One thing the Atlanta Braves love to see is progress. When a player can make strides from one part of the year to the next, development is obvious.
Rome outfielder Jamie Romak is one player making progress, slowly but surely. After an impressive season last year in Danville, the Braves were expecting big things from the right-handed hitter. But an early season slump forced them to send him back to Orlando and Extended Spring Training.
"I think more than anything it lit a fire under me," Romak admitted. "I was pissed. I didn‘t feel like I had anything left to prove there. I felt like I needed to be here and just prove myself at this level. I‘m trying to play the rest of this season with that fire underneath me knowing that everyday I‘m playing for a job."
That's the reaction the Braves probably wanted out of Romak, the team's fourth round pick in the 2003 draft. After hitting .150 in April with only 3 home runs and 8 RBI in 60 at bats, Romak hit .280 after returning from Orlando in May. He fell back again in June, hitting only .196. After the first three months of the season, Romak was at .205 with 5 home runs and 28 runs bated in.
"Obviously, the first half was frustrating, but in the back of my mind I knew it was a long season," Romak said. It was a slow start, but I never stopped believing in myself. I knew that if I just kept working hard everyday things would eventually start to click for me."
The click happened after July 1st. Romak is hitting .344 this month with 4 home runs and 13 runs batted in. His overall average is now up to .228 with 9 home runs and 41 RBI. Romak's hard work is finally paying off.
"We changed a little something," Romak said. "I started doing a little toe tap with my front foot just to get a little rhythm. But other than that, I've just had a little better plan at the plate, knowing what to expect. I've seen all the pitchers in the league now and I know what they are trying to do. I'm being a little more patient and just getting back to what I've done my whole life to make me successful."
And with Isaiah Ka'aihue, who drove in 49 runs for Rome in the first half of the season, now in Myrtle Beach, Romak has also become a valued run-producer.
"I've taken more pride in the fact that a lot of my RBIs are coming with two outs," he said. "I'm really bearing down. I kind of feel like if there's anyone on base, whether they are at third base or first base, that's an opportunity for me to drive them in. You want to concentrate in every at bat, but if there‘s someone on base, especially with two out, you‘ve got to get them in. We‘ve lost some guys in our lineup, so I‘m trying to step up and kind of fill that void."
When the Braves drafted Romak three years ago, they believed he would develop solid power. He had to deal with a position change, going from third base to the outfield, and that usually stunts offensive development a bit. Plus, he's dealt with back trouble and then a broken hand last year. But now that he's healthy, and now that he's gotten back on track offensively, Romak hopes he can finish up this season on a high note.
"I‘d like to get better every game, but for me, I‘d like to get up to .300," Romak admitted. "I‘m chipping away everyday. That‘s my goal. It‘s lofty, considering where I started. I think I was like .170 at the break, but I‘m just going to keep going at it hard everyday. The opportunity is there. I‘ve got to thank the coaching staff for believing in me and sticking with me through the tough times. I‘m working my way out of it now. I'm getting to be where I want to be. It‘s a little less than two months left, but lot‘s of time for me to get my numbers where they need to be."
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jamie Romak turning things around
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