Due to injuries within the organization, the 22-year-old was called upon to fill roster positions while other players got healthy. Starting out at Quad Cities, he was sent to extended spring training. Then, the right-handed hitter was assigned to Springfield and Memphis – all within the first month and a half of the season.
"All of a sudden one morning (in extended spring training)," Wittels said, "one of the coaches called me over and said ‘you're going to Double-A. Somebody got hurt.' So basically I was just playing with the house's money. I was going up there just trying to enjoy myself and if I get an opportunity, to run with it."
Wittels had one pinch-hit at-bat with the Springfield Cardinals and then spent about two weeks with the Redbirds going 2-for-4 with a triple in four games before being reassigned to Batavia for the second straight year.
"It was definitely a great experience," he said. "I got to play in front of a lot of different coaches in the organization, a lot of different players, (and) got to meet a lot of different people."
It was an odd course for a young player in the organization to take -- especially someone like Wittels who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and whose professional baseball experience was limited to short-season and low single-A ball.
He might have been moved around the organization for necessity's sake, but Wittels still says it was a positive experience.
"I got to work with so many different hitting coaches throughout the organization," he said, "and for a young hitter, that's one of the greatest things to really do is a get a lot guys higher in the organization that really know what it takes to make it to the major leagues, being able to tell you little things to do – what you're doing right and wrong with your swing."
Muckdogs manager Dann Bilardello also saw the positives of his infielder being exposed to more experienced players within the organization.
"I think he was smart," Bilardello said. "He (knew he) wasn't going to be in Triple-A at this point. But I think he looked at it as an opportunity to learn and I think he came away with some good things. So for him it was a benefit. When you watch some of those things at the higher levels it makes it nice for players and they're able to learn what it takes to play at those levels, too."
Wittels was particularly excited about his experience with Redbirds' hitting coach Mark Budaska, who helped him improve even for the short time he was with the team.
"He actually moved me off the plate a little bit thinking I'd be able to clear myself more to the inside pitch which I was kind of having trouble with," he said.
Needless to say, coming back to Batavia wasn't the most desirable scenario. But after struggling with the River Bandits (.208/.279/.272 with five doubles and six RBI in 25 games) and not playing every day, he now sees what he can gain from returning to the New York-Penn League: another season with hitting coach Roger LaFrancois.
"Whenever you work with someone as a hitting coach for a whole year," Wittels said, "they really know what makes you successful and what makes you not successful. There were times last year when Roger had to kick me out of the cage because I was swinging too much. I have a great rapport with him."
In his position, Bilardello doesn't like to see players -- ones who went to college in particular – repeat at Batavia. But as long as Wittels handles his frustration in a proactive way, he will continue to improve.
"There's two ways to look at it," he said. "You can sit here and say ‘you know what, I'm back, I'm miserable,' or you keep battling and keep working and keep getting better. Don't look at it as a negative."
Motivation to work hard and grind through a baseball season were not things anyone had to teach Wittels; he possesses that internally. What his journey through this system this season though did do – above anything – was reinforce his work ethic.
"Everyone really had a taste of what you needed to go there (to the Majors)," he said. "It was great being around those guys and seeing their routines every day and how hard they work and how hard they want to be there.
"It kind of pushes me even more."
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