Rays Digest: Have you ever experienced this kind of a hot start, even just eight games in?
Cole Figueroa: Maybe not this good, but I've had good starts. Last year I started off bad; I think I hit about .230 for the first two months and then I caught fire at the end of the season. I've had different situations and different years so it all just varies. But it definitely feels good that I started on the right foot.
Rays Digest: What did you do differently in spring training?
Cole Figueroa: I've definitely changed a lot in a little time. The hitting coach, Ozzy Timmons, and the hitting coordinator Steve Livesey, were sitting there the last couple of days of spring training and they were like, ‘You were one of the most efficient hitters last year and we really like the way you play but what are some things that you would like to do?' And I'm like, ‘Well, you know, when I first got to pro ball I was hitting for a lot more power, extra base hits and stuff but I had this toe-tap and when I was with the Padres, they took it away from me because they wanted me to watch a lot of pitches. So when I got to the Rays I was still doing that.' Then Livesey and Ozzy one day were like, ‘Hey, it's two days left in spring training why don't you go out there and try this toe-tap and see how it works for you because we want you to get on base, obviously that's going to be the type of hitter you are, but we feel like you have a good enough eye to where you can do that [hit for more power] and get on base.' So I tried it the last couple of days and I absolutely tore it up the last couple of days of spring training doing that and then I took it into the season and just kept it ever since.
Rays Digest: How did the Padres even help your development as a hitter then?
Cole Figueroa: It's good that I did the stuff the Padres told me because it helped me with my two-strike approach. My two-strike approach is a lot better now, 100 percent.
Rays Digest: How so?
When I first got with them, I was real low, I didn't choke up and I was real low on the knob. I would never walk, I would strike out a bunch, but now with my two-strike approach, it's really helped me in that sense.
Rays Digest: So this toe-tap is like a timing mechanism?
Cole Figueroa: Yeah, exactly. It's like guys doing a leg-kick. It's something that helps me get ready to see the pitch. In the short time that I've been doing it, it's definitely contributed. I've hit a lot more extra-base hits at this point then I did in the first month or two months last year.
Rays Digest: And you used this in college? How'd it work there?
Cole Figueroa: Yeah I did it in college and I hit for power in college. But as soon as I got with the Padres they said they wanted me to focus getting on base and not worrying about hitting for power. So they took it away.
Rays Digest: Why would they even mess with what was working for you?
Cole Figueroa: The main thing is that I struggled out of the gate in 2009, my first year in High-A. And it was only through 70 at-bats and they were like, ‘This isn't working.' And I said, ‘OK, well, I'm up for anything. I'm not hitting great so I can't say I'm a good hitter right now.' But I ended up having a great season that year so I definitely have to thank them.
Rays Digest: And now this year, did you have any doubts using it in your first at-bat of the season?
Cole Figueroa: In the first at-bat I took a pitch and it felt really good. I really felt that I could see the ball really well. I feel like when I don't have a fluid motion swinging, my head moves and I can't see pitches well and that's when I'm like, ‘well this isn't working.' But I really saw it and the next pitch I got a hit and then the next at-bat I got a hit, and I was like, ‘OK, well, I guess I'll try this for a little bit.
Rays Digest: You played a season at Montgomery already. Did not making the Triple-A squad after spring training motivate you at all to start the season so strong?
Cole Figueroa: No, no extra motivation behind it. I feel like if I do well, obviously I'll move up.
Rays Digest: Did you know that this season you would open batting third? How does that change your preparation as a hitter?
Cole Figueroa: I ended the season in Montgomery batting third so being back with Billy [Biscuits manager Billy Gardner] I think he just slotted me back in that spot. I don't think that's going to be my role later on if I keep playing. If I get to the big league level I don't think that's going to be my role. But it's good; I know he [Gardner] has confidence in me to drive runs in.
Rays Digest: How hard is it to feel good about your success at the plate when the rest of the lineup seems to be struggling a bit? The guys in front of you; shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and second baseman Tyler Bortnick are both batting well below .300.
Cole Figueroa: It's early so guys aren't clicking on all cylinders right now. With Bortnick and Lee at the top of the lineup we're going to score a lot of runs. Those guys really can hit, they get on base and they create havoc because of their stealing ability. And that's going to help me because I'm going to see a lot better pitches because they both can run. I think once everyone gets on track and everyone starts hitting it'll be more like last night [on April 10 the Biscuits scored seven runs].
Rays Digest: What's your approach at the plate with guys like them on base and you having to take pitches to allow them to steal?
Cole Figueroa: I think my whole career I've hit toward the top of the lineup and I have a pretty good history of watching and taking pitches. I'm a pretty patient hitter so it's not a problem for me to let them go on a couple of pitches. I've obviously been more aggressive this year because I feel like it's more of an RBI slot but I have no problem with taking a few pitches and letting them run.
Rays Digest: Looking ahead, after the series with the Mississippi Brave, you guys play the Mobile BayBears who feature Trevor Bauer in their rotation. He competed this past spring for a rotation spot with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Is that something you look forward to as a hitter or do you dread a matchup like that?
Cole Figueroa: You definitely look forward to facing guys like that. Guys like that are guys you are going to see up through the ladders so you need to be able to compete with those guys to stay in the game.
Will Sammon is the Montgomery Biscuits beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @WillSammon.
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