Cards Have a Batting Champ in Miguel Negron

Recent St. Louis Cardinals minor league signee Miguel "Mickey" Negron won the 2006-2007 Puerto Rican Winter League batting crown and the outfielder placed second in the Most Valuable Player vote.

It is now officially time for St. Louis Cardinals fans to learn the name Miguel Negron.

In November, the 24-year-old Puerto Rican outfielder was one of a number of players signed by the Cards as minor league free agents with an invitation to Spring Training camp.

Since then, "Mickey" Negron has done everything he can do to stand out from the crowd.

In winter ball in Puerto Rico, he was crowned the league's regular season batting champion, hitting a lusty .381 in 124 at-bats for the second-place Caguas Criollos. As a point of comparison, the second-place finisher hit 40 points less and only five other .300 hitters qualified for the batting crown.

Negron wasn't a one-trick act as he also paced the six-team circuit in slugging percentage (.548). He was second in on-base percentage (.422), hits (48) and tied for second in runs scored (24). Negron stroked 12 doubles, good for a tie for third and his 21 RBI tied for fifth-most across the league.

Negron placed second in the League's Most Valuable Player award voting announced Monday and was selected to the All-Star Team. The MVP winner was his Caguas teammate, catcher Raul Casanova.

If it continues, this new-found success with the bat would finally round out Negron's long-anticipated potential as a top prospect.

The Toronto Blue Jays' first-round draft pick back in 2000 (the 18th selection overall) has several plus tools – particularly arm strength and speed – the latter having said to have been the best in the Jays' system. He can play all three outfield positions but has primarily been a centerfielder.

In the past, the downside of Negron's game was his hitting, limiting him to a fifth-outfielder, defensive replacement projection. Still, coming off his fourth season in Single-A, the left-handed hitter was added to the Jays' 40-man roster following the 2004 season.

With the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League during 2005, Negron put up a .258/.304/.387 line and returned there in 2006. When Toronto added pitcher Ty Taubenheim to their 40-man roster in late May, they had to make room. After hitting just .215 in his first 130 at-bats, Negron was placed on waivers and claimed by the Chicago Cubs.

According to one Toronto scout, the Blue Jays had grown tired of Negron's alleged stubbornness to favor the home run. The scout said they wanted to see him focus more on gap-to-gap power, and also questioned his work ethic.

Whatever the circumstances, the change of scenery was also welcomed by Negron.

"They don't say they've given up on you. That's not the way to do it," Negron told Scout.com at the time. "But I am a human being and I know. I know when people change their minds about persons. I don't like to talk bad about people, but they never gave me the chance.

"They have their own players and they prefer their own guys."

Negron didn't carry any resentment toward the Toronto organization. He was reminded that baseball is a business, and sometimes business relationships require change.

"Sure it's a business," Negron re-iterated. "Sometimes, when you aren't comfortable in one place, your performance isn't the same."

As required upon being claimed, Negron was added to Chicago's 40-man roster and reported to their Double-A affiliate at West Tennessee. Sure enough, he improved to a .291/.349/.404 line to close out the 2006 season there. It looked as if he had found a new home.

"When you come to a new organization after six years, it's not always easy," Negron said. "You say in your mind that you can make the adjustments. You say to yourself that you know you can hit, that you just have to find a way.

"Double-A, Triple-A, the big leagues, it's all the same to me," he said. "The only thing different is that guys in the big leagues are more consistent. I'm not the kind of player who likes to think about whether I belong here or there. I'm here now and just want to do my job here. When they think you're ready for the next level, they'll give you the opportunity."

His manager raved about Negron's play. "Negron's done such a good job since he got here," West Tennessee manager Pat Listach told Scout.com this past summer. "He puts the ball in play. He's got an above average arm. He can steal some bases and throw some guys out. He's a good all-around ballplayer. He's opened some eyes over here, that's for sure."

Yet good apparently wasn't good enough. Negron was unceremoniously released by the Cubs in mid-November, freeing up a spot on their 40-man roster. The Cardinals were there to snatch him up.

Our Scout.com Cubs publisher Steve Holley from "Inside the Ivy" explains. "The reasoning behind the Cubs letting Negron go was simply depth. They are packed in the outfield and there just aren't enough roster spots available to go around, especially with Felix Pie, Chris Walker, Ryan Harvey and now Eric Patterson all competing for outfield jobs at Triple-A and Double-A."

Holley also believes Negron was a victim of being an outsider. "If he had been a prospect developed by the Cubs, he may have stood a stronger chance of sticking. But even that did not help Luis Montanez, the third overall pick from 2000 (who was also cut by the Cubs)," Holley said.

It remains to be seen if Negron's winter success in Puerto Rico will translate to regular season results. But if so, it wouldn't be the first time the Cardinals have struck gold with a former Blue Jay first-round draft pick who was later waived (Chris Carpenter) or a speedy ex-Cub outfielder (Lou Brock).

Either way, it will be interesting to see where Miguel Negron fits in a crowded Cardinals outfield picture at the upper levels of the system in 2007.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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