Payton Adapting Quickly

Outfielder Mark Payton, selected in the 7th round of this year's draft, was one of the last players to officially sign with the Yankees in 2014. He was also the position player who advanced the quickest and the highest from this year's crop, proving he is quickly adapting to the professional game.

[Brianna Borello contributed to this article]

He completed his debut season hitting a combined .320 with a remarkable 29 walks in his first 48 minor league games between low-A Charleston and high-A Tampa. And while adjusting to playing everyday is usually the hardest adjustment for any first-year player -- and Payton is still no exception -- it sure didn't show in his results as he reached base safely in 42 of his first 48 games.

"I like him a lot," Tampa hitting coach P.J. Pilittere said. "He’s a hard-nose type player that plays really hard on a daily basis. He knows himself really well.

"He has a good feel for the strike zone, he handles the bat really well, and for a guy of his stature, he’s actually got a little pop in his bat, which is nice.”

Standing just 5-foot-8 and weighing 180 pounds, he isn't exactly the biggest guy around and yet the former University of Texas standout collected 21 extra-base hits and slugged .497 in his debut season.

"The ball comes off his bat really well," Pilittere continued. "It makes a good sound for a guy his size. I’m not saying he’s a guy who’s going to hit 15 to 20 homers, but he’s a guy that can run into a couple for you. He’s not just going to slap singles out there. He’s looking to drive the ball when deemed necessary.”

"For his size, he’s got some pop," manager Al Pedrique added. "For me, he has a gut to gut power, occasional power that he’ll hit his home runs. If you make a mistake, he will make you pay, but I think he’s a line drive type of hitter with a good walk/strike out ratio."

Still, he will never be confused with a power hitter but he is certainly one of those grind it out, line-drive hitters, one with a high level of aptitude and clearly able to make quick adjustments.

"Playing every day was different," Payton said. "I think that was the biggest adjustment on my body. I had to prepare my body every day to play.

"It took me awhile to get adjusted. I started trying to do things I don’t usually do. [It] hurt me offensively for maybe three or four games in a row, and I just got back to myself and playing my type of baseball."

And what exactly is his style of play?

"He plays hard," Pedrique said. "Every day he shows up ready to play. The one thing that got my attention is how aggressive he is with his bat. For a small guy, he has really good idea about the strike zone.

"He takes a lot of pitches and makes the pitcher work, taking them deep in count. That’s what you want from your leadoff hitter. Once he’s ahead in the count, even with two strikes, he has a good approach. Very short compact swing and he keeps the barrel of the bat in the strike zone long enough that he can do a lot of things with the baseball.

"Defensively he’s doing a good job with us, getting good jumps, taking good routes. His arm strength is good, and he just needs to work on his accuracy, which I know he will. I can tell because he has a good idea of how to play the game.”

Not exactly an ultra-toolsy player, what he lacks in standout physical attributes he makes up in with an overall polished game, one filled with many positives.

"Probably the way he handles the bat," Pilittere said of his best tool. "You would think he’d be a huge bunt, speed guy, but no he’s got some power. He can hit the ball over outfielders heads to all fields. I think his ability to handle the bat and his bat control is his best attribute.”

Moving extremely fast already, Payton, who could realistically find himself in Double-A in 2015, has the look of a quick riser through the minor leagues and it's because of his innate ability to make quick adjustments.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to move up." Pedrique said. "We just signed him in June, he’s already in high-A. He is proving that he’s close to going to Double-A next year.

"[It] just depends on our needs as an organization, but I won’t see him having problems going to AA next year. I think he has bright future."

"I don’t see why he can’t move quick," Pilittere added. "He’s doing a good job of coming to play the game the right way every day. It’s pretty impressive how a guy that was just in college two months ago has really adapted quickly to professional ranks.

"It’s attributed to the program he went to in Texas and his attention to detail. If he can continue to be a consistent player, and bring what he’s capable of doing on a daily basis and be a little bit more consistent, I don’t see why not. He can definitely be a contributor at any level.”


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