Canzler Helping Hawks

Russ Canzler's eighth-inning home run on Thursday night was not only his team-leading 11th blast of the year, it also broke a 5-5 tie and gave the Class-A Boise Hawks a 6-5 victory and series sweep over the Spokane Indians at Boise's Memorial Stadium.

"He works hard," Hawks manager Steve McFarland says of the 20-year-old Canzler, a right-handed hitter. "It's good to see him having some success, because I know it's been a struggle for him since he'd been stuck in Arizona the past couple of years and wasn't able to get out of there last year.

"Hopefully, this will be a springboard for him."

The Hawks, courtesy of Canzler's home run, improved to 28-23 overall and have a one-game lead over Tri-City in the Northwest League's Eastern Division with less than a month remaining in minor league play.

Canzler moved into second place in the league in home runs, two behind the Indians' Chris Davis. His 42 RBIs are second most in the league this season.

Overall, Canzler is batting .274 in 49 games. He was drafted two years ago in the 30th round from Hazleton Area High School in Pennsylvania. This is his first year with the Hawks after two seasons with the Mesa Cubs of the Arizona Rookie League.

"I still don't like to consider myself a power hitter," confesses Canzler, who hit only one home run in each of his first two seasons with the Mesa team. "I know there are other parts of my game that I can contribute with."

Parts such as being an "RBI-first" kind of hitter, he says.

"I just want to be a guy that can drive runners in," Canzler said, adding, "the same guy that will do anything and execute anything to move runners or get runners home. I don't try to hit home runs."

Two years ago, Canzler opted for the Cubs after signing a letter of intent with the University of Richmond – the same school that once housed noteworthy Cub prospects like Nic Jackson and Matt Craig.

While Canzler has started most of his games at first base (just as he did a year ago), he was initially drafted as a third baseman. He has committed eight errors this season and has a .982 fielding percentage.

Canzler recalled how the move across the diamond transpired.

"Last year in rookie ball, we didn't have a set first baseman," he said. "Steve McFarland asked if I wanted to play. I told him I'd play anywhere as long as it was in the lineup. That's all I was really worried about at the time."

McFarland managed the Mesa team in 2005 and moved up with Canzler to Boise for '06. He has seen the youngster slowly develop into more of a power hitter in spite of Canzler's modest objections.

"The ball has always come off his bat pretty good," McFarland said. "For his first time out of Mesa, he's having a pretty good year. His power numbers are up. He's starting to show the power that everybody thought he was going to have, plus the ability to drive in runs."

Despite having back-to-back seasons at first, Canzler doesn't feel confined strictly to the position. Like many players his age, he's willing to play as many positions as possible in hopes of impressing the organization with versatility, and range.

Canzler is also playing before his first real crowds in a professional atmosphere. He's making the long bus rides with the team every five days on road series. He's living in hotels away from home. Simply put, he's living the life of a Class-A minor league baseball player, and with that comes new emotions – something Canzler has had to control at times this season.

"Kevin Green, our hitting coach, recently sat with me because he saw how frustrated I was getting not being able to hit the ball every time up," said Canzler. "He said, ‘Look, all we want right now is for you to hit the ball hard.'

"Even if I'm going to make an out, it's going to be a hard-hit ball somewhere. That's the mentality I'm trying to have," added Canzler.

Canzler's journey to Boise and the top of the Northwest League ranks started in the off-season. He fanatically works out lifting weights and building muscle year-round in an effort to come into Spring Training with as little regrets as possible about being prepared for the season ahead.

Prior to most every game, he and teammates are hitting the gym for daily workouts.

"No regrets. None," the 6'2, 210-lb Canzler says of getting prepared for the season in advance. "It's tough enough in the regular season when your body is tired and you're used to sleeping in. I sometimes give our strength and conditioning coach a hard time for making us all go to the gym, but I'll be thanking him toward the end of the season when I'm not burned out."

The only thing Canzler may have wished differently this season was beginning another year in Extended Spring Training. He had hoped to begin the year in Peoria.

"Everything happens for a reason and I was in ‘Extended' for a reason. The Cubs know I can play and that I will give them my best effort, every day, no matter where I'm at," Canzler said.

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