Jeff Malm's focus during the offseason and during the 2012 campaign has been on his consistency at the plate. The first baseman isn't letting the bad days get to him and his mind-set is that if he doesn't get a hit one night, he'll bounce back with two hits the next night.
"Last year in Hudson Valley I kind of went through some peaks and valleys," Malm said. "One of my goals this year is to try and stay as consistent as possible."
The 6'3" 225 pound first baseman has been not only consistent, but impressive, since the beginning of the 2012 season and at one point in April owned a 16-game on-base streak. In the month of April, Malm hit for a .284 average, then topped that in May by hitting .323. He currently holds a .294 AVG on the season.
"Consistent" is the exact word Hot Rods manager Brady Williams used when describing Malm and he maintained that when Malm is going good he is hitting pitches in the strike zone.
"When Malm is patient and stays with his pitch he can do some damage," the Bowling Green manager said.
Malm went to high school at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he won four straight state titles as a first baseman and pitcher. He is still the all-time career hits leader in his high school's history with 277.
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 MLB draft, Malm's success continued into his professional career. In 2011, he hit .259 AVG with 12 home runs and 47 RBI and accepted MVP honors for the Hudson Valley short-season team while also being named a New York-Penn League all-star.
This season the Hot Rods had a franchise-record 8 players selected to the Midwest League all-star team and Malm was chosen as one of the starters at first base.
"It is very rewarding," Malm said about the all-star nod.
As part of his preparation for this season, Malm participated in the Rays Winter Development Program in January. While there, he was able to get a slight taste of what being a big leaguer is like. Malm trained at Tropicana Field and was able to give back to the community by helping out at a Tampa Bay-area Boy's and Girl's Club.
It was Malm's second year at the mini-camp and the opportunity has played a large role in Malm's early success this season.
"We did more of conditioning and lifting weights," Malm said. "It was more of getting your body ready for the season."
So far in 2012, Malm has five home runs, the third best total on the Hot Rods and 29 RBI, which is second only to outfielder Todd Glaesmann's 33.
Malm has had tremendous success at reaching second base when he puts the ball in play. He leads the team, and is third in the Midwest League, in doubles with 21 in 211 at-bats.
The only eyesore on Malm's stat line in 2012 is his strikeout total. He has fanned 61 times, which leads the team.
The left-handed hitting Malm is doing something at the plate this year that is pretty rare - having more success at the plate against lefties than righties. Against left-handed pitching Malm is hitting .400, compared to a .275 average against right-handed pitching.
According to Malm, the explanation for this is simple: when facing southpaws at the Low-A level, they don't throw a lefty-on-lefty changeup very often, so he can just focus on fastballs or their breaking pitch.
"This year I've focused on using the opposite field more," said Malm. "That's really helped me against left-handed pitching."
Malm has been productive with runners on base and is hitting .354 in that situation. When runners are on, Malm tries to step up to the plate with the objective of driving in the run and that has added a little bit more focus for him in those situations.
The Hot Rods first baseman has also shown versatility in the field, a characteristic that is important in the Rays organization, and has already played 10 games in the outfield.
Malm played some outfield in high school and was stuck at first-base his first few years of pro-ball, but said this season the Hot Rods have so much talent on the team that he is playing wherever he is needed.
"I've played some corner outfield," Malm said. "I feel comfortable out there."
Bringing a good mindset with him to the ball field has been a key factor in Malm's early-season success and he is always working to get better, whether it is at the plate, in the field, or on the base-paths.
"You should always be striving to get better," Malm said.
Austin Nichols is the Bowling Green beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nichols_HotRods.
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