Accolades and recognition are nothing new for Cole Figueroa— all-state, all-star, Freshman All- American (by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, and Scout.com), SEC Academic Honor Roll, and Player of the Month are all distinctions that have been used to describe him. But for the Bulls infielder, all of the accolades came before his arduous journey to the majors, and for now, he is trying to grow into his role as a minor leaguer and hone in on big-league ball.
After being promoted to replace the recalled Will Rhymes, Figueroa, the former collegiate standout for the Florida Gators, is averaging .207 with a home run and seven RBIs for Durham over 87 at-bats. The meager first month of his Triple-A career comes after a white-hot April at Double-A Montgomery, where the 25-year-old hit .314 with a .931 OPS and 12 RBI.
"Throughout the season you're going to have peaks and valleys. Didn't start off real hot, I came out and just started a little slow," said an undaunted Figueroa on settling in to the highest classification of baseball he has played. "Anything could happen—a few good games in a row and my stat line will look good."
It's all about the mental approach according to the young infielder, who says he felt "a little passive" starting out with the Bulls. In order to reignite the explosive swing that carried him through his highly-touted college and Double-A campaigns, Figueroa has been working on his aggressiveness at the plate as well as gaining control of the pitch count in his at-bats.
"It's a little different here, just because the pitchers are a lot more polished and throw a lot more strikes, especially off-speed early in the count," said Figueroa. "When you're passive you're going to put yourself in a lot of 0-2 or 0-1 counts and I think that's what I was doing a lot when I first got here. Then, mechanically you get in little funks where you start doing things you don't normally do and start getting outs."
The Bulls hope they can stoke up the fire inside Figueroa and get some desperately needed help at the plate. Behind by 9.5 games in their division and in the cellar of the league in every batting category so far this season, the team and their skipper, Charlie Montoyo, look forward to seeing their infielder shake off the transition-to-the-Triangle jitters and contribute to the team's turnaround.
"First year in Triple-A, you have to be patient with kids like that. He's playing good defense and having good at-bats. It's just tough to produce when nobody's on," said Montoyo. "But the batting starts with one guy, it's contagious. We just need one guy to get it going, maybe it will be him."
With one month behind him, the promising minor leaguer knows he's got a long season and many at-bats ahead to prove himself. A confident grin comes across his face as he says he's "feeling good" after the call up to Durham, and one can sense that Figueroa is determined to show the Rays organization the stuff that earned him so much reverence in the past.
Ben Christoph is the Durham beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @btchristoph
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