Murton Reflects on Another All-Star Season

Without much surprise, West Tenn OF Matt Murton was recently named to this year's AA-Southern League All-Star game, scheduled for Wednesday, July 13 in Mobile, Ala. The 2003 first round pick led the league in batting average for the entire first half and currently ranks second in total hits with 97 on the season--only three behind Devil Rays top prospect Delmon Young of Montgomery.

"It's a great honor and a great opportunity to be chosen," said Murton, batting .336 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 72 games with the Diamond Jaxx.

"There are a lot of great players in this league. One of the reasons why I think we had so much success in getting guys named to the all-star game is that we have such a great team here, and that makes a big difference in our individual performances. When you have more guys hitting well both in front of you and behind you, it makes a big difference."

Murton is one of seven Jaxx players named to this year's all-star squad, joining fellow position players Felix Pie, Buck Coats, and Casey McGehee. Pitchers Ricky Nolasco, Andrew Shipman and Talley Haines were also selected, with Haines recently promoted to Triple-A Iowa.

With the success Murton has had this season, he isn't letting any of it go to his head or cloud his judgment into thinking he's further ahead of where he is.

"It's all still a process, even whenever you move up a level as I did this year," Murton said. "You're always thankful, but you're not ever really satisfied."

Murton may not be satisfied, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone else who isn't. After all, the 23-year-old began the year by hitting safely in his first 15 games. He went on to hit over .400 through May 20 and only recently dipped below the .350 mark on June 23.

The Georgia Tech alumnus admits to staying even keel at all times.

"I try to eliminate both the highs and lows of a season," Murton said. "I have stretches where I'm seeing the ball well, and then I have times where I fall into slumps. I try to keep a level head through it all. That's why we play 140 games. It's not going to matter what you're hitting in May, but rather in September."

Nonetheless, getting off to such a blazing start and therefore setting the stage for the rest of his teammates was critical for Murton and the eventual first-half northern division champions.

And Murton knows the second half is no time for slacking up, either.

The Jaxx are 4-4 through their first eight games in the second half after taking the opener of a four-game series with Huntsville on Thursday night at Pringles Park.

"We try to keep it ‘business as usual' as much as possible," Murton said. "Unfortunately, you sometimes tend to relax knowing you're already in the playoffs. We need to focus on getting better selectively, so that when September rolls around, we're not flat."

Of course, if Murton's second half is anything at all like his first half, the chances of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native earning a promotion to Triple-A before September are a distinct possibility.

Murton embraces the idea of making his Triple-A debut some time this year while continuing to stay focused at his current level.

"I think it lurks in the back of everyone's head, especially if you're playing well," he said. "You sometimes look ahead, but you have to stay focused with the task at hand."

Even still, with the promotions of fellow prospects Rich Hill and Carmen Pignatiello to Triple-A and above, Murton acknowledges the chances of earning a promotion himself becomes even better.

"It's a positive thing for all of us," he said. "Whenever we see guys have success up there, it's a good thing. The more chances we get, the more apt they are to bring more of us up. They have a lot of young guys all throughout the majors now. What Andruw Jones did as a rookie has had a lot to do with that over the years. The more guys we get up there that are successful, the more they'll take a serious look at us."

And like any team player, Murton gives credit where credit is due. He recognizes the significant amount of coaching and tutoring he's gotten since coming over from the Red Sox in the Nomar Garciaparra trade last July.

Jaxx hitting coach Von Joshua has particularly taken on a more direct approach with Murton.

"Von has been really good with our hitters," Murton said. "He's given us the freedom to showcase our natural talents and abilities. He's also given us individual instructions and is good at letting us do our thing without any of us becoming ‘cookie-cutter' hitters. He has done a great job of getting us together. He brings it to the table."

For anyone who looks at Murton's statistics this season and compares them to those of years past, one of the first things to stand out is Murton's increase in stolen bases this season. He currently has 16 steals as opposed to only seven last year between Class-A Daytona and Sarasota.

It's something that Murton has worked on extensively with Cubs roving outfield/baserunning instructor Vince Coleman, and perfected by manager Bobby Dickerson's "green light" approach this season.

"Bobby has given me and some of the other players the freedom to run as long as we show that we know exactly when to run," Murton explained.

"I know this is the first year that I've ever really had the green light. Now that I have it, I have more of an aggressive mentality on the bases. There are still times when I could run, but I choose not to because of the situations. I'm just trying to be smart out there. I know that whenever I move up to the next level, I'm not going to be a guy who is going to steal 50-60 bases, but rather 25-30 important ones."

In the meantime, Murton will continue to enjoy the success he's had in his first year at Double-A. The 2005 season marks the second consecutive year that Murton has been named to an all-star squad, as he was chosen as one with Sarasota a season ago before being traded to the Cubs.

"Certainly this is a tough league, but to get this chance in Double-A is a great thing," Murton added. "I know that last year, we all had a lot of fun at the all-star game. The all-star game is really a time to enjoy the camaraderie and to just hang out with all the guys. It's not like you're going around saying, ‘Look at me, I'm an all-star,' so I'm not going to change who I am at all. It's a great opportunity for all of us."

And for Matt Murton, it's perhaps just the beginning of many great opportunities in his career.

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