Mendonca making adjustments early

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Third baseman Tom Mendonca has plenty of adjustments to make before he is ready to tackle the upper levels, but the prospect is open to coaching and willing to make the necessary changes. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 21-year-old on Thursday.

Third baseman Tom Mendonca is entering just his first full season in professional baseball, but he is more than used to playing in the spotlight against top competition.

As a sophomore at Fresno State in 2008, Mendonca batted .285 with 19 home runs and 70 RBI in 77 games, helping lead the Bulldogs to an unlikely National Championship. The following season, he hit .339 with 27 round-trippers and 78 RBI.

After setting the Division I collegiate record with 97 strikeouts in '08 [while walking just 19 times], Mendonca put more of a focus on his approach in '09, and he improved to 33 walks versus 64 strikeouts.

Last year's 2nd-round pick of the Texas Rangers, Mendonca knew he would have some adjustments to make after he signed for a slot-level $587,700 bonus. After getting out to a slow start with short-season Spokane, the 21-year-old began making some adjustments–as he details in this post-instructs interview–and finished by hitting .309 with nine home runs for the Indians.

As Mendonca explains below, he has plenty of improvements still to make before he's ready to tackle the upper levels, but the prospect has already proven to be extremely coachable and open to adjustments.

Mendonca has one of the highest ceilings for a position player in the Rangers' system due to his outstanding raw power and great skills with the glove. Lone Star Dugout watched two recent Double-A Spring Training games, profiling Mendonca here and here.

We caught up with Mendonca after Thursday's Double-A game.

Jason Cole: To start it off, talk about your offseason. What did you do to prepare for your first full season of pro ball?

Tom Mendonca: I worked out a lot at a complex back at home in Turlock. Then I went to Fresno State for a little while and got ready there too.

Cole: When did you get out here to Surprise?

Mendonca: I think it was either the 4th or 5th.

Cole: What have you been doing since you've been out here? How have you been feeling?

Mendonca: It's going good. There are a lot of changes we're making. Good changes with hitting. I've learned a lot more things and gotten to know the guys out here. I didn't play with all of them, so I've gotten to learn their names and learn the coaches' names. I'm just getting used to the program and learning what to do.

Cole: What are some of those changes you've been working on?

Mendonca: Mainly offensively–just getting a good, sound base. I'm just thinking more contact. That's what they've been doing. Just trying to cut down on the strikeouts and make contact. Starting with step one, I guess you could say.

Cole: I remember you told me during instructs that you started to make a lot of changes in Spokane and it helped you turn your season around. Are the changes along the same lines, or are you adding stuff on to it?

Mendonca: It's more detailed. That was probably just the first wave of many waves to come. But that was the first wave, and now we're just filling it up to try and push me to go up and succeed at the higher levels. I'm fixing it now instead of struggling and then doing it.

Cole: When you came into pro ball from Fresno State, did you know at the time that you would have to make so many adjustments so early on?

Mendonca: I knew there were going to be some, but I didn't realize there were going to be this many. There are a lot of things you have got to change. Some people–they do them right. And some people don't do them right. There's adjustments I wasn't expecting to make that I'm making, which is ultimately helping me.

Cole: Talk about your defensive game. I know you've obviously always been a guy that is sharp with the glove. What have you been focusing on?

Mendonca: Just making the play. If you can't do it offensively, you want to save some runs on defense. That's the focus I've been trying to have–saving some runs on defense. I'm working on my backhands and polishing that up. Just saving runs.

Cole: From watching a couple of your games with the Double-A team out here, it seems like you're having to go to the back hand quite a bit thus far, don't you think?

Mendonca: Yeah. It's interesting. I've never used my backhand that much, but now since I've been up here, I have been using it a lot. It is coming in handy.

Cole: This is your first Spring Training. What were your expectations going into it, and it is about what you thought?

Mendonca: Yeah. I never watched Spring Training as a kid–I've never been to Spring Training. Living at Spring Training, it's Spring Training. Everybody talks about it. It's exactly what everybody says it is. It's work, work, work and then play. You're going to be a better ballplayer by doing it and showing people what you've got.

Cole: Obviously you weren't around the last couple years, but they are playing a more abbreviated minor league game schedule this year in Spring Training. How close do you feel you are to being ready to play nine innings day-in and day-out?

Mendonca: It's getting there. There are things that I need to get polished up, but once they get polished up–we've got a week left, so they will get polished up.

Cole: You finished up in Bakersfield last year. Are you likely going to Bakersfield to start this season?

Mendonca: I have no idea, to be honest.

Cole: It seems like even if you don't start there, you should be in Bakersfield most of this season. How do you like the idea of being in a league and division where most of the teams are right by your home?

Mendonca: It's nice. It's great because it's your hometown. Some people don't see their hometown the whole time–they play the whole season. It's good to be close to home, and yet it's also good being away from home. It's good either way.

Cole: Coming into this first full season, have you begun to set any goals or expectations for yourself?

Mendonca: Yeah, just to push myself and getting everything tuned in to where if I do climb up the rankings, I'm in the process to where it is already changed. That's what I'm trying to focus on on defense and offense. Just being an all-around baseball player and to keep progressing.

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