Vinyard brings big bat to pros

Despite slump, he leads Aberdeen hitters

minor leagues

July 17, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

You can't start a professional baseball career much better than Orioles first-base prospect Chris Vinyard has.

Vinyard is batting .344 with three homers, 20 RBIs and 11 doubles for Single-A Aberdeen. He leads the team in virtually every offensive category. And that's after a recent slump.

"I couldn't ask for anything better right now," he said.

Vinyard, 20, was not among the club's high-profile draftees of recent years. The Orioles picked him in the 38th round out of Chandler-Gilbert Community College in 2005 and then followed his progress for a year to see if they wanted to sign him.

He blistered junior college pitching this spring. So the Orioles brought the 6-foot-4, 215-pound slugger into the fold.

Vinyard was actually happy when minor league pitchers challenged him with their best fastballs. He was tired of being pitched around in junior college.

"The pitching hasn't really been that much different," he said. "It's just that we only saw guys who threw hard every few days instead of every day. But it's great to see people challenge you. That's probably why I got off to such a strong start."

Vinyard grew up in San Diego playing more basketball than baseball. His family moved to Arizona when he was in high school, and he shifted his athletic focus around that time. He was a good high school player but didn't draw tremendous interest from pro scouts.

"My goal then was just to play in college," he said.

Vinyard figured that once he got to college, he needed to lose weight and get stronger. "I got a lot more limber and at the same time, I added some power," he said.

Chandler-Gilbert played in a league that used wooden bats instead of aluminum, and Vinyard said that also helped him prepare for the pros.

"He's cooled off a little, but he has a nice, short swing for a big, strong guy," said IronBirds manager Andy Etchebarren. "He's a guy who's able to get the barrel of the bat square on the ball very consistently."

Vinyard will rise or fall on the strength of his right-handed swing. He's neither swift nor unusually dexterous with the glove, though Etchebarren said he's a fine first baseman.

"He's got very soft hands," the manager said.

Etchebarren said that during his slump, Vinyard hasn't adjusted to breaking pitches as well as he did when he was rolling. But he doesn't see it as a long-term problem.

"When he was going good and they threw him breaking stuff, he was able to square up on it and hit it," Etchebarren said.

Vinyard feels stuck between being too aggressive (his natural state) and too patient (the mode he entered when he started to struggle.)

"I'm still seeing the ball well," Vinyard said. "So I'm not going to worry about it. You play every day, so you have to put the bad days behind you and focus on the positive. That's what makes professional guys as good as they are."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

3 up, 3 down

Up

Kyle Schmidt -- The right-hander earned a promotion to Single-A Delmarva by striking out 37 in 30 innings for Single-A Aberdeen.

Zachary Britton -- The third-round pick has a 2.25 ERA and seven strikeouts in eight innings for rookie level Bluefield.

Bill Rowell -- This year's first-round pick made his debut, going 3-for-9 in his first three games for Bluefield.

Down

Nolan Reimold -- The club's best hitting prospect has seen his average drop to .258 and his slugging percentage fall to .448 at Single-A Frederick.

Garrett Olson -- Double-A hitters have been hard on Olson, who is 1-2 with a 5.87 ERA since being promoted to Bowie.

Pedro Beato -- The supplemental first-rounder has the most interesting stat line in the system with eight walks, 11 strikeouts and an 11.81 ERA in 5 1/3 innings for Single-A Aberdeen.

[ Childs Walker]

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