Ka'ai Tom has always focused on hard work. So when he had a career night for Class A Short Season Mahoning Valley on Tuesday, he wasn't surprised.
The Indians prospect went 5-for-5 with four RBIs in the best game of his young career to fuel the Scrappers' 9-2 rout of Connecticut at Sen. Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium.
"Just putting in extra work to keep it up to par so that when things come up like this, it's not a big surprise. It's just that I'm prepared," Tom said. "I just play with a chip on my shoulder since I was a kid because I was always the smallest guy on the field. I just wanted to prove that even though I was small, I can do anything everyone else can, just putting in hard work and preparing myself for every game."
Tom, the Indians' fifth-round pick in last month's Draft, singled in the first, third and fourth innings, hit an RBI double in the seventh, walked in the eighth and delivered a bases-loaded triple in the ninth to cap Mahoning Valley's come-from-behind outburst. The big night gave the 21-year-old outfielder as many hits as he'd totaled in his previous eight games combined.
"For the past few weeks, I've been working in the cage to get my swing back because before it didn't seem right. But today, I just felt great," Tom said. "In baseball, you can do very well one day, go 4-for-4 and then the next day go 0-for-4, but you can still feel just as good. It's just a game of failure and you just have to feel comfortable."
The Scrappers trailed, 2-1, heading to the seventh before scoring eight times over the final three innings to win for the third time in four games.
Born in Hawaii, Tom comes from a baseball family -- his father played at Washington State, his grandfather played at Oregon and one of his brothers played at Oregon State. He was an All-Southeastern Conference first team outfielder for Kentucky in 2014 after starring at Fort Scott Junior College, helping position him for a $250,000 signing bonus from the Indians.
His transition to the Minors has been fairly seamless, collecting two hits in his second New York-Penn League game on June 22 and posting three-hit performances on July 4 and July 9 before producing a perfect day at the plate against the Tigers.
"I have a big baseball family," he said. "Growing up, it was a big sibling rivalry with me and my brothers to see who was better. And so just having that at home and having great support was great."
Tom, who also played second base in college, led Kentucky with a .375 average and 51 RBIs last year, adding five homers, 16 doubles, a triple and 15 stolen bases in 16 tries. As a junior, he reached safely in 51 of 55 games this past season and in 99 of 109 career contests.
"Playing in the [SEC], I saw pitchers who get drafted very high and guys who have great stuff, so being able to see that week in and week out prepared me for the Minors," he said. "I feel like adjusting to the Minors is a big step and [I'm] just willing to get better every day and I'm never satisfied."
Scrappers 19-year-old first baseman Emmanuel Tapia was taken from the field in an ambulance after suffering an apparent leg injury while rounding third base in the third inning. The team had no update on Tapia's condition.