Older, wiser Keylor could be a major hit

With focus off homers, he may break out

Minor Leagues

June 26, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Several times this year, when asked which Orioles prospects have caught his eye, minor league director David Stockstill has mentioned Cory Keylor.

That probably wouldn't have happened in any of the previous five seasons Keylor played in the club's farm system. But at age 26, the former 14th-round pick has finally played himself onto a track that could end in the big leagues.

"I think he knew this was a year when he really had to show something with the bat," Stockstill said. "And he has."

Keylor is batting .299 with a .379 on-base percentage as the No. 3 hitter for Double-A Bowie.

He said he's more relaxed this season. "Maybe your perspective changes as you get older," he said. "You know what you have to do and if you do it on a given day, great. If you don't, you don't."

The Ohio native started the season as Bowie's fourth outfielder. He played in Bowie last season as well but only got into 48 games because he broke a bone in his right wrist.

Bowie manager Don Werner said Keylor seemed to be finding his stroke just when he went on the injured list. When he returned this season, Werner said, he was no longer trying to pull every pitch.

"I think somebody told him along the line that he had to hit home runs to be a corner outfielder," the manager said. "That was making him an easy out at this level. But he became more of a line-drive hitter, and I think that's the key to his success. Young guys who only try to hit home runs never learn how to hit."

At 6 feet 3 and 194 pounds, Keylor has good natural power, and when he connected earlier in his career, he hit some long homers. But he was inconsistent. At Single-A Frederick, for example, he hit 17 homers but batted only .254 and struck out 120 times.

He agreed that he's become less homer-hungry.

"Sometimes, it's better to just take what the pitcher gives you," Keylor said. "There's a lot you can do without hitting home runs. And if you think pull, pull, pull, you make things easier for the pitcher."

Stockstill and others have noticed Keylor's improved hitting approach.

"He's put himself on the map a little bit," Werner said. "Coming into the season, the organization probably didn't think too much about him, but now, I could see him being a fourth or fifth outfielder in the big leagues."

Keylor said he doesn't dwell on his big league possibilities. He'll turn 27 this summer, old for a prospect. But with his season going well, he sees no end in sight for his career.

"I know that if I do get there, I'll have to do small things, be a good situational ballplayer, a good defensive ballplayer," he said of the big leagues. "But who knows for sure what my role might be?"

childs.walker@baltsun.com

On deck

The Rookie-level Bluefield (W.Va.) Orioles began their home schedule yesterday and will continue with a series against Elizabethton this week.

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