After hand and hamstring injuries, Townsend could be poised for big year

If you wanted to pick an Orioles' minor leaguer that could put up some real solid numbers this year, you could probably do a lot worse than Tyler Townsend.

The 22-year-old first baseman, the O's third-round pick out of Florida International in 2009, hit very well last year - when he could get on the field.

The lefty hitter was limited to 52 games because of a recurring hamstring injury, but in those games, most of which came at Delmarva and Frederick, Townsend batted .325 with six homers and 45 RBIs. He had 31 extra-base hits, including 21 doubles and an OPS of .959.

That is a lot of extra-base hits for Townsend and would compute to 96.6 over a full 162-game season. Last year, Toronto's Jose Bautista led the AL with 92 extra-base hits.

Then Townsend had an eventful fall. It started with him expecting to go play winter ball in Australia. Then, he made a last minute change and decided to go to the Arizona Fall League.

He went 1 for 4 with two RBIs in a game for Scottsdale on October 13th that would turn out to be his first and last game of winter ball.

"I got out to Arizona and was practicing and my (left) hand didn't feel right," Towsend said. "I got it looked at and they thought it was a cyst, but it ended up being a benign tumor in the blood vessel, in a vein.

"They had to go in and take that out and that ended everything. It was right below the fingers, where I hold the bat, so every time I put pressure on it, it was painful."

That had to be scary for a while.

"They thought it was just a cyst and it wasn't until the surgery that they realized what it was," Townsend said. "I got it taken out so it won't bother me again. I feel good now, it took a couple of weeks after the surgery and now I am 100 percent healthy and hopefully (can) carry that into the year."

Townsend had the surgery on his hand in late October and the stitches were removed about two weeks later.

So, he lost out on winter ball at bats, but a side benefit of the hand injury and leaving the AFL was it gave his recovering hamstring even more time to heal up this winter. He hopes that issue is finally and completely behind him entering this year.

"I really concentrated on not overdoing it," Townsend said. "I think I pushed it too hard last offseason and overdid it before the season. This year, I have concentrated on flexibility and stretching it out a lot and not like crazy or heavy lifting on it."

Townsend, from Lewes, Delaware, will turn 23 in May and was encouraged by his hitting last year when he was healthy. In 30 games at Delmarva, he batted .342 with three homers, 26 RBIs and 17 extra-base hits.

"When I played last year, I felt great and felt like I had a really good year," he said. "Just one of the things where I realize it is hard to keep moving up when you are not playing. Just want to show what I can do in a full season, because I haven't had one yet.

"I am very happy with the year, besides the injuries, in the games I did play in. I was happy with my turnaround from the first year and to prove to everyone that I can hit."

This could be a season where Townsend perhaps begins the year as Frederick's first baseman. If he puts up numbers there, maybe even a move to Double-A could be possible before season's end.

"I do feel like this is a big year, because I haven't proven myself over a full season yet," Townsend said. "I do feel like it's a big year to show I can be healthy and produce throughout the year."

What is your take?: Which player or players do you think are poised to take a step forward this year in the O's minor leagues? Feel free to use this blog as a discussion of any and all minor league topics today.

You can also follow me and post questions & comments on Twitter: @masnsteve.

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