both play center field and both utilize speed in their game. They're also separated by just one point in the Southern League batting race. And while Pederson got the better of their matchup on Saturday night, both prospects are heading in the right direction.

Szczur recorded his first four-hit game of the season and collected three RBIs, but Pederson delivered a go-ahead three-run single as Double-A Chattanooga defeated visiting Tennessee, 11-8.

The Cubs' No. 10 prospect doubled, singled three times and scored a run in five at-bats. Szczur also stole his 16th base of the season.

"Same thing I try to do every game -- try to have a solid approach every game, try to square the ball up and try to have a good approach," the New Jersey native said of his fifth career four-hit game and first since April 16, 2012 with Class A Advanced Daytona.

Saturday's game put an exclamation point on what's been a terrific month for the 23-year-old outfielder. Szczur is batting .347 (25-for-72) with 10 doubles, seven RBIs and eight runs scored in 20 games in June.

"I feel like early on I was feeling around for a good approach and something that works for me," he said. "I feel like for the first time around I try to see some pitches. If I've faced the guy, I might see one or two pitches; if there's something there that I can swing and hit something hard, I'll go for it. I just try to get on base as much as possible. Give some of the guys a chance to get some RBIs."

After scuffling last season in his first stint in the Southern League, the former two-sport star at Villanova has been a completely different player for the Smokies. He ranks fifth in the Southern League with a .298 batting average, second with 81 hits and eighth with 39 runs scored.

"I think it's gone pretty well," Szczur said of his fourth season as a pro. "I told everyone I had a football coach and he always preached that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. I had a good start, but I have to finish stronger."

Finishing strong was Pederson's specialty on Saturday. The Dodgers' No. 2 prospect put together a nine-pitch at-bat with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh before. With all of the runners in motion, the 21-year-old lined a single to center field that gave the Lookouts their first lead of the game.

"I just tried to get a good pitch and a get a good swing on it," said Pederson, who also walked. "Slow down the game as much as possible and not try and do too much."

Pederson has broken out of a mini-slump. After a 2-for-15 stretch, he went yard and drove in four runs on Friday night and is hitting .299 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs in 72 games for the Lookouts. And like Szczur, the California native prefers to look ahead.

"I'm just trying to come to the field and get better every day. I'm excited for the second half,"'s No. 76 overall prospect said. "There's a couple of things that have been addressed and I'm going to work with our coaching staff and the rovers and we're going to get it taken care of."

Major League veteran Sean Burroughs also had three RBIs for the Lookouts, while Rafael Ynoa reached base four times and scored three runs.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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