Wierzbicki succeeds in 'first' steps
by chris goltermann
While the All-Star break is still a little more than a week away in the major leagues, Newnan’s Jesse Wierzbicki has continued his strong pace in the second half of the Midwest League season for the Quad Cities River Bandits.
The Houston Astros’ Single A team has received a huge boost from the one-time Newnan High star who later helped North Carolina reach the NCAA College World Series in 2011.
Despite having a streak of 24 consecutive games reaching base snapped on June 29, Wierzbicki remains one of the River Bandits’ top-two power hitters while taking a .276 batting average with six homers and 47 RBIs into Friday’s road game against the Kane County Cougars.
The starting first baseman had half of the River Bandits’ six hits during a 3-for-4 effort on the Fourth of July with an RBI that tied him for the team lead. His 16 doubles also ties him for Quad Cities’ leaders with shortstop Carlos Correa.
Four of Wierzbicki’s last five hits over a six-game span have been for extra bases.
“That’s something that goes along with playing first base,” Wierzbicki told writer Steve Batterson of the Quad-City Times. “You’re expected to hit for power and drive in runs, and that is an area I’m working to become more consistent at. It’s been there at times, but the consistency isn’t where I need it yet.”
Despite heading off to bigger things, the former Cougar continues to be described by coaches and colleagues as a tireless
“The work ethic is there. He sets an example with the way we he comes ready to work every single day,” Quad Cities manager Omar Lopez told Batterson. “We’re starting to see him put together better at-bats in every game.”
Wierzbicki split the 2012 season, his first since being drafted in the 24th round of the 2011 draft by the Houston Astros, between Single-A Tri-City of the New York-Penn League — where New York Yankees third-baseman Alex Rodriguez is currently doing a rehab assisngment — and Single A Lexington of the South Atlantic League. Between the two organizations, he batting a combined .292 with six home runs and 45 RBIs over 78 games.
Wierzbicki continued to train close to home in the offseason while also working as an instructor at Centerfield Baseball Academy in Newnan.
“He’s a great kid. And he works really hard,” said Centerfield co-owner Walt Sholar, who added, “he’ll be giving lessons and helping us with teams this fall and winter.”
Originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 40th round of the 2008 draft out of Walters State Community College, the catcher/first baseman opted to transfer to North Carolina to continue his college career.
At both positions, as well as being used as a designated hitter, he started in 57 of 59 games as a junior while batting .307. During a run to the CWS as a senior, he batted .301 and maintained an impressive .996 fielding percentage after shifting almost entirely to first base due a torn meniscus during his junior year.
While the flexibility between positions may have caused his draft stock to drop a bit, Wierzbicki has gotten more and more comfortable making the transition into a full-time infielder.
“I was really forced into playing first because of the injury, but looking back I feel like it was probably a blessing in disguise,” Wierzbicki told the Quad-City Times. “I liked catching, I enjoyed it, and at the time I felt like it was my best spot, but I’ve gotten used to things at first base.”
The River Bandits finished the first half of the season at 38-31, 4 1/2 games out of first. They are currently 10-5, two games out in the Western Division.