Through slump and injury, Wimberly producing in A ball

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2006

MODESTO, Calif. &8212; Quite possibly never had Corey Wimberly experienced the extreme low immediately after such an emotional high as he went through to start the 2006 season.

The good news? The Colorado Rockies had the former Alcorn State standout headed to high Class A ball instead of low-A.

And the bad? A 1-for-21 start that didn&8217;t exactly set the organization abuzz with enthusiasm.

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But he broke out of that with three infield singles, lit up the California League with a batting average above the .340 mark and was becoming a spark plug for the Modesto Nuts. Then a hamstring injury sidelined him for more than two weeks.

He returned this week, sat out Thursday when it flared up and was hoping to get back into the lineup Friday against San Jose.

So he&8217;s learning to deal with the highs and lows. And he&8217;s found out quickly that baseball is a long season.

&8220;The season has been pretty much a roller coaster for me,&8221; Wimberly said prior to Thursday&8217;s game. &8220;I started off real slow, and I got hot for a while. Then the injuries took place. That brings me back down. I was pretty miserable. I was doubting myself for a while.&8221;

The slump only seemed like an eternity, but Wimberly kept fighting. That lone hit in that slump was a mere bunt single. But he did his damage in that first breakout game like he did while at Alcorn &8212; all three hits were infield singles &8212; before breaking off on a 12-game hitting streak.

Now that he&8217;s nursing that hamstring, he&8217;s not bunting as much as he normally does. Yet he&8217;ll do everything else that helped him win a batting title last year in rookie league ball and had him sixth in the California League in hitting at one point this season.

&8220;It&8217;s just thinking like I thought in college &8212; they can&8217;t beat me,&8221; Wimberly said. &8220;The pitcher can&8217;t beat me. He&8217;s trying to beat me, and I&8217;m trying to beat him. The main thing is trying to stay healthy. We play every day for 146 games. Just trying to stay healthy, that&8217;s my biggest concern.&8221;

There are other issues, too, like improving defensively and maturing more as a leadoff hitter. But in his first full season of pro ball, Wimberly has the attention of the Rockies&8217; front office. They like what the speedy 5-6 guy can do at the plate and his potential.

Roving hitting instructor Jim Johnson The Rocky Mountain News Jack Etkin that Wimberly is &8220;a magician with the bat.&8221;

&8220;He&8217;s pretty raw as far as players go, but he&8217;s going to arrive,&8221; said former Nuts manager Chad Kreuter, now head coach at USC. &8220;He&8217;s a guy who&8217;s not afraid to work. When he gets there, it&8217;ll be on the strength of his legs. He&8217;s a pretty savvy players, and those two combinations will get him to the big leagues. As he climbs the ladder, he&8217;s going to have to be savvy at his game and understand raw ability doesn&8217;t cut it.&8221;

It&8217;s come with adjustments. The scout who urged the Rockies to pick Wimberly last summer raved about his ability to slap hit and beat out the grounders in the hole. He even projected him to be &8220;a black Ichiro&8221; with the ability to produce like the Seattle Mariners&8217; leadoff guy.

Wimberly found out quick pitchers on this level throw harder and can throw a number of pitches anywhere in the count. His strikeout numbers are still down &8212; 14 in 132 at-bats &8212; like they were his last season at Alcorn when he fanned a mere five times in 132 at-bats.

&8220;My biggest thing is they want me to hit with two strikes,&8221; Wimberly said. &8220;I did that in college, but I got away from it in pro ball. They want me to go deep in the count, take more pitches and be on base a lot more.&8221;

Said Kreuter: &8220;The slap hitting is probably going to be a thing of the past. I think the Kenny Loftons and Juan Perries of the world aren&8217;t really slap hitters. They drive it in the gaps when they can. I timed Corey running down to first base. There wasn&8217;t much difference between a normal swing and a slap swing.&8221;

Defensively, he&8217;s spent all games but two at second base after playing some shortstop and third base last season at Casper. The two times away from second were due to injuries in the lineup, but second base may be the position the Rockies want him to stay.

He has only five errors, but Kreuter noted defense is an area he&8217;ll continue to work. He&8217;s shortened his throw up to first base, and the next goal is getting rid of the ball quicker on double-play attempts for those speedy runners.

But don&8217;t rule out moving to an outfield position. Kreuter, a former big-league catcher who was on the receiving end of Nolan Ryan&8217;s 5,00th strikeout in 1989, is convinced the more positions Wimberly can play, the better his chances of advancement.

&8220;I told him he could be a Tony Phillips-type ball player who causes all kinds of havoc when he&8217;s on base and someone who can play all over the infield and the outfield,&8221; Kreuter said. &8220;I was going to work him into the outfield positions so he has that versatility. It&8217;ll be an extra weapon he&8217;ll possess.&8221;

And Wimberly is like any other minor league star &8212; whatever it takes to get to the top, he&8217;ll do it. Kreuter and hitting coach Glenallen Hill, now manager and also an ex-big leaguer, talk of what it&8217;s like to play in the show.

&8220;They told me they want me to work on being an every-day second baseman,&8221; Wimberly said. &8220;My ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues as soon as possible. However I get there, it&8217;s really not important.&8221;