Jonathan Van Every is taking advantage of minor league pitchers. He just hopes that he can continue to outsmart them.
The center fielder for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers began the week leading the team in batting average (.350). If fans are in search of a player to follow, Van Every, of Jackson, Miss., surely is the one.
"I'm surprised that I'm seeing a lot of fastballs hitting in the three-hole," said Van Every, a left-handed hitter. "Even in junior college, I hit in the three-hole, and all I got was breaking balls. As long as I see [a fastball], I'll keep swinging at it. I'll make the most of it."
Standing out: Despite the Scrappers' slow start (2-6), Van Every has been a highlight.
He was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 29th round of the 2000 draft, but elected to stay for a second year at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss.
"He's a very humble kid," said Chuck Box, Itawamba baseball coach, who also used Van Every as a pitcher. "He doesn't realize how good he really can be. He takes things in stride, and he doesn't let stuff go to his head."
After being redshirted by the University of Mississippi in 1999, Van Every transferred to Itawamba and hit 15 home runs in 2000 and 17 this year before joining the Scrappers.
"He got better and better, and he has so many tools," Box said. "He'll strike out a little bit, but he has a lot of power."
Van Every spent part of the 2000 season in a Mississippi wooden bat league. Most likely, that has helped his progression in professional baseball, where young players need time to adjust to a variety of factors.
"I'm just trying to see the ball early in the count. That's the key thing -- trying to stay ahead of the pitcher," Van Every said. "If the pitcher gets ahead of you, then you're at his mercy.
"You're going to have to swing at his best pitch. You just try to get a good fastball over the plate. Just take your hacks and see what happens."
Does it all: Van Every also has shown his versatility. In a game last Sunday, the center fielder received a standing ovation from Scrappers fans after making a brilliant run and catch on a ball.
Williamsport's Chris Shelton hit a long fly ball toward right center field that Van Every tracked down -- but not before crashing into the wall. Although he scraped his face on the wall and endured a hard jolt, Van Every hung onto the ball.
"I didn't want [trainer Michael] Salazar to run all the way out there, so I came to my senses a little bit," Van Every said.
Fans stood and cheered as Van Every ran back to the dugout.
"His strength is his defense," Box said. "We played a very shallow center field here, and he really was outstanding at turning and getting the ball."
Scrappers manager Dave Turgeon said of Van Every, "That's just a total baseball player. He can hit the baseball down the left-field line or right-field line. He runs the bases aggressively, he gets great jumps on balls [in the outfield] and he throws above average."
Rewind: Mahoning Valley began the season 1-3 after a four-game series with the Utica Blue Sox.
The Scrappers were swept in their home debut, two games against Williamsport, before their recent trip to Brooklyn, N.Y., where they finish a three-game series tonight, having split the first two with the Cyclones.
The Scrappers will play six straight games at Cafaro Field beginning Thursday.
"A little bit of everything," Van Every said, when asked the reason for his team's struggles.
"We're all out of college, and we're all used to the big, aluminum bat; all those dink hits are going to fall. It takes a little time to get used to the wooden bat.
"We're hitting the ball hard," he said, "We've just got to center them a little more, and we're going to be OK."
XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write to him at email@example.com.