Charlotte Stone Crabs third baseman Riccio Torrez made quite an impression to open the 2012 campaign when he started the year by getting a hit in 11 straight games.
From April 5th until April 16th, Torrez always seemed to be in the thick of everything the Stone Crabs did on offense. On the season's second day he hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning against Fort Myers and a week later was back at again when he delivered a walk-off hit in the tenth inning against Jupiter.
"My spring training went really well," the 22-year-old infielder said about his torrid start to the season. "I hit the ball really well and it was a good thing that it carried over into the start of the season. I started off the season hot."
Drafted in the fourth round of last year's draft out of power-house collegiate program Arizona State, Torrez is still adjusting to the grind of playing baseball full-time.
After starting the season by hitting .287 with 11 RBI and 7 extra-base hits in April, the Charlotte third baseman struggled in May when he hit just .184. Despite his low average though, Torrez still managed to contribute to the Stone Crabs offensive attack by hitting 4 home runs and driving in 14 runners.
"You got to come out here every day. In college it's usually the weekends and maybe a Tuesday or Wednesday game, but here it's every single day," Torrez said about the difference from playing college ball and playing in the professional ranks. "[Here] you have one off day every 20-some days. The grind of coming out every day and performing every single day is the biggest difference."
"He comes from a great program at Arizona State and he's a real fine ballplayer. [He's] solid, a quiet-type leader, plays hard every day, works hard every day. He's jumpin' in right here," said Torrez's manager, Jim Morrison, about his third baseman's start in the pro ranks.
Torrez started his pro career last year with 13 games and 54 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League, before finishing the season at Charlotte where he hit .194 in 31 at bats.
"He had a little touch-and-feel at the end of the season last year and he's come right back in and done what we expected him to do and he's going to get better," Morrison continued.
Torrez has flashed some pop in the power-sapping Florida State League and is second on the team in home runs with 5 behind team co-leaders Derek Dietrich and Phil Wunderlich. But his approach at the plate is not centered around hitting the long ball.
"I just go up there and try to hit the ball hard somewhere," offered Torrez about his approach to hitting. "I just try and get a good pitch and get a good count and hit it hard somewhere, it doesn't really matter where. Sometimes it goes over the fence and sometimes it's a single.
Despite his May struggles, he is second only to outfielder Mikie Mahtook (18) in multi-hit games with 11 and his season-opening 11-game hitting streak is still tops on the squad.
The native of Phoenix, Arizona has impressed on the hot corner and is "comfortable there" after playing all over the infield at Arizona State. He currently sports a .961 fielding percentage in 128 chances with 5 errors and 5 double plays.
"He's done a nice job, he's played a great third base for us," said Morrison about his defense.
With 291 professional at bats under his belt, the 22-year-old has had time to make the necessary adjustments to facing quality pitching on a nightly basis and has thus far rebounded in June by hitting .261 in the month's first week.
As he continues to get used to the grind of life as a minor leaguer in the Florida State League, he has already won over his manager.
"He's highly competitive and loves the game of baseball - comes ready to play every day," said Morrison. "He's a strong kid and he looks forward to the competition on a daily basis. He's been real pleasure to be around."
Torrez, who has developed a reputation as a "grinder", doesn't know any other way to play the game and has always approached the game with a focused passion.
"I just go out there and give it everything I got every single day and hopefully that brings results. That's how I go about my stuff."
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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