Dexture McCall is working to turn an offseason opportunity into something that will grow his game.
The Quad-Cities first baseman received a late invitation last fall to participate in the Colombian Winter League, a chance that extended beyond testing his skills against major-league caliber talent.
“The biggest thing I got out of if it was at-bats, another 100, 150 at-bats against good competition, and that’s something that every player looks forward to,’’ McCall said. “The more at-bats you can accumulate in this game, the more you learn.’’
The 21-year-old River Bandits infielder is working to make the most of those at-bats in his first full-season assignment in the Houston organization.
A 31st-round selection of the Astros in the 2014 draft, the Tampa native hit .258 in the Gulf Coast League as a rookie before batting .295 last season at Tri-City, where he earned New York-Penn League all-star honors.
He expected to spend the offseason training in his hometown, but a phone call from Houston director of minor league operations Allen Rowin changed those plans.
“I took a day to think it through, but when you get a chance to get additional experience, you take it,’’ McCall said.
The situation challenged McCall.
“It turned out to be a really good experience for me,’’ McCall said. “It put me in a situation where I faced some adversity and those types of tests only make you stronger.’’
For McCall, that started with communication.
“I barely speak Spanish, so to be put in that situation took me out of my comfort zone and I had to learn and grow and I think from a long-term perspective, that was a good thing for me,’’ McCall said.
The challenges extended onto the field for the 6-foot-1, 220-pound infielder.
“With my size, I saw a lot of curveballs, a lot of off-speed pitches and I know that has helped me do a better job of recognizing pitches. I saw that when I got to spring training,’’ McCall said.
“It helped me out a lot there, just being able to identify what guys were throwing. That’s something that should help me moving forward.’’
McCall has been tested this season already.
He’s currently batting .253 for Quad-Cities, an average which has in many respects warmed with the weather.
McCall opened the season with two hits in his first 24 at-bats for the River Bandits, prompting manager Omar Lopez to give him consecutive days off in mid-April.
In the 11 games that followed, McCall went 15-for-37 with five doubles and a home run.
“Things were a little bumpy at the start, but I always believe you are tested for a reason,’’ McCall said. “It was something I had to work through and I feel like what I learned in Colombia and what I’ve learned working with (Joel Chimelis, the River Bandits hitting coach) has helped me through it.’’
McCall said Chimelis helped him before games, after games, whenever it was needed.
Everything started with trusting his abilities.
“It was rough, but I stayed positive through it and continued to work,’’ McCall said. “It’s like they say, you can’t get points for yesterday’s game. All you can do is keep working, stay strong and get ready for the next at-bat. I feel like I’ve been able to do that.’’
That approach necessitates some patience.
“This can be a very humbling game,’’ McCall said. “You have to take it all one step at a time, and you can’t get ahead of yourself. If you never lose sight of that approach, you can achieve what you set out to do. I learned that going all the way back to when I was a kid working with my dad. It’s the same now as it was then.’’