Stars of the AFL: Matt Murton

Matt Murton is in the Arizona Fall League, because Matt Murton lost some at bats after being called up to the Majors in 2005. That's the bottom line. Sure, there are always things to work on, there are always improvements that can be made, but for Murton, unlike a lot of players in the AFL, this isn't about proving himself, it's strictly about improvement.

"There's no doubt that the experience was the biggest thing," Matt Murton says of his 51 games in the Majors last season with the Chicago Cubs, "It's still baseball, it's still the same game up there, but there are mental and physical adjustments you have to make, adjustments you just wouldn't know about unless you'd been there."

Pretty simple, pretty straightforward. Murton wasn't called up to the Cubs to put them over the top, he wasn't there to be the missing piece, he was there because the Cubs outfield was struggling. Corey Patterson wasn't producing, Jason Dubois was moved to Cleveland, Matt Lawton didn't get the job done after coming over from Pittsburgh, and Murton's running mate for much of the season in Double-A West Tennessee, Felix Pie, got hurt.

So Matt Murton got the call, and Matt Murton made the most of the opportunity. He hit .321 with seven homers in just 140 at bats. Those are eye opening numbers, numbers that assure you of a second look. Sure, he got experience, but he also produced.

"It was a short period of time, but I got there ready to succeed and that's the same way I'll come into Spring Training next season. Ready to succeed."

It was a situation Murton had no control over, but given the chance he made the most of it, and he had certainly set himself up for success with the season he was putting together before the call came.

Murton was hitting nearly .350 in time at both Double-A and Triple-A in 2005. He was hitting the ball all over the field, hitting it hard, playing stellar defense, taking the extra base. Basically he was doing all the things in the minors that he did in the Majors. Was it really that easy.

"No way, I would never say that, but I had a lot of help when I got to the bigs. Sarge [Cubs hitting coach Gary Matthews] and Gene Clines both worked with me, in the field and at the plate, and that's a lot of support for a young player to have."

Certainly, but it's really no different than when you were in fourth grade. The teacher only really pays attention to the kids who were good to start with, and Matt Murton was good to start with. The difference between fourth grade and the big leagues is that in fourth grade the 'bad' kids pick on the 'good' kids, in the pros the 'good' kids get helped by the others.

"The players were amazing. Guys worked with me everyday, were really supportive. I can't say enough about those guys on the big league club, they just helped me out with whatever I needed."

One of the most intriguing questions I ask young players is about the difference in levels. Traditionally the jump from Hi-A to Double-A is thought of as the biggest, but here I had the opportunity to ask a guy who'd make the jump to the bigs. So Matt, what's the biggest jump in levels?

"That's really hard to say. Hi-A to Double-A is tough, and so is that jump to the bigs, but the thing that you have to remember is that it's really all the same. It's the same pitches, the same ball and bat. The crowds are bigger, but it's the same game we've all been playing since we were kids. If you remember that, just keep that at the front of your mind, then you never convince yourself it's going to be a problem. I love baseball, I love playing it, and I'm happy to have the chance to play at Wrigley Field. But you're trying to do the same things, and if you play just as hard in the Majors as you did in 'A' ball, you'll be alright."

If only it were that easy.

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