June 3, 2011 at 4:15 PM
HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- Other than recently-promoted outfielder Bryce Brentz, one of the biggest turnarounds in the Red Sox system this season belongs to Greenville first baseman Miles Head. He went 2 for 4 with a walk and 2 runs scored on Thursday, raising his batting average to .321 in a 9-8, 10-inning loss on the road to the Hagerstown Suns at Municipal Stadium.
The 20-year-old is having a breakout season for the Drive after two years of short-season struggles, and said that having dealt with failure for the first time in his life has made him a better player in the long run.
“The mental aspect of the game is different,” Head said after Thursday’s game. “I never had to deal with failure until I got here. It was really hard on me at first, but you have to cope with that. In this game, you fail 70 percent of the time and you’re still in the Hall of Fame. It’s the only game I know where you can do that. It’s hard to adapt to that, but once I kind of figured it out and learned how to deal with failure, I succeeded.”
Head, whose 44 runs scored are the most in the South Atlantic League, also leads current Greenville players with 12 home runs, 34 RBI, 60 hits, 26 extra-base hits, and an OPS of .981. He was voted SoxProspects.com Player of the Week on three occasions this season, most recently during the week of May 2.
Despite this success, Boston’s 26th-round pick in 2009 struggled to make the transition to professional baseball after signing for $335,000 out of Whitewater High School in Fayetteville, Georgia. In his 2009 debut in the Gulf Coast League, Head hit .103 in 29 at-bats. Last season, he hit .240 with 1 home run and 35 RBI in 65 games with Lowell.
Head said a meeting with Boston’s Sport Psychologist Coach Bob Tewksbury helped him get over his previous struggles.
“At first, it was eating away at me because I’d never dealt with failure,” Head said. “But once I sat down with him, he said, ‘Look, you’re going to fail.’ I learned to be okay with that, at-bat to at-bat, and learned to adjust to everything.”
Greenville manager Billy McMillon has seen those adjustments this season and said that Head is a player who “seems like he’s getting better every day.”
“Offensively, he has a good approach at the plate, and he’s been able to be short to the ball and drive some balls,” McMillon said.
Head has worked on improving his approach this season, an approach that saw him drive two first-pitch fastballs out over the plate for base hits Thursday night.
“I’m trying to see a few more pitches this season and trying to see the ball deeper, just trying to have a good approach,” he said. “If I go in there with my approach and fail with my approach, that’s okay.”
On top of his mental adjustments at the plate, Head arrived in Lowell last season to find out he’d be making the move across the diamond from third base to first base to accommodate teammates David Renfroe and Kolbrin Vitek. While the move was surprising, Head has worked to adjust to his new position.
“I was playing third all spring last year, and then when I got up to Lowell, the coach (current Salem manager Bruce Crabbe) said ‘Hey, you’re playing first,’ ” Head recalled. “There are a lot of similarities between the two, so I caught on pretty quick, but there are some differences. I’m still learning a lot.”
His inexperience at the position showed Thursday on a chopper to open the bottom of the eighth inning. Head instinctively took a few steps in to charge the ball, but a high hop took it over his head and into right field for a base hit.
“We’re working to get better there, but he has shown the ability to make adjustments over at first base,” McMillon said. “He’s done a good job.”
For Head and many of his teammates, the difference between this year in Greenville, where the Drive sit in second place in the South Atlantic League’s Southern Division, and last year, when many of the same players were on a Lowell Spinners club that went a NYPL-worst 24-50, is staggering.
“Last year was tough for me and a lot of the guys, but I felt like I learned a lot last year that I took into this year,” he said. “It’s helped me a lot.”