Bixler Making Steady Progress

Brian Bixler hopes to be a future fixture in Pittsburgh's infield. The Pirates' second-round selection in 2004, Bixler's stock rose last season as a shortstop within the organization's farm system.

"I'm very happy with the progress I made and the results I got," the 24-year-old righthanded hitter said. "I set some goals for myself each year to get better. I was able to put things together and it's worked out."

Pittsburgh farm director Brian Graham identified Bixler as the organization's most improved minor league player. has also ranked Bixler as the club's No. 8 prospect.

"That's good to hear," Bixler said. "I have a lot of respect for the people in the organization. It's nice to hear people say good things about you. It boosts my confidence."

Bixler's confidence has played a key factor in his steady improvement since being drafted out of Eastern Michigan University. Last season the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Bixler combined to hit .302 with eight home runs, 52 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 133 games between Class A Lynchburg and Class AA Altoona. Hitting .328 with runners in scoring position, Bixler's batting average ranked him fifth among Pittsburgh farm hands.

Bixler, however, stuck out 115 times with only 51 walks.

"It's about gaining maturity, confidence and getting more consistent," Bixler said. "With the experience I have received in professional baseball it's been through the use of wooden bats and timing. It's also about learning about myself and get things to mold together."

Bixler also struggled with 26 fielding miscues last season.

"That's one thing I hope to continue to improve on," Bixler said. "The year before last I tried staying more consistent and get better out there. I have to stay focused. It's one thing in the game where you have to have concentration and get better with the little things."

The 2004 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and a College Baseball Louisville Slugger First-Team All-American, Bixler finished his college career with the second best batting average in the country (.453). The batting mark set an Eastern Michigan record as he also set marks in runs (74), hits (110) and hitting streak (32 games).

He has also noticed an obvious difference in type of pitching he has faced since college and at each level of the minor leagues.

"It's enough to notice with the older guys," Bixler explained. "They know what to do and how to attack your weakness. They have to learn how to pitch and I have to learn from that and get better."

Through most of the winter Bixler and fellow infielder Brent Lillibridge were regarded as the most promising infielders within the system. That was until the Pirates included Lillibridge in the Adam LaRoche deal with the Atlanta Braves.

"I like to look at it that in a way it helps the Pirates," Bixler said. "Brent is a good player. I feel the trade works for both sides."

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Bixler hit .276 (63 for 228) with 40 runs scored and 21 RBI in 59 games during his first professional season with Class A shortseason Williamsport. He followed by batting .276 (63 for 228) with 40 runs scored and 21 RBI in 59 games with Class A Hickory in 2005.

Continuing his effort toward improving both offensively and defensively, Bixler spent the offseason with the Honolulu Sharks of the Hawaiian Winter League where he was a teammate with fellow Pittsburgh farm hand Nyjer Morgan.

"It did help," Bixler said. "It was a nice experience playing with some players with more experience and guys from Japan.

"Most of all it extended my season and that's going to help in the long run. The goal is to get used to playing the equivalent to a major league season."

With a likely promotion to Class AAA Indianapolis set for 2007, Bixler is prepared for Pittsburgh's decision to where it intends to place him this season.

"They haven't sat down with me to talk about that yet," Bixler said. "You never know what opportunity might come out of spring training. I just have to take it one day at a time and know there are no guarantees.

"I can only hope it happens. I just have to keep working hard and get better."

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