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Sandberg can't pin struggles on one thing

July 24, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
Cheap.

That was Cord Sandberg's response with a smile to a question about his two hits in Tuesday's win over Batavia. Yes, the 19-year old Williamsport outfielder is still smiling, and he's even able to crack a joke about one of the better nights he's had with a bat in his hands.

Amnesia, he calls it. Forgetting about the night before in order to focus on the task at hand. And the task at hand is getting more hits. Or more recently it's been about just getting hits. Any hits. Something to break the funk he's been in for the better part of a month.

“I have to realize that it's just the game of baseball, and if I am one day going to be successful with it, I'm going to have to realize that it is a game of peaks and valleys,” Sandberg said Thursday at Bowman Field following batting practice. “If this is going to affect me, the baseball is not something I can do. I need to go up there with some confidence and know that I can do that. You're going to have another opportunity the next day and the day after and I have to get after it.”

For as good as Sandberg was to start the season with the Crosscutters – he recorded a hit in the first 12 games of the season – he's struggled equally as much over the last month. Over his last 21 games, Sandberg's batting average has fallen from .358 to .246. His on-base percentage has fallen below .300 and his OPS has fallen from close to 1.000 to .652.

But here was Sandberg on a gorgeous summer afternoon, smiling, talking about how it was a good day to get a couple knocks. Is he frustrated? Sure. Is he showing it? Not at all.

Each day is an opportunity for the 2013 third-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies. He knows the path to the big leagues is going to be filled with valleys like this.

“It's the process. I'm 19 playing in a pretty good league here,” Sandberg said. “Guys are competitive on the mound and every 2 for 3 of 0 for 4 is what it is. The next night you have to start over and it doesn't matter what you did the night before.”

So what's wrong. How does a player record 19 hits in the first 12 games of the season and 14 over the next 21 games?

For Sandberg, the simple answer is he's not putting the fastballs in play early in the count like he was early in the season. He's a naturally aggressive hitter and likes to make something happen early in the count. In his current funk, those pitches he was putting in play early for hits at the start of the season are now being fouled off.

In turn, it's leaving him susceptible to late-count breaking balls and off-speed pitches.

“At the beginning of the year, when I had a fastball over the plate, I was able to put it in play hard somewhere,” Sandberg said. “If there's one thing, that's it. At the beginning of the year I wasn't fouling that stuff off.”

Even when he does put the ball in play – he's had hits in 10 of the last 21 games entering Thursday's series opener versus Mahoning Valley – it's not always as hard as he would like it to be. His line drive percentage has dropped dramatically over the last month (14.8 percent in June versus 7.4 percent in July). His groundball percentage has increased exponentially (35.2 percent in June versus 55.6 percent in July).

And his batting average on balls in play has fallen from an unsustainable .405 during the first 12 games of the season to .228 over the last 21 games. There's been some misfortune mixed in. Take Wednesday's game for instance when he laid down a beautiful bunt only to see it trickle foul. And in his final at-bat he hit a rocket right at the shortstop.

“People say they balance out, the line drives at guys and cheap stuff like (Tuesday),” Sandberg said. “But it is confidence (to get a couple hits) and you try to build on that. The rest of the season you want to try and put some games together and string some things together, put stuff in play and limit strikeouts.”

There's one big adjustment for Sandberg to make, and it's to become a better hitter behind in the count when he's staring down a good breaking ball or off-speed pitch coming his way. Sandberg is still a young player in terms of elite-level baseball. He was a Division I quarterback recruit in high school who had a scholarship to Mississippi State, and much of his summers were spent playing football.

It wasn't until late in his high school career that he played in a couple All-American high school games. Now, he's seeing breaking pitches like he's never seen before, and there's an adjustment that comes with learning how to hit those.

“For the most part, even the GCL it really was mostly fastballs,” Sandberg said. “I didn't really see a lot of breaking balls. Now that we're starting to play teams and second and third time, they're giving me a little wrinkle. This league has college guys who are 22 or 23 with better curveballs and off-speed than I've seen. That being said, if this is something I want to do, I've got to be able to hit that.”

 
 

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