Sweeney Rolling With The Punches

VANCOUVER, CA - In baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, numbers often don't tell the whole story. That sentiment certainly holds true in the case of Kellen Sweeney. The 2010 second round draft pick struggled in his first full season of professional baseball but the number don't tell the whole story.

After starting the year at class-A Lansing, Sweeney was demoted after hitting just .179 in 43 games. The low numbers had as much to do with a lack of consistent playing time over the last year and the mental issues that come along with it as anything else.

"I was hurt basically all of last year so just being able to play and everything, it's good to be out on the field and being able to play," the 20-year-old third baseman said.

Sweeney, arguably the only legitimate third base prospect in the Jays system last year, played only nine games last year for the Bluefield Blue Jays of the advanced rookie league due to injury. He played only 16 games in his draft year meaning he entered his third professional season with a total of 25 games and 80 at bats to his credit.

After breaking camp with the Midwest League's Lugnuts, Sweeney struggled at the plate early on which led to mental mistakes while trying to over-correct his swing.

The eventual demotion to short-season Vancouver was meant more for of a mental break than because he was overmatched by the older talent in Lansing. The graduate of Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa took the move in stride.

"Going from Lansing to here I understood the move," said Sweeney, who passed up a scholarship to San Diego University to sign with the Jays after being drafted 69th overall. "It's been good for me just to be able to come here and start fresh.

"I was struggling up there a little bit with my head and everything. I don't think it was so much the physical part as the mental part up there. Being able to come down here and just get my head straight was really good for me, just being able to have a clean slate."

The fact that the pressure hasn't yet gotten to Sweeney speaks volumes about his mental makeup. He's part of a vaunted 2010 Toronto draft class that includes a cache of blue-chip pitching prospects and graduated its first member to the big leagues this year in right-handed reliever Sam Dyson.

Other names like Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Deck McGuire and Asher Wojciechowski are mentioned daily as either much-coveted trade bait or part of the not-too-distant future Toronto pitching staff. What's more, Sweeney's older brother Ryan patrols the outfield for the Boston Red Sox.

Any perceived pressure to succeed quickly does not affect the affable and outgoing Sweeney.

"I don't think so," he said. "Obviously we had a great draft class with all the pitchers and everything, but you just have to go out there and perform. You can't really take into account what everyone else is doing, because they move people differently and people perform differently."

Canadians manager Clayton McCullough, in his first year at the team's helm, isn't worried about pressure.

"Everybody is going to go their own path," said McCullough, who has managed in the Jays' organization for five years. "Some guys, it clicks sooner than other guys. Kellen is right on schedule.

"He'd be a college sophomore right now and wouldn't even be here right now. So to be a young kid in this league, it's an older league, he's playing against some older competition, some more experienced guys and he's more than holding his own."

The manager, who played for a handful of seasons in the Cleveland organization as a catcher before hanging up his spikes, noticed how Sweeney took the demotion from Lansing after playing alongside fellow draftees Nicolino, Sanchez and Syndergaard.

"First off, he wasn't crushed by it," McCullough said. "It had been a rough start for him but he did a lot of good things. Some times numbers can be a little deceiving. The big thing with Kellen was telling him ‘It's a new start, it's a fresh start, don't get upset if the first couple weeks up here don't go well.'

"Kellen's been great so far. He's played tremendous defense and his at-bats have been good all year and he's starting to get some results the last 10 days or so."

Sweeney has already faced adversity in his young career. He underwent Tommy John surgery in his junior year in high school and bounced back amid predictions his draft stock had fallen.

He seems to be overcoming his latest challenge. After hitting only .130 in June, the left-handed hitter has revved up production slightly in July, hitting .208 so far. Again, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Sweeney has only struck out 22 times so far this season with the Canadians and is third on the team in walks. The contributions aren't lost on his manager.

"Kellen gives you a good at-bat," McCullough said. "He gets a lot of walks, his strikeouts are minimal and he puts the ball in play. Sometimes they just don't find holes.

"I think he's been working really well with Dave Pano, they've hit on some things and he's starting to get some of those balls to fall. Once a couple of them fall for you, you get a little more confidence."

Physically gifted with above-average speed, a shortstop's arm and a frame that is due to fill out, Sweeney too says it's all a matter of his approach and that his swing mechanics are sound.

"I think just being comfortable at the plate. I've been hitting the ball well," Sweeney said. "Sometimes it's just at people; other times I don't hit it as well as I should. I think it [a mental funk] does affect your swing, because when you get yourself into too much of thinking too much at the plate, you start to change things when you really shouldn't.

"My swing is fine but I've been working with [hitting coach] Dave Pano on getting my swing on time. So the mental part of the game is huge."

Make no mistake, Sweeney is a competitor. That elbow surgery was necessitated after he came in to pitch a single inning for his high school team in need. Unlike more animated players however, those competitive fires deep within.

On the outside, he has an advanced understanding of the game that belies his youthful exterior. That understanding will surely get him through his recent struggles.

"It's baseball, things happen. Things go your way one day and they can go the other way another day, so you've just got to roll with it," Sweeney said.

Now that he's begun to figure out the mental side of the game, the balls will surely continue to drop as the Jays look on at yet another success story from what's turning out to be a franchise-changing draft class.


Future Jays Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nAfter starting the year at class-A Lansing, Sweeney was demoted after hitting just .179 in 43 games. The low numbers had as much to do with a lack of consistent playing time over the last year and the mental issues that come along with it as anything else.
\r\n
\r\n\"I was hurt basically all of last year so just being able to play and everything, it's good to be out on the field and being able to play,\" the 20-year-old third baseman said.
\r\n
\r\nSweeney, arguably the only legitimate third base prospect in the Jays system last year, played only nine games last year for the Bluefield Blue Jays of the advanced rookie league due to injury. He played only 16 games in his draft year meaning he entered his third professional season with a total of 25 games and 80 at bats to his credit.
\r\n
\r\nAfter breaking camp with the Midwest League's Lugnuts, Sweeney struggled at the plate early on which led to mental mistakes while trying to over-correct his swing.
\r\n
\r\nThe eventual demotion to short-season Vancouver was meant more for of a mental break than because he was overmatched by the older talent in Lansing. The graduate of Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa took the move in stride.
\r\n
\r\n\"Going from Lansing to here I understood the move,\" said Sweeney, who passed up a scholarship to San Diego University to sign with the Jays after being drafted 69th overall. \"It's been good for me just to be able to come here and start fresh.
\r\n
\r\n\"I was struggling up there a little bit with my head and everything. I don't think it was so much the physical part as the mental part up there. Being able to come down here and just get my head straight was really good for me, just being able to have a clean slate.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe fact that the pressure hasn't yet gotten to Sweeney speaks volumes about his mental makeup.\r\nHe's part of a vaunted 2010 Toronto draft class that includes a cache of blue-chip pitching prospects and graduated its first member to the big leagues this year in right-handed reliever Sam Dyson.
\r\n
\r\nOther names like Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Deck McGuire and Asher Wojciechowski are mentioned daily as either much-coveted trade bait or part of the not-too-distant future Toronto pitching staff. What's more, Sweeney's older brother Ryan patrols the outfield for the Boston Red Sox.
\r\n
\r\nAny perceived pressure to succeed quickly does not affect the affable and outgoing Sweeney.
\r\n
\r\n\"I don't think so,\" he said. \"Obviously we had a great draft class with all the pitchers and everything, but you just have to go out there and perform. You can't really take into account what everyone else is doing, because they move people differently and people perform differently.\"
\r\n
\r\nCanadians manager Clayton McCullough, in his first year at the team's helm, isn't worried about pressure.
\r\n
\r\n\"Everybody is going to go their own path,\" said McCullough, who has managed in the Jays' organization for five years. \"Some guys, it clicks sooner than other guys. Kellen is right on schedule.
\r\n
\r\n\"He'd be a college sophomore right now and wouldn't even be here right now. So to be a young kid in this league, it's an older league, he's playing against some older competition, some more experienced guys and he's more than holding his own.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe manager, who played for a handful of seasons in the Cleveland organization as a catcher before hanging up his spikes, noticed how Sweeney took the demotion from Lansing after playing alongside fellow draftees Nicolino, Sanchez and Syndergaard.
\r\n
\r\n\"First off, he wasn't crushed by it,\" McCullough said. \"It had been a rough start for him but he did a lot of good things. Some times numbers can be a little deceiving. The big thing with Kellen was telling him ‘It's a new start, it's a fresh start, don't get upset if the first couple weeks up here don't go well.'
\r\n
\r\n\"Kellen's been great so far. He's played tremendous defense and his at-bats have been good all year and he's starting to get some results the last 10 days or so.\"
\r\n
\r\nSweeney has already faced adversity in his young career. He underwent Tommy John surgery in his junior year in high school and bounced back amid predictions his draft stock had fallen.
\r\n
\r\nHe seems to be overcoming his latest challenge. After hitting only .130 in June, the left-handed hitter has revved up production slightly in July, hitting .208 so far. Again, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Sweeney has only struck out 22 times so far this season with the Canadians and is third on the team in walks. The contributions aren't lost on his manager.
\r\n
\r\n\"Kellen gives you a good at-bat,\" McCullough said. \"He gets a lot of walks, his strikeouts are minimal and he puts the ball in play. Sometimes they just don't find holes.
\r\n
\r\n\"I think he's been working really well with Dave Pano, they've hit on some things and he's starting to get some of those balls to fall. Once a couple of them fall for you, you get a little more confidence.\"
\r\n
\r\nPhysically gifted with above-average speed, a shortstop's arm and a frame that is due to fill out, Sweeney too says it's all a matter of his approach and that his swing mechanics are sound.
\r\n
\r\n\"I think just being comfortable at the plate. I've been hitting the ball well,\" Sweeney said. \"Sometimes it's just at people; other times I don't hit it as well as I should. I think it [a mental funk] does affect your swing, because when you get yourself into too much of thinking too much at the plate, you start to change things when you really shouldn't.
\r\n
\r\n\"My swing is fine but I've been working with [hitting coach] Dave Pano on getting my swing on time. So the mental part of the game is huge.\"
\r\n
\r\nMake no mistake, Sweeney is a competitor. That elbow surgery was necessitated after he came in to pitch a single inning for his high school team in need. Unlike more animated players however, those competitive fires deep within.
\r\n
\r\nOn the outside, he has an advanced understanding of the game that belies his youthful exterior. That understanding will surely get him through his recent struggles.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's baseball, things happen. Things go your way one day and they can go the other way another day, so you've just got to roll with it,\" Sweeney said.
\r\n
\r\nNow that he's begun to figure out the mental side of the game, the balls will surely continue to drop as the Jays look on at yet another success story from what's turning out to be a franchise-changing draft class.
\r\n
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