Payton Still Having Quality At-Bats

TRENTON, NJ — There have been times in his short career thus far that outfielder Mark Payton has put up some eye-popping numbers. He hasn't exactly done that yet in his time in Double-A but his coaches still love the way he's been playing and they believe it's just a matter of time before the numbers begin to even out.

After selecting five pitchers in a row in last season’s MLB Draft, the Yankees picked up outfielder Mark Payton in the seventh round. The pick didn’t exactly turn a lot of heads.

At only 5-foot-7, the four-year starter at the University of Texas did not display any tell-tale signs of giving Yankee fans something to be excited about. But according to Trenton hitting coach P.J. Pilittere, Yankee fans should not underestimate the size of the 23-year old.

“I knew him for a little bit last year in Tampa, so this year I knew what to expect from him. The kid is a tough out,” Pilittere said. “You see his stature and think he’s going to be the type of guy who slaps the ball and tries to beat it out, and he’s really not that guy at all. He can drive the ball over an outfielder’s head. He can use the whole field.”

Unlike most college draft picks in the organization, Payton began his professional career in low-A Charleston instead of Staten Island. During that time, he hit an outstanding .357 with an on-base percentage of .443. His performance at the plate was so impressive that the Yankees decided to move him up to Tampa during the second half of his debut season last year.

Payton made the transition well, hitting .286 with eleven doubles, while earning a walk 14.4 percent of the time. In just a short season, Payton erased any doubts of his ability and proved he is the real deal.

“Baseball is the kind of sport where it can all go really well or really bad for you and last season everything seemed to be going pretty well,” Payton said. “I had a lot of really good support around me. When I was moved up to Tampa I was able to pick the brains of some of the guys who have been in the organization for a little while and I was able to feel more comfortable.”

In 2015, Payton picked up right where he left off. He played the first 49 games of the year with Tampa, posting a batting average of .291 with a homer, eight doubles, and 18 RBIs. In May, he was promoted to Double-A Trenton.

He has appeared in 25 games so far with the Thunder, and his numbers at the plate have dropped quite a bit. He’s hitting .247 with two home runs and 15 RBIs. Pilittere believes that Payton’s numbers with Trenton are not indicative of the quality of his at-bats.

“He’s a really smart hitter. He doesn’t swing at any bad pitches and he’s the kind of guy who will find his pitch in a good count and drive it over somebody’s head,” Pilittere said. “The hits haven’t really stacked up but he’s hitting the ball hard and having good at-bats and that’s all we can really ask of him.”

At the collegiate level, Payton was nothing short of a standout. In his junior through senior seasons with the Texas Longhorns, he reached base in 101 consecutive games, a Big 12 conference record. In 2013 and 2014, he was named to the first team All-Big 12. Payton was the active leader in the conference for total career bases (385), walks (148), triples (19), doubles (50), and RBIs (122).

Although baseball is essentially the same everywhere, Payton felt the transition to professional ball was a little difficult at first.

“I think the biggest part is having to play everyday and not getting three days off every week,” he said. “You need to find a way to keep your body healthy and to put the right things in your body to keep up with the grind.”

In his short time with Trenton, the Illinois native and former Chicago Cubs fan has left a nice impression on manager Al Pedrique.

“I had him for the second half last year in Tampa and my impressions of him are that he’s a hard worker and he’s a kid who knows how to play the game and has a good feel for the game,” Pedrique said. “He works hard offensively and we were surprised by the ability he has shown to hit the ball out of the park. One thing I like about him is that he is willing to make the adjustments every at-bat and the way he goes about his business is off the charts.”

With players like Mason Williams, Aaron Judge, Jake Cave, Ramon Flores, and others, there are obviously a lot of outfielders in this organization who show promise and who can hit. But Payton believes his work ethic and style of play should keep him in the mix as much as some of these bigger prospects.

“I’m hard-nosed and I try to have quality at-bats by not swinging at any bad pitches,” he said. “I make the changes offensively and defensively that are necessary to make myself better.

"There’s a lot of good outfielders around here but it’s not my responsibility to try to have better numbers than them or anything like that, I just have to stay healthy and keep working hard.”

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