Bolden trying to stay square

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Jared Bolden had a disappointing first full season in pro ball, but he finished it well, going 7-for-20 during a short stint at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 23-year-old Virginia native after a recent game.

The Texas Rangers selected infielder/outfielder Jared Bolden with their ninth-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft. Bolden was finishing up an outstanding three-year career at Virginia Commonwealth University, and he was coming off a junior campaign in which he'd batted .355 with 15 doubles, 12 home runs and 12 steals in 16 attempts.

The Rangers liked Bolden enough to give him an above-slot $123,300 signing bonus, and they assigned him to short-season Spokane. Playing a mixture of outfield and first base with the Indians, Bolden had an up-and-down summer, hitting .263 with 13 doubles, four triples and three homers. He showed patience [36 walks], but he also struck out quite a bit [65 K's].

Bolden moved up one level–to Single-A Hickory–for the 2009 season. The lefty got off to a rough start [to say the least], as he posted just a .203 batting average with five doubles in 153 first-half at-bats.

As the 23-year-old mentions below, he got better as the season progressed and batted .264 in 216 at-bats after the All-Star break.

Despite the struggles, Bolden got a late-season promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City to fill a roster spot for the final week of the season. Even though he was playing three levels above Hickory, Bolden went off, going 7-for-20 [.350] with a solo home run.

Offensively, the raw talent is there for Bolden. He consistently lines balls into the gap in batting practice but has trouble staying square during games, leaving a big hole in his swing. Bolden is currently working to correct the issue in hopes that it'll lead to a breakout summer at the plate.

Defensively, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound prospect has a promising mixture of athleticism and feel for his positions. A first baseman at VCU, Bolden has split his time between first and the outfield since signing with the Rangers. Bolden is an above-average defender both at first and in centerfield, as he has soft hands, gets excellent reads, moves around well, and has a solid arm.

Lone Star Dugout spoke with Bolden after a recent minor league Spring Training game.

Jason Cole: I didn't get to interview you during the season last year, so what were your thoughts on your season as a whole in 2009?

Jared Bolden: It was my first season–first full season–and it was a little rough. I think I batted about .190 or .195 in the first half of the season. So it was a learning experience. I was trying to learn how to play every day and the aspect of finding ways to make sure you get enough sleep. It was long, but I learned a lot.

Cole: Overall, you hit about 70 points higher in the second half than the first. What were some of the changes you made, if any?

Bolden: Honestly, I sat down with myself and told myself, ‘You've got to do something. You're batting .195 and it can't get any worse than that.' At that point, I just told myself to relax, see the ball, and hit the ball. In college and high school, I was a really good hitter–at least I think I was. I just tried to go back to that, and it seemed to be working out at the end of the year.

Cole: You spent almost all of last season in Hickory. That's fairly close to where you're from, isn't it?

Bolden: Yeah. That might have been a little bit of a distraction there as well. My family was close, my girlfriend was close–I had everybody that I care about close to me. Sometimes they would come down and you want to see them. You kind of lose thought process of what was going on. It was nice being close to home, but at the same time, it was a little distracting as well.

Cole: You finished up in Oklahoma City at the end of the year. Even though you were just filling a spot, what was the experience like and how were you able to perform so well?

Bolden: It was actually a great experience. I got a chance to get up there and see some of the older guys–see some guys that had been in the big leagues a little bit and kind of learn from them and see how they go about their daily work. I got to see how serious they take the game and how they took their at-bats.

When I got there, I just kind of thought, ‘You're up here for some reason–don't know why–but you're up here for some reason, so try to make the best of it.' I just told myself to relax, have fun, and end the season. Maybe they're just trying to see what you can do. And it ended up working out for me.

Cole: Being up there at the end of the season like that and a few levels above where you were used to playing, did that make you relax in some weird way?

Bolden: The first at-bat, I was thinking a lot. I'm not going to lie–first at-bat, I was really, really nervous. I actually ended up grounding out, but I hit the ball solid. It was a hard ground ball to second base, and I was kind of like, ‘Oh, it's the same game. Guys are better, but the game doesn't change.' After that at-bat, I relaxed a little more and things just started working out while I was there.

Cole: Tell me about what you did over the offseason to prepare for your second full season.

Bolden: Weight room. It can only be explained in two words–weight room. I definitely hit that pretty hard. I was going about five or six days per week, just trying to get ready for the season. Last year–first half of the season–I kind of slacked off as far as the offseason going into the season, and it showed. I was getting weak as the season was going on. This year, I told myself I didn't want that to happen. I wanted to make sure I was ready to go and I would be able to last the full season.

Cole: So you feel right now that you're going to be more prepared for a full season than you were last year?

Bolden: Oh yeah, definitely. I'm in a lot better shape. Things have been going a little rough so far, but I'm just trying to take it one day at a time right now. I'm trying to take Spring Training as a chance to see some pitches, get back in the swing of things, and get ready for the season to start.

Cole: What are some of the things you've been working on offensively since you have been out here?

Bolden: Pulling the ball. Last year, that was a big hole for me. I didn't really pull the ball that much, and it seemed to be that teams were kind of finding that hole and busting me inside. I went home in the offseason and did a lot of work on trying to make sure I can pull the ball. Not just pulling it–you've got to pull it the right way like not pulling off and things like that. That was a big thing I did last year–I was pulling off a lot. I'm just trying to stay closed and stay squared as long as possible.

Cole: I want to talk about your defense for a bit. I know you played first base in college. Did you play any outfield there?

Bolden: Not really. Every now and then I played outfield, but nothing really serious. Maybe three or four games my entire college career.

Cole: I know I saw you play some first base when I was in Hickory last year, and I also saw you play in centerfield. Was it split about 50/50?

Bolden: Maybe 60/40 or somewhere around there. I played a lot of outfield. As a matter of fact, I played all three outfield positions. Then I got a chance to play a little bit of first base. I was kind of–you could say–a utility lefty. Wherever you need me at, I can play.

Cole: How was that transition to the outfield? It seemed like you were moving around and reading balls well even though you had never done it before.

Bolden: It wasn't really that hard. I actually had a little bit of outfield play when I was in high school. I played center a lot when I was in high school, and then when I got to college, I was playing first base for the most part.

Really, for me, it was just getting used to seeing the ball off the bat in the outfield. Getting used to the reads, getting used to how the ball moves when certain guys were hitting, and just getting used to seeing the ball off the bat.

Cole: Have you been playing mostly first base this spring?

Bolden: This spring, I've been playing a lot of first base. I think I've played maybe one game in the outfield. For the most part, I've been playing first, yeah.

Cole: Do you have any idea what you'll be doing once the year starts?

Bolden: Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe outfield, maybe first. I don't know. I try to work out in all spots, whether it's left, center, right or first base. I try to get my reads everywhere to make sure no matter where they put me, I'm not a hinderance to the team and I can help out either way.

Cole: Between first and the three outfield spots, is there one place you feel more comfortable at right now?

Bolden: I don't know. First–I'm starting to get a lot more comfortable and I'm starting to get a lot more reps there. I'm starting to get a lot more ground balls and I'm seeing the ball better as far as coming off the bat from hitters. I'm starting to get a lot more comfortable at first.

But outfield–it's kind of like riding a bike to me, I guess. Once you get used to it, it's just a matter of getting back out there and seeing it a little bit and you're right back in it.

Cole: Talk to me about your expectations for your second full season, here in 2010. Do you have any idea where you'll be playing?

Bolden: No idea where I'm going to go yet. I'm still trying to play my way into Bakersfield right now. But right now, I'm not really worried about where I go. I'm just worried about doing what I can do and staying true to myself. I think last year, at the beginning of the season, I got out of who I was. I tried to do too much–tried to hit too many home runs. And obviously that didn't really work out.

So I'm trying to go back to the old Jared from college that was hitting balls to left-center, hitting balls to right-center–hitting the doubles and getting the base hits and stealing second or third. Trying to give the guys behind me a chance to get an RBI.

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