Tyler Townsend: Good bat, now looking for a healthy season

Sometimes, when national analysts contend the Orioles lack a lot of solid hitting prospects in their minor league organization, they overlook Tyler Townsend, a third-round pick and first baseman out of Florida International in 2009.

Not so much because of a lack of good numbers, but a lack of consistent at-bats. Townsend has been dogged by hamstring issues in his left leg the last two years that limited him to 52 games in 2010 and 67 last summer.

But consider these numbers: In three seasons in the O’s minors, Townsend has played in 155 career games with 585 at-bats. In that time he is batting .282 with 54 doubles, six triples, 24 homers and 119 RBIs. His career slugging percentage is .518 and he has an OPS of .861.

Townsend didn’t have a single hamstring injury until he got to pro ball. Now, if he can just get healthy and stay healthy.

“It is frustrating,” Townsend said. “I put together a really good first half last year (with Single-A Frederick). When it came back, it was really frustrating. I know what I’m capable of and a nagging injury like this is keeping me from showing what I can do over a full season.

“I’ve had MRIs and they have never found any significant tears. It’s just a strain that just keeps coming back. Maybe I didn’t rest it long enough or pushed it too much. It’s just a strain that kept coming back.”

Townsend said he has worked hard this offseason to get that hamstring healthy and strong and, knock on wood, he feels fine now.

“It is good right now, better than I’ve felt in a while,” he said. “I really concentrated on the program that the Orioles gave me. I feel like it’s helping a lot. I feel like I can do everything I could before. Now I’m at a point where I want to maintain that and get to a point where I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

“They gave me a stretching program before I left (last season) and I’ve been following that religiously. It’s helped my flexibility tremendously.”

He said doctors have never suggested any surgery or any other procedures.

“There was nothing we could do, but just rest, stretch and strengthen it. There was nothing the doctors said that surgically they could do. Just a matter of keeping it flexible and doctors say if I do that, I shouldn’t have any problems,” the 23-year-old Townsend said.

Last season with Frederick, Townsend missed a couple of weeks in June and about five weeks starting in mid-July due to the hamstring strain. He returned for a few games late in the regular season, but missed the playoffs as Frederick won the Carolina League championship.

In 67 games and 252 at-bats with the Keys, Townsend hit .317 with 24 doubles, two triples, 13 homers and 50 RBIs. He slugged .583 with an OPS of .941 and had an OPS of 1.028 against right-handed pitchers.

Over parts of the last two years with Frederick, Townsend has 49 extra-base hits over 86 games. His 13 homers last year tied for fourth-most in the O’s minors, even though he missed so much time.

For a player with some big numbers, he is not a big player. Townsend goes 6-foot-1 and 195 lbs. He has added eight to 10 lbs. since the season ended and wants to play at around 210 next season.

You wonder where the pop has come from for a player that has been under 200 lbs.

“I don’t know,” Townsend said. “I’ve always been able to find the gaps and hit home runs. I guess it’s just my swing or something I do. Sometimes little guys have just as much power as the big guys. It can be in your swing and your hands and how quick you are.”

Townsend spent some time with the Keys in the playoffs last September even though he didn’t play. He said the Keys had great team chemistry on their way to a title.

As for improvements to his game, he knows his defense needs work and he could stand to take ball four a few more times.

“My biggest issue is my (lack of) walks, I need to get more plate discipline. Last year I chased some pitches early in counts that I shouldn’t have. Early in the season I was real aggressive early in the counts. Then when we faced the same teams later I chased some bad pitches. Just a matter of being more patient this year with better pitch selection,” he said.

If Townsend can stay on the field, it will be interesting to see what he can do as he moves up and possibly gets a shot at Double-A this year.

“I’m not sure what the plan is (for 2012). I will go wherever they put me and just hope to keep moving up through the system and hopefully get my shot. A goal is to end at a level higher than where you start the year,” he said.

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