Wimberly aims high for 2005

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

LORMAN &045; Corey Wimberly knew the worst thing he could do in the off-season was go stale.

So he worked. Every day during the summer back home in Jacksonville he made sure he didn’t waste a day at getting better &045;ground balls, hitting the gym or throwing. He’d get his dad to help when he was in town, his high school coach or even his mom would lend a hand.

Anyone short of a total stranger he’d ask: Want to work out with me today?

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&uot;I worked out so hard in the off-season,&uot; said the Alcorn State second baseman, named Preseason Player of the Year in the SWAC. &uot;Even my mom came and worked out with me just to help me work out. If I had somebody to work out with me, somebody would come and hit flies to me, ground balls or something. The main thing I improved on was defense.&uot;

That’s the reason why coaches are so high on the spark plug leadoff hitter as the conference portion of the schedule kicks off today at home against Texas Southern. Wimberly, named the Newcomer of the Year last year in the SWAC for his gaudy numbers at the plate, wants to come out and be a complete player this year and help his team compete for a conference championship.

Now that he’s a junior, there’s talk of moving on to the professional ranks after this season. But first things first, and Wimberly is dead set on becoming a better second baseman.

&uot;What we’re trying to work on with him is his defense,&uot; veteran ASU head coach Willie &uot;Rat&uot; McGowan said. &uot;All the other things that he’s doing is excellent. Right now, his defense is not where it needs to be. He played summer league baseball (at home), and it should help him. When we came in here for fall practice, he was looking good.&uot;

Last season with the Braves was not only his first at the college level but his first as a second baseman. Wimberly spent his entire high school career at shortstop, but at the next level he didn’t have the size or the strong enough arm to play the position.

So last season was one of adjustments, and he finished the season with 15 errors out of 103 attempts, one of three players with double figures in errors. Some of it was fielding ground balls up the middle, and turning the double play was part of the adjustment as well.

&uot;I’d say I was a 6, and I’m at like a 9 now,&uot; Wimberly said. &uot;I improved a lot. That (double play) is routine now. I got that down pat now. We’ve got a new shortstop, and he’s pretty good. Me and the shortstop, we normally come down here at 1 or 2 o’clock every day taking ground balls or hitting. I’ll normally take 100 ground balls on my own.&uot;

Another plus in Wimberly’s corner in improving his defense is new graduate assistant Luis &uot;Lou&uot; Marquez, a Venezuela native who played the middle infield in college. Marquez, who counts former MLB shortstop and fellow Venezuelan Alvaro Espinoza as a close friend, is teaching him more of the finer points of the position.

The Braves also have a new shortstop in junior college transfer Kevin Gaston. He takes over the position from Sylvester McClain, who had a team-high 20 errors last season.

&uot;He’s been doing pretty well,&uot; Marquez said. &uot;We’re trying to make him better. We know for him to get to the next level, he’ll have to get better on defense. His offense is there, and his speed is there. Gaston is going to help him a lot, too. I didn’t see Corey last year, but Coach (Marqus) Johnson said he’s just 100 percent better.

&uot;The double play &045; we’ve been working on that. We’ve been working on staying down. The second the ball got (to him), he’d get down. That’s how he had a lot of errors.&uot;

Then there’s his effort at the plate he wants to get better at after he his .420 batting average last season led the team by far. He was up there in the conference in steals (40) and put up the best numbers on the team in hits (63), total bases (79, slugging (.527) and runs (53).

The natural right-hander put up better numbers from the left side last year after learning to switch-hit following a broken wrist in high school. Now he’s hoping the muscle he put on in the off-season will help him drive the ball better and play that small ball much better.

&uot;Even if the defense is in trying to take the bunt away, I can still bunt at any given time as long as I put the ball in the right spot,&uot; Wimberly said. &uot;I don’t let the defense dictate what I do at the plate. I’ve been working on driving the ball. I’m going to try to stay more within myself this year. Last year the defense would come in and try to take the bunt away, and I’d let them and try to hit the ball hard instead of playing my game.&uot;

Wimberly’s speed is his biggest asset, and that’s why he was so successful at the plate last season. He was a threat to run every time he got on base, and he could routinely beat out slow grounders to the left side of the infield for a single.

&uot;We’ll try to teach him to go with the pitch,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;If it’s on the outside and he’s on the left side, go with it to left field. He loves to bunt, too. What we’re trying to teach him is if he puts the ball down anywhere in the infield, he has a great chance of getting a hit because of his speed.&uot;

Wimberly admitted he’s more focused this year now that the team has upgraded its talent level significantly. While the team lost two key players in Torry Bates and Matt Richter to grades, McGowan and his staff overhauled the roster with a number of pitchers and key position players.

The Braves finished 20-22 overall last year and 11-11 in conference.

&uot;If you shut down me, there’s eight more people out there who will beat you,&uot; Wimberly said. &uot;Pitching-wise, we have gotten a lot stronger. We’re more of a team now than last year. It just seems like the chemistry is much different. The main thing is everybody wants to win. I’m trying to help this team win a championship. I really want to see Coach McGowan happy and see how he’d react winning a conference championship.&uot;

Don’t get Wimberly talking about any opportunities at the pro level since all he’s focused on right now is this spring and staying on top of his studies. But he’s eligible to be drafted this summer, and the more successful the team is the better his opportunity to get noticed.

&uot;We hope he can have a good season this year with the glove,&uot; Marquez said. &uot;He knows he has to get better. We come out every day at 1 o’clock and take ground ball, ground ball, ground ball. He wants to work. His work ethic is really good.&uot;