Evans Taking the Next Step

The St. Lucie Mets first baseman came out of the gates this season with a quicker bat and new goals. Before an ankle ligament tear sidelined him in late April, Evans was among the team leaders in average, on-base percentage and slugging. With another one to two weeks of rehab ahead, he is excited to get back on the diamond and continue his hot start.

Last season at Hagerstown, Nick Evans possessed the reputation of a streaky hitter. It was not just a name tag. From week to week, his production varied and really never maintained a pattern. He further displayed his power as he knocked 15 home runs, but struggled with his swing as evident by his 99 strikeouts. He entered spring training and the new season determined to correct the hole in his swing and his repeated inconsistency.

Despite his raw performance, he earned a promotion to St. Lucie in 2007. He knew playing in the Florida State League would require a new approach and an improvement in the way he swings the bat.

"This is a pitcher's league, so I can't keep hitting a lot of fly balls. I've been concentrating on keep the ball down, hitting more line drives. The pitching is too good here and it's challenging. If I keep popping flying balls, I'm not going become a better hitter," he said.

His new success is marked by his higher on-base statistics. Although taken from a small early season sample, his .377 on-base percentage and .492 slugging percentage point to his concentration on driving the ball to the outfield. His seven doubles still lead the team (as of May 4th) even though he has not played since April 25th.

"I'm not up there trying to hit home runs like I have in the past. I'm just looking to put the ball in play, get singles and doubles. I've been working on taking more pitches trying to get my hits instead of hitting home runs," he said.

Evans' long swing always prevented him from achieving offensive balance. As an "all or nothing" hitter, he found himself lost at the plate on numerous occasions. When his swing got long, he failed to hit the ball cleanly. He repeatedly put the balls in the air or altogether missed hittable pitches. He shortened his swing so he could fight off pitches, extend at bats and keep the ball more on a line.

"I had to get away from trying to hit home runs. I'd rather have my home runs come without intent. I'm trying to stay as short in my swing as possible and not chase bad pitches," he explained.

Not only will a shortened swing keep the ball down, but it will help him extend at-bats. All too often, Evans found him quickly behind in counts because his elongated swing did not allow him to make contact on favorable pitches. This problem was the root cause for his high strikeout total.

"Swinging as hard as I can is not going to get me anywhere because I can't hit balls like I should that way." he said of his at-bats, "I'm taking big swings on good pitches. When I take some off my swing, I won't be behind in the count so much".

Part of lengthened at-bats is the ability to fight off curveballs and off-speed pitches. While coaches have instilled in the St. Lucie hitters to sit on fastballs, Evans knows he will mature as a hitter as his aptitude of breaking balls increases. That point however, he admits still needs a great amount of work.

"I'll hit the hangers, sure, but not too many guys are going to hit the good ones. The majority of the stuff they preach to us is to wait for the fastball and focus on the fastball. I do not look off-speed on many pitches. But eventually, I'm going to need to hit them if I want keep moving up," he detailed.

Aside from the offense, Evans' play at first base still needs refinement. His switch from the hot corner has been positive but he does not overly attend to his glove work. He is serviceable on the bag, but will not turn heads with his defense. For now, it is all about what he does in the box.

"I think it's important to improve upon all aspects of my game whether it's defense, baserunning, reading situations or learning the game. But more right now, I'm focused on my hitting and staying in the lineup so I can continue to hit," said Evans.

Once he returns from his ankle injury, the 21-year-old will get his chances. In his brief playing time this season, Evans has shown the progression that has perked the ears of his coaches and observers. He may go over a few bumps as he gets back on the field due to his ankle, but in time he should see his recent success continue.

"I just want to pick up where I left off. I'm not too concerned about home runs, I just want to hit balls hard and stay consistent within myself. I'm thankful for the opportunities to start every year. Besides that, I don't think I have much to complain about," he closed.

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