Single-A Hagerstown Suns right fielder Kevin Keyes has made the most of his opportunity in his second season in the Nationals organization after a rough opening campaign in Vermont.
“Last year this time I was disappointed (with my play). I didn’t do so well in Vermont. It was a wake up call,” Keyes said. “I worked very hard to get better and it has paid off. I have concentrated on improving my swing and defense.”
Keyes said it was difficult to get his approach at the plate down on a consistent basis playing every day, when in college at the University of Texas, they would have one or two days off between each series.
The 39 games in Vermont wasn’t enough to get going, and he was held to a .175 average. But Keyes said in the offseason and in spring training he worked to change his focus at the plate.
“I changed my approach to handle pitches I like,” Keyes said. “I have been able to look for what I want to hit.”
The 6-foot-3, 225 lb., Keyes was the designated hitter for Hagerstown to begin the season while Bryce Harper patrolled right field for the Suns. Following Harper’s promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, Keyes took over as an every day outfielder and blossomed.
With the increased playing time in the field, he got into a groove at the plate. Pre-All-Star break, Keyes was batting .203. Post-All-Star break, he was electrifying, batting .288 with 17 doubles, one triple, 12 homers and 48 RBIs.
In possibly a precursor of success to follow, Keyes unleashed a streak from June 18 to June 28 where he hit seven homers in eight games.
Keyes also had a streak of home runs in four out of five games in August, several of them rockets and several of them of the three-run variety. Being very humble, Keyes credits his teammates for getting on base in front of him to make them three-run shots.
Nationals outfield coordinator and former major leaguer Tony Tarasco has also had a major influence on the 22-year old from Austin, Texas.
“Tony really helped me with my defense in the outfield,” Keyes said. “It was a constant thing we worked on. It was important for me to improve my defense so I could pair it with my hitting to become a complete player. It take pride in my defense because to be a great player you have to be able to do everything well.”
Tarasco focused Keyes’ on detail in the outfield: backing up the bases, hitting the cut off man and taking the correct routs to fly balls.
“Doing those little things that fans probably don’t notice during the game can make the difference in how many bases they get, and in the end, how many runs we allow.”
Many have talked about the catching depth in the Nationals organization, but with Harper getting a lot of media attention in Hagerstown, some may have overlooked what Wade Moore, Randolph Oduber, Michael Taylor and now Keyes have done to raise the bar talent-wise in the outfield.
“We have a really good outfield, especially now that Oduber has returned,” Keyes said. “We like to have fun out there and play games. All of these guys have a great chance of playing in the big leagues for a very long time. It really is an honor just to be talked about in same breath as these guys.”
So with a very nice end to his sophomore season, does he have his sights set on high Single-A Potomac in 2012?
“I am not worrying about if I get moved up,” Keyes said. “I am going to instructs next. I will work on hitting, defense and base running. It was a real compliment to be selected to play instructional league this season.”
Keyes said instructional league play begins September 17 in Viera, Fla.