As long as Carlos Moncrief keeps it cool, his bat’s going to stay red hot.
Moncrief is the Aeros’ 24-year-old right fielder loaded with natural ability and a wide range of tools, making him about as exciting as any player in the Indians’ farm system. He’s got a big bat and an even bigger arm (he’s a converted pitcher who used to hit 97 mph on the radar gun) to go with a good amount of athleticism.
But the Jackson, Miss., native and former 14th-round pick never could put it all together at the plate. The home runs and doubles came just fine but the strikeouts came with them two-fold (he averaged more than a strikeout per game the last two seasons at Lake County and Carolina).
Now in his first season at the Double-A level with the Aeros, Moncrief is putting forth all his energy and efforts into — as simple as it sounds — not overworking and just relaxing.
“It’s all about not thinking about my mechanics, not even in practice,” Moncrief said. “I just try to relax and see the ball for the most part. You learn so much in the years you’ve been playing pro ball that if it should be there, it’s there. You just gotta stop thinking about it.
“I hear all the time to trust your hands, trust your ability. All that means to me is when you relax, it slows the game down. When you’re tensed up, everything looks fast.”
It’s as easy as see the ball, hit the ball. And it’s working. Moncrief was named the Indians Minor League Player of the Week for the week of June 5-11 and entering Thursday’s game, he’s hitting .290 with an on-base percentage of .359, nine home runs, 11 doubles, 32 RBI and six stolen bases. And what might be the most promising part: only 57 strikeouts in 65 games, a major improvement over last season (126 strikeouts in 101 games, and at a lower level). Part of it is his don’t-think-about-it approach. Part of it is that he tries to make sure what happens in one game doesn’t carry over to the next day.
“My state of mind is to be the same every single day,” Moncrief said. “You talk about staying even keel, it’s like the hardest thing to do. You have a great game, go 4-for-4, and come in the next day and pretend like it never happened. You go 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, you come in every day and grind it out. It’s a brand new day, brand new at-bats.”
This is Moncrief’s fourth season in the minors. He’s already building an aura to his young career. There’s the story of how two years ago in Low-A Lake County, Moncrief crushed a home run ball and became only the second player to hit one off the scoreboard in center field. Then there was the time earlier this season in Akron when he crashed into the wall trying to catch a ball off the bat of Portland’s Xander Bogaerts. Moncrief couldn’t quite get to the ball, hit the wall, got up and delivered a strike to third base, almost gunning Bogaerts down all the way from the warning track. Bogaerts, to his surprise, wasn’t even expecting a throw and cruised into third without sliding and was nearly tagged out.
Moncrief isn’t listed among the major scouting services as one of the Indians’ top prospects. But he’s now starting to slowly put things together and could scoot his name up their lists.
“I feel like I’m starting to really understand how to hit,” Moncrief said. “A lot of people say that I’ve been on a hot streak, but if I’m on a hot streak then Miguel Cabrera’s been on a hot streak throughout the whole season. It’s just an understanding of what you’re doing.”
Just see the ball, hit the ball.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.