It's not Jack Santora's first trip through the Pioneer League, but in his first year as manager of the Orem Owlz he's happy to have a player who's already toured the far-flung stadiums: right fielder D'Shawn Knowles.
A fleet 6-foot, 160-pounder out of New Providence in the Bahamas, Knowles began last year with the Rookie-level Arizona League Angels, then hit .321 after a midseason move to Orem.
Now he's back for a second season with the Owlz and, at 18 years and six months, he may be the youngest player in the league.
"Last year I was the youngest and I think I am still," Knowles said. "I'm kind of a young veteran."
Then, he smiles. D'Shawn has a twin, D'Vaughn, who's in his first year of pro ball after signing with the Yankees (he's in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, although a hip flexor has kept him on the sidelines). He has all the speed he needs. And he hits from both sides of the plate to the tune of a .300 average.
And Santora, who was a switch-hitting second baseman for the 1999 Pioneer League champion Missoula Osprey, raves about Knowles' approach.
"I think his biggest assets are his speed and the way he plays the game," the manager said. "He gets down the line and runs the bases really well. He hits from both sides of the plate and he's pretty good from both sides.
"Personally, I love writing his name in the lineup and watching him play every day."
On July 13 in Missoula, Knowles hit sharp grounders up the middle and toward the hole at second base but directly into the shift each time. Then the Angels' No. 8 prospect lifted an opposite-field sacrifice fly to left in Orem's 3-0 win over the Osprey. And he walked.
If the hits were hard to come by in Missoula, Knowles knows he has a better approach than last year, when changeups fooled him.
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"And the curveballs, I couldn't pull the trigger," he said. "I basically worked on it all offseason. I came back and I could see a changeup from like a mile away. I sit fastball and adjust to the change of speed. If I go up there with my plan -- see ball, hit ball -- it's tough to get me out."
"The more at-bats you get, the more pitchers you see, the higher level you see, the better feel you're going to get," Santora said. "That's what we're seeing right now. It's not as consistent as I think we'd like, but he's 18 years old and he's developing really well. He brings a lot to the table offensively, defensively, in the clubhouse and in the dugout. He doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low. It's nice to have."
Speaking of twins: The Rocky Mountain Vibes, the Brewers' Rookie Advanced affiliate that moved from Helena to Colorado Springs this season, put itself in the Pioneer League record books with six double plays in a 3-2 win over Billings on July 12. That tied the mark for twin killings set by the Medicine Hat Blue Jays against Helena on Aug. 26, 1982. The league left Medicine Hat following the 2002 season.
On the upswing: At a time when batting averages tend to fall, Grand Junction shortstop Eddy Diaz has gone 16-for-36 (.444) his last eight games to raise his 47 points to .339. The 19-year-old out of Cuba ranks fourth in the batting race.
Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to MiLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.