Angels' Witherspoon breaks out in Scorpions' rout
Outfield prospect, working on footwork at plate, delivers bases-loaded double
Travis Witherspoon has been on a mission to improve his plate mechanics in the Arizona Fall League. And while the numbers may not look great, he's staying upbeat.
"It's definitely been a learning and a positive experience," said Witherspoon, the Angels' No. 7 prospect.
The 23-year-old has been working on shortening his stride to the ball in hopes it will make him a more complete hitter.
"As I start to play more, I'm getting more comfortable with it," he said. "It's a game of adjustments, and I'm just making small adjustments here and there and I'm going to take that with me into Spring Training."
Everything lined up for the outfielder with the bases loaded in the first inning Tuesday afternoon at Salt River. Blue Jays right-hander Ryan Tepera was on the mound, trying to survive his worst inning of the fall when he was pulled in favor of White Sox prospect Salvador Sanchez. That's when Witherspoon dug in.
"I just wanted to continue to take the life out of them, score as many runs as we can," Witherspoon said. "I wanted to get a good pitch and drive in the extra run."
Witherspoon helped cap the Scorpions' seven-run outburst when he ripped a three-run double and scored on a single by Yankees' No. 5 prospect Slade Heathcott. He added a single in the fifth and knocked in fellow Angels prospect Kaleb Cowart with another base hit in the seventh, finishing 3-for-5 with four RBIs in Scottsdale's 13-6 win.
The bases-loaded double was big for the 2009 12th-round pick, who entered Tuesday's game with only five RBIs in 19 AFL games. His numbers over the summer began to dip following a promotion to Double-A, and that's when Witherspoon began to look at his approach.
"I decided I needed to change," he said. "I've been working on it since [Double-A] and I've had my ups and downs, so I'm trying to figure out what works best for me."
Witherspoon had two hits in his previous nine games and collectd most of his RBIs on Oct. 27, when he homered and drove in three runs. The three-hit effort raised his average 29 points to .214.
"It felt good. It's always good to get that first hit out the way, it makes the game go by easier," he said. "I've been working on a few adjustments at the plate and it showed off today, so that's a big thing."
Scottsdale's big first inning set the tone. Heathcott led off with his first Fall League homer and the Giants' Joe Panik, who stole home on Monday, walked and scored on a balk by Tepera. Adalberto Santos (Pirates) and Heathcott added RBI singles as Scottsdale batted around.
"It's always good to jump on the team in the first and take the air out a little," said Witherspoon. "We just rallied a little, came out ready and energized and put a couple runs together."
Cowart doubled to begin the seventh and Witherspoon pulled a two-out single to left to produce the Scorpions' 11th run.
"Early in the game, they were busting me in hard, so I was looking for something out over the plate I could extend my hands on," he said. "Fortunately, I got good wood on it and was able to shoot it through the infield."
Witherspoon led the Angels' organization this year with 34 steals across two levels. A California League All-Star, he batted .268 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs, although he hit .202 with Double-A Arkansas. The speed has remained in Arizona -- he's 6-of-7 in stolen base attempts -- but he's drawn only six walks and struck out 26 times in 20 games.
The Angels, optimistic Witherspoon can continue to develop, would like to see him rely less on pulling the ball. He hopes his footwork is the answer.
"I've implemented the small stride and it helps me stay through the ball and hit it where it's pitched," he said. "During the season, I'd put my foot down early and I'd spin off the ball. I decided I'd need to make the adjustment and it's paid dividends. I've tried to feel more comfortable with it."
Witherspoon likely will begin 2013 back at Arkansas unless he can impress scouts enough to move up to Triple-A Salt Lake. Either way, he's ready for the challenge.
"I feel really confident, I like where I'm at," he said. "I'm always trying to get better, so I'm going to go to Spring Training and keep impressing and do what I do and we'll see what happens. I'm gonna go out there and play the game hard and see what happens."
Heathcott finished 4-for-5 as Scottsdale totaled a season-high 19 hits. Santos had three RBIs and Yankees catcher Austin Romine knocked home two runs. Indians starter T.J. House (3-1) allowed two runs on four hits and a walk over five innings for the win.
Andy Wilkins (White Sox) homered for Salt River, while Tepera (1-2) recorded two outs and was charged with six runs on three hits and three walks.
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.