A shortened swing has extended the success Quad-Cities infielder Victor Sanchez is having at the plate for the red-hot River Bandits.
Sanchez has hit .283 while helping Quad-Cities to wins in nine of its past 11 games, soaking up advice from River Bandits hitting coach Joe Kruzel and from Cardinals minor-league hitting coordinator Derrick May during his stay with the club last week.
"Kruzel always says to keep it simple, take the balls and swing at strikes, and there is a lot to that," Sanchez said. "It is about being smart when you are in the batter's box, and when you take that approach you get rewarded."
For Sanchez, the reward has included improved power numbers.
He recorded his first triple and his first home run of the season last week as the River Bandits pushed their way to the top of the Midwest League Western Division standings.
Kruzel and May spent time last week working with Sanchez.
His stance at the plate now begins with his hands higher, and Sanchez sets his swing into motion sooner.
His focus is on the strike zone, and with a quicker, shorter swing, he has all but eliminated shifting too much weight and a corresponding lunge as the bat moves through the strike zone.
"I'm extending my arm a bit more and getting more out of my swing," Sanchez said.
That has allowed Sanchez to move beyond early-season struggles.
The Norwalk, Calif., native was hitting .163 in late April, when the Cardinals reassigned their 26th-round pick from the 2010 draft to extended spring training.
Since returning to the Quad-Cities in late May, Sanchez has hit .282, and in July Sanchez is hitting at a .328 pace.
"Things have turned around for me," Sanchez said. "Looking back, going down to extended for a few weeks helped me a lot, and the work I've put in lately with Kruzel and D May have only made things better."
Sanchez believes he returned to Florida in late April with the right mindset.
"Was I disappointed to go down? Yeah, everybody is when something like that happens, but I tried to treat it as an opportunity to go there, get some work in and get things straightened out," Sanchez said.
"I was there about three weeks, and it made a lot of difference. I was able to go there, focus on my hitting and work on it every day. I tried to use it as something that would help me get better and I think that has been the case. I still have work to do. I need to do better with guys in scoring position. I need to do better moving runners, that type of thing, but I've made progress."
Quad-Cities manager Johnny Rodriguez credits Kruzel and May with helping Sanchez make the adjustments he's needed to succeed.
"He's been willing to work with them, and they've helped him become a better hitter," Rodriguez said. "You're seeing him load higher and take shorter swings, and it's working for him."
The recent success comes in a game that Sanchez loves.
"Baseball has always been it for me since I was 5 years old it has been the only game I've really played," Sanchez said. "My family lived across the street from a park and my three older brothers and I, we'd go over there every day and play. We'd play Wiffle Ball, catch, you name it, we were over at the park non-stop. It was just what we did."
Sanchez is a product of the successful program at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., and was part of the USA Junior National Team in 2006 that competed in Cuba.
He played at the University of San Diego before St. Louis selected him in the 2010 draft, and his passion for baseball never has wavered.
"It would be easy to play year-round in southern California, and a lot of guys do, but our parents always made us shut it down in September and October. They felt it was important that we got a break from baseball, and looking back, I think that has helped," Sanchez said.
"We'd go out and throw the football around a bit, but we also focused on the classroom and when it was time to get back to baseball, we were ready, hungry and fresh. I know a lot of guys who burned themselves out going at it year round. I still try to step away for a few weeks. I think it helps."
Sanchez did work to keep his conditioning up during his time away from the game last offseason, a byproduct of what he learned a year ago while hitting .291 in 57 games at short-season Batavia.
"When it hit August last year, coming off the college season and at the end of the short season, my body was shot. It was worn down, and there were days when my legs felt like they were 1,000 pounds apiece," Sanchez said. "I've worked hard to be ready for the long season this year and I'm feeling good now."
AROUND THE MIDWEST LEAGUE
WHO: Lake County Captains
WHEN: Today, 6 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.; Friday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Classic Park, Eastlake, Ohio
FAST STAT: The series features pitching staffs ranked first and 16th in the Midwest League. Pitchers for Lake County, an Indians affiliate, have allowed a league-high 442 runs this season and have given up 74 homers, the third highest total in the league.
WHO: Fort Wayne Wizards
WHEN: Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Monday, 5 p.m.
WHERE: Parkview Field, Fort Wayne, Ind.
FAST STAT: Quad-Cities will be keeping an eye on the Wizards' Rymer Liriano. His .315 batting average ranks third in the league and when he's on base, he's a threat to steal. His 44 stolen bases rank second among Midwest League players.
WHO: South Bend Silver Hawks
WHEN: Today-Thursday, 6 p.m.; Friday, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Coveleski Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
FAST STAT: The Diamondbacks affiliate features two of the league's better offensive threats. Yazy Arbelo leads the Midwest League with 23 homers and 73 RBIs, while Zachary Walters ranks 10th in the league with a .299 batting average.
WHO: West Michigan Whitecaps
WHEN: Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon; Monday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park, Mich.
FAST STAT: The Whitecaps are the second-best hitting team in the Midwest League, carrying a .257 team batting average. Nick Castellanos has been the most consistent hitter for the Tigers affiliate, ranking ninth in the league with a .300 average.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Taveras named player of week
Early-season hamstring injuries have prevented Oscar Taveras from having enough at-bats to qualify for the list of Midwest League batting leaders, but if he did, the Quad-Cities outfielder would be enjoying the view from the top of the list.
Taveras has hit safely in 33 of the 40 games he has played this season and leads the River Bandits with a .383 batting average.
He helped himself last week, earning Midwest League player of the week honors by hitting .600 with 15 hits in 25 at-bats. The 19-year-old from Sosua, Dominican Republic, added four doubles, a triple, a home run and five RBIs to his statistics last week in addition to scoring 10 runs.
Taveras had multiple hits in five consecutive games during the week.
Burlington's Blake Hassebrock was named the league's pitcher of the week. He struck out seven and scattered three hits over seven innings in a start against Fort Wayne on Thursday.
The "home team" won just one of its four games over the weekend when Fort Wayne hosted the Triple-A affiliate of its parent club, San Diego, in a Pacific Coast League series against Las Vegas.
Tucson games at Parkview Field each attracted crowds in excess of 5,000 and created a reunion-like atmosphere.
Ten of the players on the Tucson roster played for the Wizards in the Midwest League and many found themselves enjoying reunions with host families they had lived with on their climb through the Padres system.
Peoria Midwest League all-star third baseman Greg Rohan has joined Chiefs' all-star outfielder, Matt Sczcur, in earning promotions this month from the Cubs.
Rohan, whose .314 batting average is the fourth-best in the league, was elevated by Chicago to high-A Daytona over the weekend.
Reaching a milestone
Burlington manager Aaron Nieckula won the 400th game of his managerial career Sunday when the Bees defeated Lake County 5-4.
Nieckula reached the milestone midway through his sixth season as a manager in the Athletics system. The former Illinois athlete has spent five of those seasons in the Midwest League, four at Kane County and this year with Burlington after Oakland changed affiliations.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't mean anything,'' Nieckula told the Burlington Hawk Eye, recalling that his first career win came in 2006 against Quad-Cities.
COMING TO THE Q-C
Prospects to keep an eye on at Modern Woodmen Park in upcoming days:
SPIDERMAN: The River Bandits are out of town for the entire week, but Genesis Family Movie Night returns on Sunday, when the motion picture Spiderman is the first of four films to be shown this summer on the stadium's new videoboard. The movie starts at 8 p.m., and all gate proceeds from the $5 admission benefit the Genesis Flu Free Quad-Cities fund.
Q-C ALUMNI REPORT
P.J. Walters, St. Louis
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Promoted by St. Louis earlier this month after a 7-4 start at Triple-A Memphis, Walters has strung together 10 consecutive scoreless innings at the big-league level.
Q-C CONNECTION: An 11th-round selection of the Cardinals in 2006 from South Alabama, Walters went 6-1 for Quad-Cities in 2007 with a 2.62 ERA, striking out 73 batters over 682/3 innings.