Colvin Not Used to Struggles

KODAK, Tenn. – When Tyler Colvin gets a glimpse of the scoreboard before his at-bats in the Southern League, the numbers still jolt him. He isn't used to seeing a sub-.300 batting average attached to his name.

Colvin's manager thinks the Cubs prospect has all the tools to change that.

"He's a hard worker," said Tennessee manager Pat Listach. "Every time you see him, he's got a bat in his hand. He loves to hit. He's always in the cage. He works hard on his defense.

"He's got a long way to go," Listach added. "He is by no means ready for the big leagues right now, but if he keeps up that work ethic that he has and continues to improve and get a little more selective at the plate, he's not far away."

Colvin, the Cubs' first-round draft pick in 2006, was promoted to Double-A Tennessee from Single-A Daytona on June 20. Colvin had hit .306 in Daytona in 63 games, but he initially struggled at the plate for the Smokies, and he started in a hole with a sub-.200 batting average through seven games.

"It was good for me to get off to a good start in Daytona," Colvin said. "It helped me out because then if I struggled for a couple of games, I was still batting over .300. It's kind of bad right now. I look up there, and I'm batting .230, .240. I get a little overanxious and try to get hits on pitches you can't get a hit with. I just need to relax and not worry about my batting average right now. Hit a strike. Don't go after balls."

Colvin apparently took his own advice several games ago. He's actually hitting .273 now, and his batting average has steadily climbed with the corresponding patience at the plate.

He has eight doubles and four home runs in 37 games, and his on-base plus slugging percentage has jumped to .711.

What Colvin is seeing in the Southern League now are some pitchers who know how to get batters out.

"They're pitching to him. They're not just throwing to him," Listach said. "He's not getting fastballs on fastball counts and he's got to recognize pitches. He's a little bit aggressive. He's not taking his walks when he should be taking his walks, he's swinging at pitches out of the zone, and guys are staying out of the zone with him. At this level, if they see you will chase it out of the zone, they keep it out of the zone."

That is apparent as Colvin has 34 strikeouts to just four walks, two of which have come in his past seven games.

He is having to make some on-the-job adjustments.

"He's got to make some adjustments at pitch recognition and swinging at strikes," Listach said. "When he's swinging at strikes, he can do some damage. But when they make him chase the high pitch up and away or down and in, he gets himself out. Whenever he learns to lay off those pitches, he's going to be a force at the plate."

That is an ongoing learning process, and Colvin is making incremental progress with each game.

"The pitchers have a little bit better control here and know exactly what they want to do to get you out," Colvin said. "They don't make as many mistakes as the pitchers do in High-A. Basically I just have to keep myself under control and go up there with a plan in order to do better."

Listach sees a lot to like in the 21-year-old left-handed outfielder.

"You can look at him and compare his swing to a player like Shawn Green, because they have similar build," Listach said. "I don't know if he'll be as good as Shawn Green is – Shawn is a heck of a ballplayer – but that would be a start."

Despite his initial impatience at the plate in Tennessee, Colvin fully understands that baseball is a game that takes considerable time.

He played at North Augusta High School in South Carolina, and was not heavily recruited. He decided to go to his home state school of Clemson.

"Basically, they were the only Division I school after me," Colvin said. "I wasn't spectacular in high school. I didn't do anything special, but they liked what they saw. I went to a bunch of camps and luckily I showed out during the summer and Coach (Jack) Leggett liked me."

That decision worked out for both sides. Colvin hit .356 in 69 games for Clemson, with 13 homers and 70 RBI his junior season. He led the team with 100 hits and 22 doubles, and had 23 stolen bases in 27 attempts.

Colvin was the 13th overall selection in the 2006 draft and felt his decision to go to college was the best one for him.

"You just learn so much," he said. "In high school, you think you know the game and you get to college and there are so many little things you never really thought about. I really learned a lot my first year there and the last two, too. Being there and learning from the other guys and the coaches really helped out a lot."

Colvin needs three more semesters of coursework to complete his bachelor's degree in business management.

His mother expects her son to get his degree, and Colvin has already looked into taking online classes in the off-seasons, though if he's assigned to an instructional or fall league, the coursework would have to wait.

"I promised her I'd finish," Colvin said. "I intend to finish."

Colvin's patience extends to his physical maturation, too. His 6-foot-3 frame currently carries 190 pounds. But as a youngster playing baseball in South Carolina, he remembers feeling undersized.

"There're some teammates that I remember when I was 12 years old, they were already six feet tall and I was still a little runt," Colvin said. "Finally, I've caught up a little bit."

Colvin's frame could stand to hold a few more pounds, especially to get through the grind of summer.

Strength training has been an emphasis since he arrived at Clemson.

"It was last year," he said. "It has been every year since I got to college. They really focus on getting stronger. This off-season, I'm going to work hard at it and try to get my weight up somewhere around 205, 210 maybe. I just need to make sure I stay flexible and stay pretty fast so I can stick in centerfield."

Listach said Colvin may be lean in body type, but that he is stronger than he might outwardly appear.

"He's only 21 years old," Listach said. "He's a strong kid. He's not weak by any means, but he can definitely get stronger and get bigger, and hopefully in three or four years he'll put on 10 pounds and he'll hit for some more power than what he already has. He looks thin, but he's pretty ripped."

Listach has used Colvin primarily in center field with some appearances in right field, too. Colvin doesn't mind.

"I played left field all through college," Colvin said. "The last half of last season, I played left. This year, I've been switching from center to right, mostly center. I'm comfortable anywhere I play. I just like to be in the lineup."

Colvin has the speed and range to play center. He also has the arm to play right field. That arm strength has been something he's had to harness a bit.

"He's got a good arm," Listach said. "He's just got to learn to keep the ball down and hit the cut-off man. He wants to throw everybody out. He's real gung-ho about the whole game. When he's got a bat in his hand, he's ready to swing, and when he's got a ball in his hand, he's ready to throw. He's got to tone it down just a tad and keep the same aggressiveness."

Colvin smiles when this information is relayed to him. He is as easygoing off the field as he is "gung-ho" on it, handling the media with comfortable ease.

During a recent fielding practice session, Colvin aired out his throws home. Listach shook his head, motioned with his arm to get the ball down, and then pointed with the bat to the cut-off man.

Right on cue, the next throw from Colvin was a perfect one-hopper to the catcher that brought a nod of approval from Listach.

"He's got to control that a little bit," Listach said. "He made a bad decision the other night on a throw to third base and let the tying run walk into second. So he's got to learn when to try to throw a runner out and when to keep the tying run off of second base and keep the double play intact.

"It's just a matter of him playing the game more."

Colvin did the same thing to an opponent on July 27.

He singled to drive in a run and then scooted from first to third on a single to center field by Kyle Reynolds. That forced a throw to third, which allowed Reynolds to reach second.

Both players then scored when Issmael Salas singled, and it gave the Smokies a 3-0 first inning lead that they never surrendered.

"Sometimes I get a little anxious because I like to show off my arm," Colvin said sheepishly. "I don't think I have a great arm, but I have enough arm to throw somebody out. Right now it's getting late (in the season), and I want to show it off a little too much.

"I need to tone it down some and make sure I hit the cut-off man in the head because if I throw it at their head, either they can cut it or they can let it go and it will be a perfect one-hop. I don't need to try to air it out to the bases all the time," he added.

It's been a year of learning and adjustments for Colvin since he was plucked in the first round a year ago, and so far he's handled it with aplomb.

He spent his first pro season at Low-A Boise in 2006, batting .268 in 64 games, and then was invited to Big League Spring Training Camp on Jan. 9.

Colvin hit .318 (7-for-22) in eight games with the Cubs this past spring and then was assigned to Daytona.

"My goal was to show that I could play during Big League Spring Training, just show them what I had, go play good in Daytona and hopefully get a late-season promotion here," Colvin said. "Luckily it came (mid-season) so I could get some good at-bats here."

It was that performance in the spring that made Listach believe Colvin would make the midseason adjustment to Double-A.

"Here's a guy that went to big league camp," Listach said. "He's been around big league players. I think this is just another adjustment period for him. It's a game of adjustments, and he's going to have to make a few."

Colvin has also made the adjustment in the locker room from first-round pick to just one of the guys.

He has accepted the good-natured remarks that come his way.

"I tell everybody (that) I don't look at myself as a first-round draft pick," Colvin said. "I look at myself as a baseball player. Some of the guys joke around with me here, (saying) ‘Hey, prospect.' It's all in good fun. I don't see anyone being bitter toward me for it. I go out there and I play the game how it should be played. I like to hustle and help the team out anyway I can, so I think they all appreciate that."

Colvin also cited the Smokies' camaraderie in the clubhouse and "gelling with the new teammates" as the easiest adjustment he's made this summer.

"You're in Daytona, and you're comfortable with who you're playing with and then you get up here and you know everyone, but you haven't really played baseball with them yet," Colvin said. "That has come fairly easily. We have a bunch of good guys on this team."

Colvin has since been joined by five of his Daytona teammates in outfielder Alberto Garcia, catcher Alan Rick and infielders Nate Spears, Robinson Chirinos and Reynolds, who have all arrived in Tennessee since July 17.

Rick was Colvin's fishing partner in Daytona. Fishing is a downtime activity that Colvin said he needs to indulge this summer and drop a few more lines in the water.

"I try to find a little hole to do some fishing at," Colvin said. "Lately we haven't had much time, but I'm trying to get acclimated up here. I know there's a lake around here. (In Daytona), we would go fishing early in the morning and then go to the field. We've got to get back on that schedule and go some more."

At the ballpark, Colvin is trying to find some holes in the field to drop in some hits. The Southern League has some venues that can be graveyards for hitters.

"This is a pitcher's league," Listach noted. "Ballparks are bigger with the exception of this one (Smokies Park) and Montgomery. The ball doesn't carry in Birmingham, Mississippi, Huntsville, Jacksonville. It's hard to hit home runs. For the most part, the Southern League is pitching-dominated ballparks. Ballparks are huge here. You've got to hit with a little bit more than you would in another league."

For now, Colvin is just concerned about having better at-bats.

"See some more pitches," he said. "Take my walks. That's something I haven't really done so far here. I've been a little anxious at the plate so I just want to relax up there, do my job and knock as many guys in as I can.

"I swing at a bunch of balls out of the zone. I've just got to get a little more relaxed. See my pitch, hit my pitch, and not what the pitcher wants me to hit," he added.

Colvin is living a childhood dream by playing baseball, and part of his success has been his willingness to be patient and to put in the work.

"I knew it as soon as I could actually play that this is what I wanted to do," he said. "In high school, I'd go straight to the field after school, and I'd stay there until dark after practice. Now I can do that, and I get paid for it. I don't think I'd like to do anything else."

Colvin is developing into a five-tool player – one who can hit for power, hit for average, field, throw and run. Those types of players are a lock for the major leagues.

"He's got three tools that are really good," Listach said. "He's got a pretty good arm so that's four tools. I don't know how high he's going to hit for average. That remains to be seen. If he does that then you've got a five-tool player."

The Cubs are bunched up in the outfield right now with a superstar in Alfonso Soriano, proven performers in Jacque Jones and Cliff Floyd, and other top prospects waiting in the wings.

That's not an issue for Colvin.

"I can't look at it right now because I'm not ready to be a big leaguer," Colvin said. "I just got moved up to Double A. This is not my year. Maybe next year if I show out and do everything. Maybe. I can't look at that right now. I just keep working on what I need to work on down here and let everything fall as it may."

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