There were times during Taylor Gushue's first three seasons when he couldn't feel his legs in the batter's box.
The physical demands of catching had taken a toll after the Pirates selected him in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft out of Florida. His defensive numbers and leadership behind the plate were consistent, but his offensive output suffered -- as did his body.
That changed this past offseason after a trade to the Nationals. Gushue took advantage of a strength and conditioning program that utilized mobility exercises to work on his lower half and become more flexible.
The results have shown.
Gushue, a switch-hitter, connected on 18 home runs over his first three seasons but has already hit 16 and driven in a career-high 61 runs with Class A Advanced Potomac this year. The offensive production has allowed the organization's No. 23 prospect to thrive in a new environment.
"For me it's been just learning how to use my lower half and making sure I incorporate that in my swing, because as a catcher sometimes it's hard to feel your legs," the 23-year-old said. "That's been a very important thing for me just to learn how to do, just kind of sit in them more and just use them during the swing. My mental approach as well, having a clue about what the pitchers are trying to throw me, when and in what situations as well."
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Gushue hit .241 in his 2014 debut with the Class A Short Season Jamestown Jammers. He didn't hit better than .231 in the following two seasons, but he drove in 85 runs in those two campaigns combined.
After Gushue was dealt to the Nationals in late September, he spent time with their instructional league team before beginning his offseason workout regimen.
"I did a lot of mobility exercises, and we have a hip program here with the Nationals that is pretty good. That has helped me a lot," Gushue said. "With the mobility stuff in the offseason, it's kind of flexible strength, so it's not necessarily putting on a ton of muscle. It's learning how to use your legs in a more athletic way."
He's hitting .254/.338/.465 with 66 hits and seven doubles this year, on pace to shatter his season-high for hits (83 set in 2015). He's already drawn more walks (34) than in any of his previous three professional seasons.
"I think that where I've seen most improvement is definitely my hitting so far," Gushue said. "My offense is where I've improved the most."
While Gushue's offensive numbers have taken flight, his defense has remained consistent. The Boca Raton, Florida native is sporting a .991 fielding percentage and has thrown out 31 percent of would-be base stealers (23 of 75).
"I didn't really have a specific plan once I left [the instructional league] with the Nationals, but it's one of the things that I wanted to work on this offseason," Gushue said. "I took it upon myself to go work on those things, and then once I got back into Spring Training, it's when I started to make the adjustments behind the plate with our catching coordinator, Michael Barrett. He's helped me out a lot with the behind-the-plate aspect."
Gushue's performance earned him a spot as a Carolina League mid-season All-Star after earning the same accolade last season in the Florida State League. Gushue feels this season's performance was warranted based on his performance and how he has adapted with the P-Nats.
"It's fun to come to a new organization and do well and then get an All-Star nod in your first year," Gushue said. "That was exciting."
Catching fire: Frederick backstop Yermin Mercedes took some time to get his bat going this season. In the past week, he has begun to produce like he did last season with the Keys and Class A Delmarva. The 24-year-old drove in a season-high four runs Monday night -- including his 12th homer -- in the Keys' victory over Myrtle Beach, and he has recorded a pair of three-hit performances in his past eight games to raise his batting average to .268. He hit .345 last season with 20 homers.
A needed spark: Winston-Salem outfielder Jameson Fisher, the No. 27 White Sox prospect, cooled off after a sizzling start with the Class A Advanced Dash following his promotion from Class A Kannapolis in late June. However, a three-hit night can change fortunes quickly. Fisher recorded his first multi-hit performance Monday night since July 16, going 3-for-4 in the Dash's 2-1 victory over Salem. It was his sixth multi-hit performance with Winston-Salem and second after he recorded four in his first 12 games with the team.
On a roll: Down East right-hander Richelson Pena began the season in the bullpen. That quickly changed for the Dominican Republic native. Pena was moved into the rotation in late April and has found his rhythm with the Wood Ducks. The 6-foot-1 Pena has won four straight starts and lowered his ERA to 2.77. He's 8-4, two wins shy of matching the total he recorded in 2015 with High Desert of the California League.