So far, this has been a big year for the Staten Island Yankees, and you can see the levity on the faces of the players. Smiles abound in the dugout and locker room as the Yankees sit comfortably atop the New York-Penn League standings at [31-11].
Comprised of players getting their first look at professional baseball, they've made it look easy at times, with the help of youngsters eager to make their mark. Angelo Gumbs is right in the thick of it this year.
A converted outfielder, the speedy teenager was moved to second base and is still learning the position. The 2010 second-rounder has been making adjustments since joining the Yankees last year, but has assimilated quite well to changes that would stump the average player. His first Spring Training proved to be solid months of learning.
"My first spring training was good, it was definitely a learning experience," Gumbs said. "I don't think I'd be doing as well as I am now if not for spring training.
"I got the opportunity to play with a higher-level group of guys and it gave me a good idea of where my game is going to need to be going forward. It really made me better."
Much of the work Gumbs put in was obviously geared toward the shift to an infield position, something never easy for a guy who has played in the outfield his entire life, but also working on his weight load at the plate.
"I was working on staying light on my front side at the plate," he said. "As long as I can do that, everything else falls into place. That was really the focus of my batting techniques. On defense it was really trying to be more smooth at second and having my glove in the ready position at the right time, a lot of it was fundamental defense for a second baseman."
This transition to the infield has baffled even the best of athletes, but Gumbs' move hasn't been as rough as anticipated. His seven errors are only slightly above average for New York-Penn League second basemen and his gaffes rank lower than several middle-infielders at the same level.
"I was always an outfielder so this is relatively new to me," he admitted. "I feel like I've been making the transition pretty well. No matter where they put me, I'm going to be giving 110 percent. It just takes time."
Staten Island manager Tommy Slater has seen the change in Gumbs immediately and swears by his 18-year old second baseman's skills and raw athletic prowess.
"Angie is so athletic and it's fun to watch him play," Slater said. "You can see his athleticism show up on defense. He's gotten so much better at second base. He's got a great mentality and maturity in the game for a guy as young as he is. Nothing bothers him and he's always upbeat. He just bounces back and brushes it off when he hits a snag."
Coming into the 2011 season, Gumbs has played baseball year round since signing last year. A year of swift appearances, Instructs and lengthy training has left Gumbs in a good position in his mind.
"The numbers in the season tell it all when you play that much ball," Gumbs said. "The work you put in is what you can expect to gain on the field. I feel like I'm more baseball smart after playing that much and there's always areas you can improve in, so it helps a lot to get that much time playing. It's physically tough but no one ever said it was going to be easy. You just have to put your head down and grind."
After all that ball, Gumbs was ready to jump in with a team, and he had little doubt about what the 2011 season would provide in the way of performance, committed to giving it his all.
"My goals were to have quality at-bats and make some quality defensive plays. I grind hard and it's the way I play every day so to put all this practice into playing time has been good to see."
The California native has been one of the steadiest Yankees at the plate, his average only taking a small plunge in recent weeks. Over the first two months of the season, Gumbs' average has never dipped below .261 and ranks among league leaders in total bases and triples. In fact he is over .250 in almost every situational hitting category.
The only place one can find misfortune is with Gumbs' speed game. While he has improved his numbers of late, in the early going Gumbs was only taking 50 percent of his attempts, something Slater sees in all his speedy young players.
"A lot of young kids just can control the running game in high school and dictate the flow of the game without any technique, but Angelo is working hard every day," Slater said. "He can really run, but when you don't get a good jump or have the timing down, you get thrown out. And that's why these guys are here, to learn how to get better."
Gumbs admits this is an aspect of his game that needs improvement, one that he is already working on and is eager to share the things he is learning.
"I feel like I could obviously be better," Gumbs said. "But we are working on the moves, the timing. Do pitchers move their shoulders, do they move their hips, do they tuck in before they go to the plate?
"Those things make a major difference. On that side of my game I've been slacking a bit so I need to make some adjustments."
When asked what adjustments he needs to make, he said, "Just getting my hands off my knees." And laughed.
With all the pieces in place, Gumbs should prove to be a force to be reckoned with in years to come. For such a young player, Gumbs has the maturity and temperament of a seasoned player, something that cannot be taught by the coaching staff. For the time being, the astute Gumbs plans to continue to trust that the work he has done will keep bringing results.
"I feel like I need to keep my approach the way it is," he said, "maintaining the same mental state when I'm up to bat and letting my body work naturally. Those things apply to the defense too so I stay relaxed out there and let the work I've put in, show up."
Gumbs In The Thick Of It
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