Salisbury: Phillies Mayberry is aiming high

Salisbury: Phillies Mayberry is aiming high
August 25, 2011, 8:47 pm
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John Mayberry Jr. is playing as if hes trying to take over the Phillies starting leftfielders job.

Thats not the only job Mayberry wants.

Down the road, after he has concluded what he hopes is a successful playing career, one that he hopes includes a World Series championship in 2011, Mayberry would like to work in a major-league front office.

Id definitely like to stay in baseball in some capacity, the 27-year-old outfielder said.

As a general manager, perhaps?

Why not? he said.

If you havent drawn the comparisons by now, you might find it interesting to see how much in common that Mayberry has with current Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

Both of their fathers played in the major leagues.

Both are Stanford grads.

Both speak Spanish, baseballs second language.

One runs the baseball operations of a major league club. The other hopes to someday.

So, would Mayberry the GM be a stats guy or a scouting guy?

Probably some of both, he said. Id use all the information I could in order to make the best decision. I wouldnt want to categorize myself too early. Id probably stress pitching and defense.

Amaros eyes widened when he was told of Mayberrys post-playing career aspirations the other day.

Really? Amaro said. Thats great. Good for him. Hopefully hell hire me because you can be damn well sure Ill get fired at some point.

If Mayberry ever hires Amaro he will in a sense be returning the favor. In Nov. 2008, Amaro acquired Mayberry from the Texas Rangers for outfielder Greg Golson. It was Amaros first trade as Phils GM, and it is just now paying major dividends. After a lengthy Triple-A gestation, Mayberry has emerged as a strong big-league contributor. Brought up for bench depth in early July, Mayberry has seen his playing time soar, as he has hit .312 (29 for 93) with nine homers and 29 RBIs in his last 32 games, 21 of which have been starts. Eighteen of Mayberrys 29 hits since coming up on July 5 have been for extra bases.

Thats how you win jobs, manager Charlie Manuel said. Hes a good looking hitter right now.

As far back as high school, Mayberry, a 6-foot-6 athletic specimen, had been a good-looking hitter. He was twice a first-round draft pick. In pro ball, however, the good-looking hitter was not a consistently productive hitter. Witness the month of May: Mayberry played in 27 games with the Phillies, 17 of them starts, and hit just .194. That earned him a trip back to Triple A, a level he first played at in 2008 in the Rangers system.

At the time of Mayberrys demotion, some scouts wondered if he was destined to be a fringe big-leaguer. Actually, the jury is still out on what he will end up being. But Mayberry still believes he can be a major-league regular and that belief motivated him to spend his most recent stint in Triple A making a few adjustments in his game that are now paying off.

Using the combined wisdom of Manuel, Phils hitting coach Greg Gross and minor-league coaches Sal Rende and Steve Henderson, Mayberry, a right-handed hitter, opened his batting stance slightly and began using a bit of a crouch. He says the adjustment has allowed him to stay on the ball better, especially against breaking balls from right-handed pitchers.

We tried moving him closer to the plate, we tried spreading him out, a leg kick, a little open, Gross said. It evolved into a combination of things and what youre seeing now.

Gross said the crouch and the more open stance have made Mayberrys stride to the ball a little shorter.

Consequently hes quicker to the ball for the most part, Gross said. Hes handling inside pitchers better, too, and hes laying off bad breaking balls. Some of that might just be from getting more at-bats, too.

Any hitter will tell you theres no substitute for real, game-time at-bats for a guy looking to find his groove.

But a hitter has to produce to earn those at-bats.

Mayberry has done that.

Hes not just getting hits, Gross said. Hes driving in a lot of runs. Hes been very productive. His success has equaled confidence. Id say hes our most improved player.

Though Mayberry is still far from proven, his play over the last two months has Phillies officials believing he could hold down at least a share (and maybe more) of the left field job next season. Heck, Mayberry has taken strides toward taking over the job now and for the rest of the season. He hit two big home runs in the recently concluded series against the Mets as Raul Ibanez rested a strained groin muscle. Before that, Mayberry had pretty much moved into a left-field platoon with the left-handed hitting Ibanez.

Im just trying to put my best foot forward when I get an opportunity, Mayberry said.

Mayberrys father, John Sr., was a big, lefty-swinging, power-hitting first baseman for four major-league clubs from 1968-82. He hit 255 home runs, made two all-star teams, and finished second to Fred Lynn for the 1975 American League MVP award.

The younger Mayberry wasnt born until the year after his dad retired, but the iPad on his lap many Phillies players use them while unwinding in front of their lockers in the clubhouse reveals a stellar career.

With all the information on the Internet, Ive looked at the numbers and gotten an appreciation for his career, Mayberry said of his father, who was Kansas Citys hitting coach after his playing days. It would have been nice to see him play, but I still got to hang around when he was coach and that was a lot of fun.

Like his father, Mayberry was a first-round draft pick (Mayberry Sr. was the sixth overall pick in the 1967 draft) out of high school. The Mariners, under then-GM Pat Gillick, drafted him 28th overall out of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City in 2002, but were unable to sign him. After much reflection, Mayberry attended Stanford, choosing the highly regarded institution over Notre Dame and several Big 12 schools.

It was difficult to pass on pro ball, but my family always stressed education, Mayberry said. I think the decision worked out well.

Mayberry described college-vs.-pro-ball decision as being intense. He recalled the Mariners rights to him expiring when he attended his first day of class at Stanford.

It was almost like that scene in Field of Dreams where the doctor stepped over the line and was transformed, he said. You cant go back.

But Mayberry could go back. After playing in the College World Series, earning a Political Science degree, and taking some Spanish at Stanford he has honed his Espanol in clubhouses and on minor-league bus rides Mayberry was selected again in the first round of the 2005 draft by Texas. The Rangers ultimately werent sure whether Mayberry would contribute in Texas, so they made him available for a trade after the 2009 season. Amaro received recommendations on Mayberry from scout Charley Kerfeld, who had worked for Texas, and aides Gillick and Benny Looper, both of whom were in Seattle when the Mariners drafted Mayberry. In a swap of former first-rounders, the Phils sent Golson to Texas for Mayberry. Golson has gone on to play in the majors with Texas and the Yankees.

They were two guys who werent progressing the way their organizations had hoped, Amaro said. Were happy with the way it worked out. John has earned his way here. He has become a better hitter.

Someday, Mayberry may make trades like the one Amaro did back in Nov. 2008. The guy really wants to a big-league GM after, of course, a good, long playing career.

That playing career seems to be turning a corner in 2011.

So, how would John Mayberry Jr., the GM, assess the season that John Mayberry Jr., the player, is having?

Mayberry chuckled at the question and said: He would be succinct and say, Its gone OK so far. Finish strong.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com.

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