Guyer Learning the Ropes at Double-A

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – A quick look at Brandon Guyer's 2009 numbers might produce a vivid image of a struggling ballplayer. But the real story behind the Chicago Cubs' 23-year-old outfield prospect paints a different picture.

Guyer skipped a level to start for the Class AA Tennessee Smokies this season, going from Class Low-A Peoria to Tennessee and completely waiving off Class High-A Daytona.

"I knew there might be a chance and I just knew if I went into the offseason, worked hard, and tried to get better in all facets of the game that there was a slight chance I might get moved up," Guyer says. "It worked out that I was able to skip a level and come here."

According to Cubs' Minor League Hitting Coordinator Dave Keller, the decision for Guyer to leap over High-A ball was made so that Guyer -- regarded as one of the most athletic players in the organization -- could learn the ropes of center field.

Keller and the Cubs even expected Guyer's bat to struggle since he was making such a huge jump. A quick peak at Guyer's .173 average through 52 games and that certainly appears to be the case.

But to the mainstays at Smokies Park, Guyer, and most importantly the coaching staff, it's obvious that Guyer's bat isn't struggling all that much.

"Since the start of the season, he's hit balls all over the ball park that got caught, so some things didn't go his way up to this point. He continues to make good contact and now he's starting to get his hits so he's doing a fine job for us," Smokies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Guyer.

"We knew that his offense was probably going to take a hit, especially the first couple of months," added Keller. "But he hasn't been overmatched, and I think that the numbers are probably a little bit misleading because he hits the ball on the barrel. He's had a lot of tough luck. The time that I was with him for nine days, he hit the ball hard and didn't have anything to show for it.

"His outfield play has improved drastically in center field because he really hadn't played there much. He was more of a left-fielder the last couple of years. We had a need where we needed a center fielder because (Tyler) Colvin was hurt, so it warranted him going there and his defense has really improved."

Guyer agreed that he'd had some bad luck this season.

"I've been hitting the ball hard and in this game sometimes that happens," Guyer said. "Balls don't fall and I just have to keep grinding it and work my way out of what I've gotten into. I know it's a long season and everything will be all right."

In fact, Guyer -- who played at the University of Virginia before being drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- doesn't even consider the jump from Low-A to Double-A the most difficult transition he's made in his young career.

"The jump from college to Single-A was tough for me because I dislocated my shoulder two days before the draft, so I was rehabbing that for the first couple months. The first couple months of playing minor league ball was kind of rough just for the fact that I was coming off that injury," Guyer said.

"I really don't find the jump from Peoria to Tennessee all that tough. I've just gone through some bad breaks and all that, but it's a long season."

While Guyer has endured a wave of bad luck offensively, he's been effectively decreasing the averages of the rest of the hitters in the Southern League. Guyer has turned his stomping grounds in center field into a virtual no-fly zone and narrowed the gaps to mere alleyways for opposing hitters.

Guyer is in just his first year as a center fielder, and already he considers one of the most difficult aspects of the position one of his biggest strengths.

"Running down balls in the gaps, I've been working on that a lot. This is my first full year at center field so I'm really working on that and trying to perfect that," Guyer says. "I work a lot on taking good routes, running to the spot and not just drifting to the ball."

Guyer (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) may have developed his natural range playing for Herndon High School in Virginia; not on the baseball diamond, but the football field.

"To tell you the truth, I think football might have been my favorite sport, but I knew my future would be baseball. I've always loved playing baseball, but football to me you can't beat. Running over someone or laying someone out in football was the fun part about that. But I love playing baseball, too," Guyer said.

According to Guyer, football helped his baseball career in more ways than just his range in the outfield.

"My mentality out there is that I just want to go and play as hard as I can and if that means running into walls or running over a catcher, that's the closest you can get to playing football and getting that contact, so I think it helped in that aspect," Guyer says.

Guyer is successfully learning the ropes of center field just as Keller and the Cubs had hoped, and with the consensus opinion among the Cubs' brass that he will soon start reaping the benefits of his good contact at the plate, it seems clear that Guyer is quietly becoming one of the Cubs top prospects.

"He's a hard worker, he puts his time in, and he's working every day on a lot of things. He's making progress," Sandberg said. "When he's in the lineup, he brings a real solid center field (and) good speed out there. His arm is above average and he's right there on the verge as far as getting hot and bringing his batting average up."

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