Lemon developing leadoff skills

After a slow start to the season, 19-year-old shortstop Marcus Lemon has been a catalyst at the top of the lineup for the playoff-bound Clinton LumberKings. Lone Star Dugout features the former fourth round pick, who is the youngest player on the Clinton roster.

"I feel pretty good," said Marcus Lemon about his 2007 season. "Not too bad. Our team is in the playoffs and we're getting ready to finish the season up here."

While Lemon currently feels good about his season, he struggled through the season's first two months. The shortstop – who skipped short-season A ball – batted just .213 with 10 extra base hits in April and May. Despite the sluggish start, Lemon says he is accustomed to playing against older competition.

"I never felt overwhelmed at the plate," said Lemon. "As a young guy, with travel teams, we always played against older guys."

Lemon believes the Midwest's cold weather was the biggest reason for his early-season struggles.

"It was just being in a new surrounding and playing in the cold," explained Lemon. "Being from Florida and playing rookie ball in Arizona last year, I had never experienced playing in the snow. That probably had to be the toughest thing for me."

The 19-year-old has rebounded from that slow start to hit .282 in June, July, and August. Lemon has also displayed more power in the second half, as four of his five triples and all three of his home runs have come since the All-Star break. The Florida native chalks his extra power up to comfort.

"That's just being comfortable," said Lemon. "I've been trying to get in the zone and when you're seeing the ball well, a lot of good things happen. I have been able to show a little bit of power."

One of the few negatives of Lemon's second half has been his base stealing. Although the shortstop has swiped six bases, he has been caught 12 times. After attempting only eight steals in the first half, the Rangers organization instructed Lemon to be more aggressive on the basepaths.

"Our organization told me they wanted me to be more aggressive because I wasn't stealing as much in the first half," he said. "It goes along with the fact that in the first couple months, I wasn't swinging the bat as well. I wasn't growing as a player because I wasn't getting on base and I wasn't able to run the bases."

With an on base percentage of nearly .400 in the second half, Lemon is now reaching base regularly. He believes this is allowing him to finally develop his baserunning.

"Now I'm making mistakes that I wasn't able to make early in the year because I wasn't on the bases," explained Lemon. "It's just a learning process. My confidence is still up and hopefully sooner than later I'll become a better base stealer."

At the plate, Lemon says he has been working on developing his skills as a leadoff hitter.

"As a leadoff hitter, seeing pitches," said Lemon when asked what he had been working on offensively. "If I get a pitch to move, I try to move it early in the count. If not, I try to battle and see some pitches so that helps the other guys too. Other than that, we've been working on thinking up the middle and the other way as a team."

Lemon initially began to heat up when former leadoff hitter Craig Gentry went down with an injury. It was then that the 5-foot-11 left-handed hitter was moved into the leadoff spot and started to excel. However, Lemon says he approaches each at bat the same way, no matter where he's hitting in the lineup.

"I can only be the hitter I am," said Lemon. "It doesn't matter if I'm hitting first or if I'm hitting ninth. I'm going to approach my at bats the same way."

The son of former big leaguer Chet Lemon, Marcus has always been known to be mature for his age both on and off the field. But Lemon has struggled in the field at times this season, as he leads the LumberKings with 30 errors. The shortstop states that he has been more aggressive in the field this year.

"I'm more aggressive," said Lemon on his defense. "Every year I think you can learn to be more aggressive or not to be overaggressive. You have to know the runners. I've learned that the game is at a much faster level, but I've always kind of known that because my dad told me. It has been a lot of the little things. You can always learn a lot of the little things."

With the minor league regular season coming to a close, the LumberKings are already ensured a spot in the Midwest League playoffs. Lemon thinks his team's current situation can help relieve some stress, but it can add some pressure as well.

"It takes a little pressure off us because we're guaranteed a spot in the playoffs," Lemon said, "but it also puts on a little pressure because we're a little bit different team than we were in the first half. It puts a little pressure on us because it would be nice to get hot towards playoff time."

Once Clinton's season ends, Lemon will report to Surprise for fall Instructional League. While the Rangers have not yet told Lemon what he will be working on there, he believes he will continue to work on the skills necessary to a leadoff hitter.

"I'm pretty sure that because I'm a leadoff hitter, bunting and stealing will probably be something that I'll work on."

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