Timber Rattlers Notebook: In Tui's Defense

APPLETON, Wisc. - Along with any high profile prospect will certainly come a probable number of rumors: Is he too slow for his position? Can he hit for more power while maintaining his steady batting average? Will he develop a third pitch to add to his arsenal?

Although these questions are often just speculation, they can presumably turn into general concerns. Concerns which, if shared by the right people, can lead to change.

Things are no different for Matt Tuiasosopo.

The young Rattlers' shortstop sits a mere 19 games into his second professional season and already the rumors have started. Some are concerned over his range at short. Others aren't yet sold on his glove work. While these concerns are somewhat valid, Wisconsin manager Scott Steinmann thinks they are all unwarranted, at least at this point in time.

"He didn't play shortstop that much as an amateur at all," the first-year manager said. "He's only played nine or 10 games at short. So we don't know what kind of creature we have out there."

The manager has a definite point. Although Tuiasosopo has committed a team-high six errors on the season, you have to allow lee-way for a youngster just getting his feet wet at the professional level.

Of course, a coach or manager can say one thing and mean another if he isn't seeing continual improvement from a player, but Steinmann assures that this isn't the case with the 3rd round pick from last year's draft.

"Defensively he has improved tremendously," Steinmann noted. "I mean, he almost looked like a fish out of water (when he first arrived here) and he's come along and made great strides in the short time he's been around."

Steinmann did say, however, that he could be shifting Tuiasosopo around to help his overall development.

"We might move him to third base maybe a day or two," Steinmann mentioned. "A couple of days just to get him an introduction there. We move our middle infielders around to a lot of different positions to make them learn the game."

For what it's worth, Tuiasosopo has gone above and beyond expectations to start this season. He only recently ended a 13-game hitting streak (during which he hit an even .400), he has a walk-off extra-inning home run to his credit, and has certainly earned the respect of the opposition, already drawing a pair of intentional walks.

It then seems a bit premature to be questioning the defensive intangibles of a player who is not even a year removed from high school.

Players' abilities are constantly placed under intense watch; the smallest flaws become exposed, questioned, and if not corrected - can stand in the way of a promising future. But there may be a few players who should be left under the direct watch of the manager and coaches they work with. Not fans and "know-it-alls" whose stories are conjured from printed box scores.

All you need is a little time, a little patience, and proper coaching, and that player "without the range," or the one "without the arm strength," might just become a star.

Tuiasosopo is a prime example.

Streak(ing): Center Fielder Josh Womack is currently riding a 15-game hitting streak entering play Wednesday. The Rattlers' outfielder is 23-63 during his streak.

Streak Clipped: Tuiasosopo had his 13-game hitting streak snapped Monday against Beloit, going 0-3. Tuiasosopo is hitting .373 on the season.

Walk-Off Ways: Sunday's 5-4 victory was the third time this season the Rattlers won in their final at-bat. In that game, Yung-Chi Chen drew a ninth-inning bases loaded walk to seal the victory. Last Friday, Oswaldo Navarro scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 11th to give Wisconsin a 5-4 win over Burlington, and on April 13th against Quad Cities Tuiasosopo led off the bottom half of the 11th with a game-ending home run.

Speaking of Ninth Inning Runs: The run scored in the ninth during Sunday's victory was the first time the Rattlers had scored a run in the ninth inning all season. Coincidentally, they have yet to allow opponents a single run in the ninth inning, either.

Up Next: The Rattlers kick off an eight-game road trip Thursday with a four-game set in South Bend. They then travel to South West Michigan for four games before returning home May 6.

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