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To understand who Henry Wrigley is as a hitter at 25, it's essential to know just how impatient and fearless he was at the plate for the majority of his previous six minor league seasons.
"Before [this season] I was such a free swinger type guy and I would just go up there and hack at every pitch I saw, which is why I didn't walk," Wrigley says.
The Biscuits outfielder/first baseman walked twice on May 1 to increase his total on the season to 14, with none coming from the intentional variety. That amount will not be found atop the leader boards in the Southern League — Birmingham's Tyler Saladino has 22 — but for Wrigley, the statistic is an anomaly.
In 2009, he drew 14 bases on balls in 457 plate appearances. The year later, while splitting time between High-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, Wrigley drew 31 walks in 555 plate appearances. Despite the fact he came to the batter's box 495 times last season, he only experienced 23 walks. The California-native has never received more than 31 free passes in seven professional seasons so far.
"I was over-aggressive," Wrigley says. "I like to be aggressive and I think that's a big part of my game but there's also a point where I need to understand the game situation. It just comes down to being more selective and it has taken a while."
The cleanup hitter was also "home run happy," according to Biscuits hitting instructor Ozzie Timmons.
"At first it was kind of a tough sail for him," says Timmons, who has worked with Wrigley for six seasons. "He kept thinking of hitting home runs and more home runs. I told him home runs will come but he had to let the game come to him. It wasn't anything mechanical because he has good mechanics."
"I would try to hit home runs," Wrigley says. "And when I'd try, I wouldn't hit them."
So what has changed?
"I just have a plan now," he says. "I know what I need to do and I study the pitchers, at- bats and realize what they're going to do and how they're going to pitch me."
In addition to his improved preparation, since the second half of last year, Wrigley's batting practice routine now consists of hitting off of a tee. He takes approximately 50 swings — spread across different sets — at balls outside the plate, on its outer third, down the middle and another set that he pulls, before he ends with more swings at balls positioned away on the tee.
|Wrigley during a spring training game.|
Wrigley's tee work has helped him "stay within himself," lay off of pitches that are high and out of the strike zone and realize what pitches are ideal for him to drive, according to Timmons.
The results have been the improved walk totals and an increase in power production for someone who had already experienced success in that department — he won the 2010 Florida State League Home Run Derby.
That same year, five years after he was drafted in 2005, Wrigley had a season of 21 home runs, 25 doubles, 83 RBI and a .457 slugging percentage — despite an on-base percentage of .312, a career-high. The power remained in 2011: 17 home runs, 34 doubles, 84 RBI and a .464 slugging percentage.
"Wrigley just has really good power and at any point can help this offense get moving in the right direction," said infielder Cole Figueroa before he was promoted to Triple-A Durham.
Wrigley struggled to do much of anything offensively in the Biscuits' opening series but still managed to tie a club record for the most extra-base hits in the month of April, 14. Despite missing a couple of games because of a sore back, Wrigley has six home runs, eight doubles and 20 RBI through 24 games.
What's more impressive about Wrigley's start to the season is his isolated power, or ISO. ISO is a sabermetrics statistic which measures a batter's raw power. The formula is slugging percentage minus batting average, which removes all the singles that are included in slugging. The final result measures how many extra bases a player averages per at-bat. The best power hitters in the game will have an ISO around .300 and anyone with an ISO more than .200 is hitting for power at a good clip. An ISO below .200 indicates that a vast majority of the player's hits are not going for extra bases.
Wrigley has an ISO of .313 so far. In 2010 his was .161 and last season it was .190.
"Playing in the minor leagues is a time for development. Players either adjust or they get lost in the shuffle," Biscuits outfielder Emeel Salem says. "Henry has been able to convert his talent to the games, which some players never do. He's become a more confident player over the years, which has led to more consistency and success."
Confidence may have been hard to come by early in the season, when he learned he would be with the Double-A ballclub for the third consecutive season and not with Triple-A Durham.
"It was tough but it's not the first time it happened to a guy in my situation and I just have to do the best with what I got," Wrigley says. "I would've liked to have gone to Triple-A, but I don't make those decisions. It was easy to look past after a while."
Wrigley says that every year his goal is to get better and work toward his main objective of reaching the major leagues. The culmination of better preparation, a stronger offseason work ethic and being bypassed for a job with the Triple-A club has helped him take his game to the next level so far in 2012.
"It could be motivation to try to get out, experience, maturity and just live at-bats," Wrigley says. "This is my seventh year playing so my experience is up there. I'm just taking things a lot more seriously than I did when I was younger."
Will Sammon is the Montgomery Biscuits beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @WillSammon.
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