Ben Kline got off to a great start offensively, but don't let the impressive numbers overshadow his continually improving all-around game.
A middle infielder coming out of college, Kline has found himself manning shortstop (his primary position), second base, third base, and left field for the GCL Rays already, 13 games into his pro career. His willingness to play just about anywhere will go a long way in the Rays organization, and Kline values every opportunity he gets to showcase his versatility in hopes of it improving his chances to reach the big leagues.
"To play for a team that values versatility is one thing," Kline said, "but to have coaches and managers that allow you to play more than one position is a compliment in my eyes. They are basically giving me multiple opportunities at different positions to excel and reach the goal of playing at the highest level."
Kline welcomes the experience, and he is committed to playing good defense no matter where he ends up.
"For me, I want to play every position the best that I can. The best way for that is to get as many games in at each position possible, and so far at this level I have been able to do that."
Kline was already known for being solid defensively in college, and despite his 6'3, 200 pound frame, he's got good speed and range to compliment a strong arm. Still, he has plenty of room for improvement in the field. Footwork has been a point of emphasis for his defensive game, and he has gotten plenty of help in that regard.
"Defensively," he said, "Hector Torres works with me on footwork and glove drills to build habits that we should use in games, and that has helped out a lot. In order to succeed defensively, quality repetition is needed to react to in-game situations, and he really stresses the importance of footwork and handling the ball."
On the offensive side of things, Kline is also looking to get better. His numbers suggest that the hard work has paid off, and a big part of that is his improved plate discipline and overall approach.
"I have been trying to work on swinging at pitches that I can drive to the gap, not just swinging at strikes," he said. "I have worked with Wuarnner Rincones every morning with some hitting drills to improve on an offensive approach, and to just get more repetition with my swing."
Kline has shown glimpses of power in the past, but for now he is just focusing on putting together good at bats and reaching base.
"As for now I'm not a huge power guy, so finding ways to get on base and having quality at bats is going to be a big key to any success."
Sure enough, he has done just that. Having reached base in all but two games he has started, Kline appears to be on the right track. Even so, he remains modest about his early offensive outburst.
"If you're going good you obviously want to continue with that, but at the same time you don't want to get too caught up in it, because you're not going to swing the bat well every day."
There are many contributing factors to Kline's early success, and among other things, he credits confidence and hard work as the keys to his impressive pro debut. He anticipates the ups and downs that come with the sport, but wants the aforementioned qualities to remain a constant.
"For me," he said, "the biggest thing is to come out ready to play every day. Coming in to a new team, I feel like you have to earn the time to get on the field, and playing hard every day helps with that. With that being said, if you know you are putting the work in with quality time, it gives you confidence in what you do. I think that is one of the biggest things for me, is knowing you can compete at this level and having confidence in yourself, even though you won't succeed every time."
Kline's attitude towards the game has to have the Rays organization smiling. His offensive numbers speak for themselves, and his versatility is the icing on the cake. In fact, he sees himself being able to help out just about anywhere on the diamond in the future.
"I hope to be a guy that can contribute any way that I can," he said. "Obviously, since I have been playing multiple positions, now I see myself being a utility player."
A 32nd round pick in this year's draft, Ben Kline has impressed both offensively and defensively so far in his first season as a pro. There's a long road ahead, but it certainly looks as though the Rays have another promising young prospect on their hands that could end up epitomizing what it means to be a Tampa Bay Ray.
Brad Lymburner is the GCL Rays beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @_BradL.
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