Josh Womack: Under the Radar

One of several talented young outfielders on Wisconsin's roster this year is noneother than Josh Womack, a second-round draft choice by Seattle in the 2002 June draft. Womack has all the tools to be a quality player for years to come, and hopes 2004 is the year he starts putting everything together. InsidethePark.com's Kevin Damask caught up with the 20-year-old recently to talk about the season ahead.

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers improved their record to 4-4 on Friday night, beating the Peoria Chiefs, 5-1, for their fourth-straight victory after starting the season 0-4. While the pitching has been strong, the hitting has left much to be desired, and one person the Rattlers are hoping to see more production from is that of third-year outfielder Josh Womack.

In June 2002, the Seattle Mariners drafted Womack in the second round out of Crawford High in San Diego. He began his professional career shortly after high school graduation, and has been on the go ever since.

While playing for Peoria of the Arizona Rookie League, Womack hit .269 in 43 games. He collected 43 hits, including 10 doubles and five triples, while scoring 20 runs. This production could be attributed to Womack's speed, which is considered above average.

"I think that's (Womack's) biggest strength is his speed," said Timber Rattler's batting coach Dana Williams. "I try to tell guys who are like Josh to use their speed, because that's one thing you can't teach."

In 2003, Womack moved up to the next level, playing for the Everett Aqua Sox. He posted an eight-game hitting streak in July and batted .428 during that time. Just as Womack was getting hot, though, he suffered his first injury as a pro, fracturing his left-middle finger. He was placed on the disabled list, where he stayed until August 11. Womack was able to bounce back quickly from the injury, however, and continued to hit well. On September 2, he had four hits in one game, showing he was back at full speed.

Despite his success at Peoria and Everett, Williams says that Womack still has all lot to learn.

"A lot of these kids come to this level and think they know everything, and they don't know anything really," Williams said.

Williams stressed that knowledge of the game has to go hand-in-hand with a player's natural ability. That case can be made for Womack, who at age 20, has the natural ability, but not all lot of knowledge.

"He has to learn what to do in certain situations, he needs to play more and learn from repetition, "said the batting coach.

Womack ended a strong season in 2003 by participating in the Mariner's Arizona Instructional League, and said that the biggest thrill of his young career so far was playing in a Mariners' Spring Training game in March. In that game, Womack went two-for-three against his hometown San Diego Padres.

According to Womack, one of the everyday thrills of playing professional baseball is the joy he gets playing in front of fans.

"The love of the game is just the best part; the atmosphere is awesome, there is really nothing else like it," said Womack.

As great as it sounds, life as a minor league player isn't always perfect, especially for those still in the lower levels of the minors like Womack. At the Single-A level, players have to bus long distances to their games and often play in less than ideal ballparks. In addition, many minor leaguers have to work during the off-season because their pay is so low.

But the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Womack shouldn't have to worry about wasting away in the minor leagues. The 2004 Baseball America Prospect Handbook listed him as the No. 24 prospect in the Seattle Mariners' organization. The left-hander swings the bat with a line drive stroke and has the potential to hit 15 or more homers in a season. Defensively, the scouting reports are also very favorable for Womack. He has the ability to play all three-outfield positions and has showcased a solid throwing arm.

Womack believes his hustle and the all-out way he plays the game gives him an edge over other outfielders in the Mariner's farm system, and hopes to one day crack the big league roster. With former Mariner outfielders like Ken Griffey, Jr., Jay Buhner and current outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, making a name for himself won't be easy.

Still, with continued work in the minors, there's no telling how bright the future can be for the athletic 20-year-old. Wisconsin hitting coach Dana Williams says his style of play already compares to that of Milwaukee Brewers' centerfielder Scott Podsednik.

"To me they're the same type of player, they're going to go out and give you 110 percent everyday," said Williams. "You may not notice them, but sooner or later you have no choice but to notice them. They're like little flies."

Williams hopes that his little fly will be pesky enough to frustrate pitchers in the leadoff spot for years to come, but for now that's going to have to wait. Womack has gotten off to a slow start, batting just .133 through the first seven games, and will need to raise his average if he hopes to establish himself as a legitimate leadoff hitter.

With Womack it isn't a question of if, but when.

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