Take a seat, Francisco Lindor. You, too, Mike Clevinger. In fact, Bradley Zimmer, Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac and Clint Frazier can all do the same.
When Ka’ai Tom was named the Eastern League Player of the Month on Tuesday, he became the first player from Akron to win the award since Tim Fedroff was honored in May 2011 as a member of the Akron Aeros.
“It’s just an incredible feat,” Tom said. “It’s not something you even think about. You work with your teammates and staff and communicate with them about your goals and how you’re going to approach your everyday business.”
Last month, business was booming for the outfielder.
Since May 10, Tom has hit safely in 18-of-21 games (29-for-74, .392 average, eight HR, 20 runs) and raised his average from .191 to a team-leading .272.
Tom batted .333 (32-for-96) with six doubles, one triple, seven home runs, 14 RBI, 21 runs scored, two stolen bases, a .434 on-base percentage, and a .635 slugging percentage in 26 games in May. He reached base in 23 of those 26 games and had multiple hits in eight of them.
He hit two home runs on May 11 against the Reading Fightin Phils and another two against the Bowie Baysox on May 29. In that one, he notched a career-high six RBI.
“He’s definitely made a little bit of an adjustment and I think it’s something he’s done when he’s doing really well,” Ducks hitting coach Justin Toole said. “It’s getting his front side into a more balanced position so that he can rotate faster, so that’s helped him hit the off-speed pitches.
“He’s hitting a lot of different pitches to a lot of different areas, opposite field, pull side or up the middle. It’s just getting himself in good, athletic positions to give himself a chance.”
Tom led all Eastern League players last month in on-base percentage (.434), slugging percentage (.635), and OPS (1.069) and tied for the lead in runs scored (21). He also finished ranked among the monthly league leaders in hits (32, second), total bases (61, second), batting average (.333, tied second), home runs (seven, tied third) and walks (16, tied third).
Some of that comes from basic want-to. Some of it comes from soaking up everything from the players around him such as current Columbus Clippers outfielder Daniel Johnson and infielder Tyler Krieger.
Most of it comes from the full season he played with the Ducks in 2018.
“It definitely helps to know everything here,” said Tom, who homered Tuesday against the Phils. “I know the travel is much different than Lynchburg. There, everything is pretty much three hours away. In the Eastern League travel is six hours. It’s prepping my body and knowing how to take care of that so I can help the team win.”
Tom, who was taken in the fifth round of the 2015 draft out of Kentucky, won’t rest on his laurels and has already put May behind him.
The RubberDucks (28-27) come into Tuesday 6½ game behind the Harrisburg Senators (35-21), Tom’s attention is more on the “we” and less on the “me.”
“You always have to be hungry,” Tom said. “It’s an attitude a lot of people do have as an athlete and competitor. You always want more. You want to always be doing your best. I feel like it’s always going to come. When it does come it’s great to be recognized for what you’re doing.”
It’s a trend the organization expects to continue.
“The cool thing you’re starting to see is he’s being more selective, so he’s drawing a lot more walks,” Toole said. “He’s seeing the ball well and trusting himself. If the ball is there and he sees something he likes, he’s aggressive to it. If he doesn’t, he can hold off with the thought that if he likes something deep in the count he can put something in play to help the team out.”