Tampa, FL- In the second inning of a game against Lakeland, Trey Amburgey swung late on a high fastball. The strikeout ended the inning, but he’d get another shot in the 4th when Tampa was trailing the Flying Tigers 3-1.
In that at-bat, something clicked. That time, he would not make it easy on opposing pitcher Matt Hall. He looked loose, fouling off pitches and getting a good look at all Hall had to offer. He milked the 0-2 count, finally turning on an off-speed pitch that he lined past the first baseman into right field. It was hard, perfect hit.
Amburgey, 21, is returning from a hamstring injury that kept him out since April, and he showed that night that he’s scrapping, figuring it out, although Tampa hitting Coach Tom Slater doesn’t want him to worry about figuring it all out so fast.
“What’s most impressive about Trey is how little of a season he had prior to getting in here,” said Slater. “He was down for a long time. And then to come in here, it shows a lot of confidence. He’s handled it well. Like any young player early on, he was a little frustrated just because he wasn’t starting off perfectly. Like all young players, you have to remind him, hey, stay with the process. And now that he’s gotten comfortable, and gotten some at-bats under his belt, he’s doing a really good job of staying with the process. Early, he wanted that instant success, but you just had to remind him, you haven’t had a whole lot of time here this year.”
38 games with Tampa to be exact; 16 with Charleston. Amburgey’s played well since returning, with 41 hits and 16 RBI under his belt. He’s hitting .281 in August, with ten hits in the last ten games.
“I’m in the zone,” said Amburgey. “I’m slowing things down and sticking with the same approach. I’m just trying to stay up the middle, toward centerfield when I hit.”
But he’s doing more than that. Slater recalled the game the night before, in which the right-handed hitter sprayed the ball all over the field. Slater noted that Amburgey hit the ball hard and that driving the ball to all parts of the field was a big positive to see from him.
Amburgey, who the Yankees drafted in the 13th round out of St. Petersburg College in 2015, entered 2016 with a strong professional debut in the rearview. He split time between the GCL and Class-A (short season) Staten Island, finishing the 2015 campaign hitting .346/.399/.523.
The road back from injury isn’t just physical for players, but an exercise in learning to trust themselves again and re-gain confidence. Now playing the highest quality of baseball of his career, he’s showcasing more of that confidence with each at-bat, as the season winds down.
“The last two weeks he seems to be finding his groove,” said Tampa manager Patrick Osborn. “There’s some adjustment going on with him, in terms of his performance. There’s the adjustment period. And he was going through it. But he’s starting to figure some things out, and his performance has dictated that.”
Part of that was re-establishing a daily routine; something young players do early on in their professional careers. The loss of playing time pulled Amburgey out of that, but it’s the very thing that’s helping him get comfortable and succeed.
“When I first got here, I was just trying to get back into it. So, I wasn’t hitting as well. But now it’s just about sticking with it, not getting away from it. And it’s helped a lot,” Amburgey said.
He’s also self-disciplining himself by arriving early to the ballpark. He’s doing the basics, like hitting off the tee and doing front toss. His cage work is focused on making sure he’s getting enough swings in and he’s spending time in the weight room. The challenge is singular.
“Just keeping my body healthy, which is the hardest part,” he said
The versatile hitter has power and is considered a middle of the lineup type guy. He’s trusted to make something happen when the top of the lineup gets on base.
“He can drive in runs. Guys get on in front of him, and he can do some damage,” Osborn said.
Slater agrees and elaborates further on that point.
“He’s got strength, he’s got bat speed, and now it’s just making sure he gets his pitches to hit. Not going up there in an advantage count, swinging at pitches he can’t drive,” Slater said, and then continued. “Because when he gets a pitch to drive, he does.
As he goes through the process and trusts that it’ll all work out, while putting maximum effort into his daily work, he’s not focused on padding his stats.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to finish strong. I missed a lot of time. I’m trying to make the most of it. Going into the off-season,” he said, “I know what I’ve got to do.”