Coultas Plays His Way to Starting Job

After a disappointing season, the St. Lucie utility infielder has rebounded in 2007. He currently leads his squad in batting average and is fresh off a 12-game hit streak. He entered the season with expecting to back up the middle infielders. Thanks to a hot start, Coultas has earned a spot in the everyday lineup. The 2004 sixth-round pick described his early success to Inside Pitch.

In split time between Hagerstown and St. Lucie last season, Ryan Coultas struggled mightily. He accumulated a mere 43 hits in 239 at-bats and perpetuated his problems at the plate. He managed only a .146 average with St. Lucie after his promotion from Hagerstown. This spring, he came into camp with a new focus and determination to prove that he was more than a good defender with meager offensive skills. Through his tough times, he gained a new perspective about the narrow line separating prosperity and failure.

"Last year was a disappointment but I also think it was a learning experience. Through that, I learned a better way of approaching disappointments and how to be a competitor. I like to think that in a long career there will be a down year from time to time, and I hope to have a long career. But, if I start dwelling on bad times, I could go into a downward spiral and I think that's what happened last year," he explained.

For Coultas, it certainly required a great amount of work to hoist himself out of that offensive crater. First and foremost, he pointed to the dedicated work of St. Lucie manager Frank Cacciatore with his utility players. With injuries around every corner, Cacciatore works feverishly to keep this unit fresh and ready to step in and produce.

Additionally, Coultas has taken to heart the mantra that coaches across the system preach to their players: stay alive with two strikes. His numbers so far this season speak to that practice. He has appeared in exactly half of his team's 32 games – all of but three coming in the past two weeks – and in that time he ripped off the aforementioned hit steak. His manager's efforts came to fruition as his backup middle-infielder jumped into the lineup and did not miss a beat.

"Frank has been very helpful with the utility guys in constantly keeping us ready. We work just as hard as the everyday guys because he knows guys will get banged up. He wants us to be ready to go when the time comes. I attribute a lot of my April success to him keeping us ready," he said.

Not only has his preparation allowed him rack up the high batting average, but Coultas' improved vision and plate awareness have brought him good fortune. He now looks to drive the ball to the opposite field which has helped his bat control as well as his ability to hit breaking and off-speed pitches. He waits just a split-second more on heaters and thus gains better reads on secondary pitches.

At 25-years-old, he is long in the tooth compared to his teammates who also patrol the infield. If he can continue along any semblance of this pace throughout the season, there is no reason as to why he would be knocked out of the young St. Lucie lineup. It is also reasonable to believe he may receive his first invite up to Binghamton. But first, there is business to tend to in Florida.

" I'm just trying to get as many quality at-bats as possible. I've been fortunate enough to have a chance to play seeing as I wasn't penciled in as an everyday at the beginning of the season. The satisfaction of being able to have a spot everyday is a success in itself," he said.

Batting and Power: Despite the high average this season, Coultas has not displayed much power. He has 18 hits in 52 at-bats, but only three doubles and one home run. As a utility player, long balls are not expected, but more production to the gaps would boost his value. While he takes many pitches to extend at-bats, he still needs to master his eye. He has just seven strikeouts all season, but has earned just one walk. He boasts that .346 average, but concurrently posts just a .370 on-base percentage. Whether it is a lack of discipline around the plate, or an eagerness to hit, the gap between the percentages must increase.

Baserunning and Speed: Coultas has adequate speed but is not a danger on the base paths. He swiped just seven bags in 76 games last season and has yet to steal a base this season. However, he is a smart baserunner. He can get to first to third without a problem and will rarely be thrown out on the bases. What he lacks in raw speed, he makes up for in his knowledge.

Defense: His errors totals do not speak to his true ability. He plays sharp at both positions up the middle and has a strong enough arm to make the necessary plays. His confidence may be what causes his problems. He can be unsure in his playmaking ability and too often lets the ball play him. His defense, like his hitting, will mature the more he is on the diamond.

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