Few could have predicted the slippery slope that Brian Dopirak, now 24, would follow after that monstrous 2004 season.
After clubbing 39 home runs and knocking in 120 runs that year, the 2002 second-round draft pick regressed in the transition to Class High-A ball at Daytona the following season, then battled through a nagging (misdiagnosed) foot injury in 2006 before being void of injury throughout 2007, when he batted .218 at Class AA Tennessee before being sent to back to the Florida State League and Daytona.
He appeared to get back on track at Daytona, where he cracked 17 home runs and 23 doubles in 94 games.
He has been with the Double-A squad throughout minor league spring training and expects to begin the year in eastern Tennessee in two weeks.
"I'm just trying to prepare for a healthy year," Dopirak said from minor league camp this month. "I've lost a little weight (but) not too much. I think that will help take the pressure off my foot and make me a little more agile playing defense.
"(Offensively) my hands are still quick and the power is still there," he added. "Now I'm just looking forward to playing."
How much does it help your confidence and your psyche knowing you put together a strong showing at Daytona after being sent down a level last season?
BRIAN DOPIRAK: It helps out big time, because I was just trying to make up for the previous years. I'd wanted to do so well that I'd been trying to eat the elephant in one bite. You have to eat it one bite at a time and that's what I started to do.
What things did you iron out to help you post the type of numbers you did there?
DOPIRAK: A lot of it was mental and a lot had to do with [manager] Jody [Davis] and [hitting coach] Richie [Zisk]; the atmosphere that Jody provided for me just to relax and say, ‘Hey, there's no pressure here. You just go out and work on your swing.' Richie was real laid back with everything. We focused on a lot of positives instead of trying to focus on all of the negatives.
How much did trying to get the rust off from 2006 – the injury, etc. – play into everything?
DOPIRAK: I think that was a huge part, because I kind of fell behind the eight-ball as far as getting my at-bats. I fell a little behind, not getting those at-bats and not being able to compete. That all goes back to trying to do too much and what I was saying about eating the elephant in one bite.
How is your foot? Do you have any lingering effects from the injury?
DOPIRAK: It's great. Dr. (Stephen) Gryzlo had me go and get a check-up (this spring) as precautionary and everything looks fully heeled and 100 percent.
Was it 100 percent throughout all of last year?
DOPIRAK: Yeah, it was 100 percent mostly. There were a few times where I was kind of iffy about it, but it was just me wanting to make sure it was all right. It is 100 percent and making it through that (injury) was big confidence-wise.
Strikeouts have always been part of your game. What have you done to improve on your all-around plate discipline?
DOPIRAK: I'm just trying to keep it simple. I think plate discipline comes with seeing the ball and when you're seeing the ball, you're not swinging at bad pitches. When you are, you see a lot of good things happen for you.
Defensively, where are you looking to improve?
DOPIRAK: I'm still at first and am still working on all the mechanics there: bending your knees, getting that glove out. It's just baseball, but there are things you have to do. Once you do, it's worth all the work.
When the Cubs took you off the 40-man roster last season and had to place you on waivers, how did you react?
DOPIRAK: You always want to know that there's an opportunity for you and that somebody has interest in you. Anybody would want that; it's just natural. On the other hand, I understand it's a business and that they wanted to put the best team on the field. There were no hurt feelings or anything like that. This organization has given me a ton and I appreciate that, so I just looked at it as a business.