May 11, 2012 at 11:11 AM
|David Renfroe (Kelly O'Connor)|
Though repeating a level in the minor leagues is rarely viewed as a positive, Greenville first baseman David Renfroe sees his second season in Greenville as an opportunity to prove himself and finally taste an extended period of success in professional baseball.
“Everybody wants to start off and go year-to-year, advance a club, but they’re challenging me and they want to see how I respond,” Renfroe said last month when the Drive visited Delmarva. “I want to respond to it well and get the call.”
Renfroe said he felt good coming out of spring training despite missing a week with a concussion after a groundball popped up off third base and hit him in the head, and he got off to a hot start. In the first nine games of the season, he collected at least one hit in his first eight starts—one pinch-hitting appearance notwithstanding—en route to a .355 average with a pair of home runs and a 1.138 OPS.
Then, Renfroe fell into a swoon similar to those that blighted his first two campaigns. He went hitless in six of nine games, a stretch that saw his average plummet to .232. The lone bright spot in that stretch was a 3 for 5 performance in the Drive’s 9-4 win over Delmarva (BAL) on April 25.
In that effort, Renfroe showcased several of the improvements he has made over the last few seasons. After grounding out on a hard-hit ball up the middle in his first at-bat, Renfroe fouled off several pitches before pushing an RBI single past the shortstop—his first of three hits to the opposite field on the day.
He got under a 3-1 fastball to pop out in the fifth, but in his next trip, drove a 2-0 fastball to left for what was then his fourth home run of the season.
In that at-bat, Renfroe said he was drifting while letting the balls pass, and manager Carlos Febles told him to remember to stay back.
“I shortened up my stride a little bit and got a pitch I could drive,” Renfroe said. “I hit it well.”
He fell back into the slump after that game, only to emerge after a few days off for a brief five-game hitting streak that ended in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Rome (ATL). Renfroe is currently hitting .264 with five home runs and an .860 OPS in 24 games for the Drive.
Through his struggles, Renfroe said he felt good at the plate—much better than his debut season with Lowell in 2010. He hit just .190 in 200 at-bats for Lowell, and turned to another high school third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, for advice on how to deal with such struggles.
“That’s big with high school guys, because you never have to deal with (failure),” Renfroe said. “You hit .500, .600, and you’re like, ‘that’s easy.’ You just show up at the field and you’re ready to go. Here, you’ve got to be mentally prepared and be ready to go every single day for 140 games. Will has been great, though. He’s always been there for me, so I’m excited that he’s getting off to a hot start as well.”
Middlebrooks’ other advice to Renfroe has paid even further dividends for the young corner infielder. Renfroe said his advice on plate approach has stuck with him.
“You’ve got three strikes, so those first two, sit fastball,” Renfroe recalled. “If they throw you a curveball right down the middle, so be it. You’ve still got another strike or two.”
Renfroe used to get down on himself when he’d miss an early fastball. Now, he says he feels bad even when he gets a hit early in the count.
“I just want to see more pitches and really try and work that pitcher, so I’m able to see all his pitches and work towards the next at-bat as well,” Renfroe said. Febles said that while Renfroe’s defense was strong last year, he struggled offensively.
“This year, his approach has been much better,” Febles said. “He’s been up the middle instead of thinking about pulling the ball, and he’s been consistent with it. That’s what he’s having better success.”
Febles also said it was encouraging to see the extra work Renfroe is putting in this year. “When you see a player coming in early to work, as a manager, I feel real good because I know they’re going to improve,” he said. “He’s real committed to it, and he really, really wants to get it done.”
Renfroe acknowledges how far he’s come, but knows why such work is required.
“I feel like I’m such a better hitter now, and more complete than I was (my first year),” he said. “I still have a ways to go, but I’ve already come so far. I just want to keep going.”
Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist at SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JonMeoli