It happened to Tyler Townsend. He isn’t the first player and won’t be the last to put up great numbers in college, then struggle in his first professional season.
The 21-year-old Townsend was one of college baseball’s best hitters last year, hitting .426-24-77 at Florida International. He set several school records and was a Louisville Slugger first-team all American.
Then the Orioles drafted him in round three in June, the 85th pick overall and soon he was playing with the Aberdeen IronBirds.
Then the struggles began. He got off to a 3 for 20 start and in mid July, the first baseman suffered a left wrist injury on a play at the bag.
He tried to play through it before missing a month. In 31 IronBirds’ games, Townsend hit just .143-4-16 and fanned 39 times in 119 bats.
“Coming out of school, I was on a roll. But it was a humbling experience and I realized how much tougher it is now. But I want to be one of the best hitters in the league and I’m putting in the work,” the lefty hitter said.
Townsend, the 2006 Delaware player of the year at Cape Henlopen High in Lewes, went to instructional league in the fall and reports said he resumed ripping line drives, just like he had in college.
“I felt really good. The summer is what it is, not what I wanted but I came here in the fall and worked hard every day. I took a lot out of it and made improvement on offense and defense. It was nice to go into the off-season off a good instructional league.
“It was a fresh start. They told me not to worry about the summer. I just went back to being me and it worked out well.”
Townsend made a few subtle adjustments that helped him get back on track.
“It was a comfort thing and being healthy and confident. I made a few little adjustments from the summer that helped a bit, just trying to stay more closed and do things that helped me see the ball better.”
Scouting director Joe Jordan said Townsend impressed the O’s staff with his performance at instructional league.
“Well, he had a couple of weeks off to kind of clear his mind more than anything. He’s very excited to be a part of this organization, it’s close to his home. I think he came in and pressed a bit and it snowballed. He was just a different guy in instructional league. He relaxed and whacked the ball around the park,” Jordan said.
“His power is there. He brings us a strong left-handed bat with power, we need more of that in our organization. I like what we got in the third round. This year will be a good solid year for him.”
With his bat going better, Townsend then went to work on his body, going through an eight-week program at Athletes Performance Institute in Pensacola, Florida, where his roommate was Caleb Joseph.
“I’m in the best shape of my life right now. It’s a long season and I want to last through it. I’ve added weight and cut body fat, I feel as strong as I’ve ever been. It was a really good program.”
Excited to get the new season started, Townsend worked out at Florida International the last few weeks, then reported to camp this week on Tuesday, four days ahead of the scheduled reporting time for position players at minor league camp.
The 2010 season could find Townsend playing for the Delmarva Shorebirds. As a kid growing up 40 minutes from Salisbury, he went to many Shorebirds’ games.
“That’s the goal. I want to move as fast as I can but there has been no indication as to where I will play yet. I’ll go wherever they put me, it’s out of my control.”
For even more on Townsend, check out this article I wrote about him the day after he was drafted last June.
Coming soon in this space - An interview and update on lefty pitcher Cameron Coffey, the high school pitcher the O’s drafted in round 22 last June. He is coming back from Tommy John surgery last March.