Bakersfield third baseman Tom Mendonca is accustomed to success.
He was named College World Series MVP as Fresno State capped off its magical national title run in 2008. He topped the Bulldogs' record books with 56 home runs in three collegiate seasons. And after being drafted in the second round last year, he hit .309 with nine home runs in 49 games at short-season Spokane.
The 2010 campaign––Mendonca's first full season in pro ball––hasn't been as easy. The California native is batting .248 with 20 doubles, five homers, and 34 runs batted in. Through 91 games, he has 27 walks and 93 strikeouts.
Mendonca had an extremely rough first half, posting just a .226 batting average in 64 contests. Despite playing in a circuit that tends to favor power numbers, his extra-base hits were few and far between. Mendonca hit just two home runs before the All-Star break.
As the 22-year-old explains below, he is beginning to right the ship with the help of some adjustments at the plate.
Mendonca has become a more consistent hitter thus far in the second half. In his first 27 second-half games, Mendonca has posted a .298/.391/.468 slash line. He is making more consistent contact, showing improved patience, and lining the ball with authority.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound prospect has also shown defensive progress this season. Regarded as an excellent defender at Fresno State, Mendonca has above-average tools that include soft hands, decent range, and a strong arm. But he also has a .901 fielding percentage with 22 errors committed on the year.
The vast majority of Mendonca's miscues came earlier in the season. The prospect was having trouble making throws across the diamond from third to first. One of the issues was a tendency to drop his arm on throws, causing the ball to sail.
Much like his offense, though, Mendonca has been able to heat up defensively. With extra work before games, he has committed only two errors over his last 25 contests in the field.
While few scouts doubted Mendonca's staggering raw power out of college, most believed he would have an adjustment period in pro ball as he shortened his swing and got accustomed to the wood bat.
Lone Star Dugout recently spoke with the prospect about his improvements and adjustments.
Jason Cole: Give me your thoughts on your first full season up to this point.
Tom Mendonca: It's going good. Of course, there are some areas that I'd like to be doing better in. It is a work in progress, but it has come along great in the second half.
The first half was a little bit of a rough road––a rough patch. But the second half is just coming along a lot easier and better. The adjustments that I have made and the coaches have helped me make have been great.
Cole: What do you feel has been the key to turning it around since that All-Star break?
Mendonca: I do a lot of early work slash extra work on defense and offense. We've tried things out on offense. One of the things we're trying right now has been working the best. It has helped me cut down on a lot of stuff and not make so many mistakes swinging the bat and hitting the ball. On defense, I was doing pretty much grade-school stuff. It has made me a better player––a better defensive player.
Cole: What are those adjustments that you've made at the plate?
Mendonca: I've widened out my stance. And I have a split grip––I have a little gap between my two hands. It has made me stay through the ball and go to the opposite field a lot better.
Cole: Had you ever done either of those things in the past?
Mendonca: No. I'd never had a split grip. It's just something new. I've used it for four games, and I've had a lot of success. I like it and I'm very comfortable with it. I'm probably going to keep that for a long time.
Cole: I noticed that you're also drawing some more walks of late. Has part of that just been getting more comfortable up there?
Mendonca: Yeah, I'm getting more comfortable and I'm getting ready in the box. I'm actually seeing the ball instead of my head flying off or trying to do everything with the upper body. I'm not trying to pull the ball. Everything is coming together. I'm more sound and I've got a good base. It's more of me being a hitter instead of just swinging the bat.
Cole: At any point in your career, had you ever struggled as much as you did in the first half this season?
Mendonca: No, and it was really frustrating. I tried to stay as positive as I could. I got to talking with coaches to see what I needed to do––what they think. I sat down, brainstormed, and we're here right now. I went through that patch where I was tough on myself, but I got through it with the help of the coaches and everybody.
Cole: You touched on what you were working on defensively. Can you tell me a little more about what your focus there has been?
Mendonca: Just taking ground balls. Just taking reps. That's it. I'm working on seeing it in the glove. It wasn't mainly me fielding the ball, but it was mainly me throwing. I just had that one little glitch in my brain that was blocking me from throwing to the first baseman instead of the dugout or up the line. That was just the main thing, but that's back on track and we're ready to roll.
Cole: Were you ever finding it difficult to keep from carrying a bat at-bat into the field with you?
Mendonca: Yeah, it happens. I beat myself up for it because I as soon as I get into the dugout or put my glove on, I usually drop it. But it has carried over with me a few times. That's something I don't do, and that's something I'm not happy about. That's another thing that I've learned to do––block at-bats from the defensive part.
Cole: It seems that your first full season has been just as much mental and dealing with the grind as it has been physical. Can you talk about going through the 140-game schedule?
Mendonca: Yeah, it takes a toll on your mind. In college, you play four or five games and then have a day or three off. What we're doing is that we play every day. I love that, but for some reason I can let it get to my mind. It just got in there and festered and kept growing and growing.
But I finally blocked it out and started being the player that I want to be and that I know it can be. Good things happen if you stay positive and not be hard on yourself or negative. I'm just staying positive and it's working out. It's going good. If I have a bad at-bat, I just try to shrug it off or be mad for about three seconds and let it go. I can't change that at-bat.
Cole: What are your thoughts on that Bakersfield club that you're on this year? You guys had a rough first half, but you've been able to turn it around and control the division so far in the second half.
Mendonca: We're just having fun. It's a different thing. The first half, we were more strenuous. We were pressing on each other. We were relying on one person to do one thing. We weren't playing together very well.
This second half, we've figured it out and we're just going out there and playing baseball like we know how to––like little kids. We're doing a great job of it. There are some games where we don't even realize how good we're doing.
We're just clicking. We're doing everything right. If we make mistakes, we pick it up somewhere else. And in the first half, if we made mistakes, we never used to pick it up somewhere else. Now when other teams make mistakes, we're capitalizing on their mistakes too. That's the biggest difference from the first half.
Cole: Just looking at your overall game, what would you like to accomplish or improve upon during the season's stretch drive?
Mendonca: I would love to get back on track on hitting like I know how too. That has been one of my weaknesses––striking out a lot. That's the main thing we've been working on a lot.
With defense, we just had to do kindergarten stuff to get me back on track. And now it's back on track. Now it's the offensive part that needs to get back on track along with it.
Mendonca turning the corner
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