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It's a weekday afternoon round of batting practice in mid-July — nothing out of the ordinary as music blares over the stadium PA system and players stand around the cage chatting about things like which city in the International League has the best hotels. But there's something different about the feel when Henry Wrigley takes his turn.
"That's a nice one. That's a nice one," says the chorus of teammates around him while each cut he takes drives a ball back in to the outfield. "Oh my God," somebody says as Wrigley mashes a ball out over the Blue Monster, but it's still carrying at about 70 feet in the air until it ricochets off the top of the Diamond View office building that rises up behind left field.
"Squared that one up just about as perfectly as you can square it up — probably the farthest ball I've ever hit," said Wrigley.
After half of a season spent clobbering the ball in Durham, the 25-year old Californian is having a big year and crushing the numbers he has put up in his career in Double-A ball. His .343/.381/.562 slash stats are the best of his career, and with 17 homers and 69 RBI he is set to eclipse his personal best in each category from 2010 with the Montgomery Biscuits.
For the Bulls' first baseman, it comes down to practice, experience, and getting smarter at the plate.
"It's just all about repetition, I've been playing the game for a long time and I've picked up a lot of things along the way, like looking for better pitches to hit and not over-swinging," said Wrigley. "The coaches have stuck with me throughout my whole career — I've been here [in the Rays farm system] for seven years now, and a lot of it just has to do with repetition."
With a team that has struggled to bring runs in all season (Durham is second in the league with 984 hits but in the bottom half of runs scored with 465), Wrigley is an important asset. Despite playing in 25 fewer games this season, he only trails team-leading Leslie Anderson by one home run and 2 RBI. This onslaught of offensive power has impressed manager Charlie Montoyo, who always speaks enthusiastically about his cornerman.
"Wrigley just needs to keep swinging like he's swinging, believe me if he keeps this up the Rays will find him a spot," said the skipper. "His fielding might not be there all the time, but he's the kind of guy that if he hits like he does, he can just play eight innings and we'll bring someone in for the ninth to play defense if we need to. He's doing a good job and he is really hitting the ball and that's good to see."
The issue in fielding only centers around one error and a fielding percentage of .996, which is a drop from no errors and a perfect percentage while playing first base in Montgomery earlier this season. However, in 32 games in the outfield this season split between the Bulls and Biscuits, he has made no errors and boasts a fielding percentage of 1.000.
But for Wrigley, the way he's been plowing through pitches at the plate and keeping an almost flawless defensive record isn't quite good enough.
"I'm trying to improve every day, to be honest. Outfield, first base, third base, defense, base running — I'm trying to get better everywhere," said Wrigley. "And at the plate I really am working on not trying to swing so hard. I have to learn to just put a good swing on the ball instead of trying to hit a home run every time. I've done a much better job with that these past few years, and I'm seeing better results. My aim is try to stay within myself and have a good approach, a good plan going in to each and every at-bat."
If he does find a plan or approach at the plate that somehow improves his already great results, Henry Wrigley can plan on setting his sights higher than any downtown-Durham low-rise.
Ben Christoph is the Durham beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @btchristoph
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