Jim Negrych appears to be a lot like former Curve standout Jeff Keppinger.
At first glance, there's not a lot to get excited about. Negrych, like Keppinger, isn't big, doesn't have a lot of power, isn't fast and isn't great defensively.
You've heard of the five-tool player? Well, Negrych, again like Keppinger, is essentially a one-tool player.
But it's the most important tool.
Negrych can flat out hit. No question. Any player who hits .370 at any level of pro ball - as Negrych did at Single-A Lynchburg this season - knows what he's doing.
''The numbers don't lie,'' Curve manager Tim Leiper said. ''He's a guy who grinds out at-bats and puts the fat part of the bat on the ball. He's got a real simple swing and a very quick bat.''
Top hitters in the minor leagues
1. Ben RevereBeloit. .399
2. Terry TiffeeLas Vegas. .375
3. Jim NegrychAltoona/Lynchburg. .372
Keppinger, the best pure hitter in Curve history and the 2004 Eastern League batting champ, rode his one tool all the way to the big leagues. If Negrych keeps hitting like he has this season, he undoubtedly will do the same.
Negrych put up eye-popping numbers at Lynchburg, batting .370 with a .448 on-base percentage and 36 doubles in 104 games. He's off to a good start since joining the Curve on Tuesday, hitting .400 (6-for-15).
The 23-year-old Pitt product ranks third in the minor leagues with a .372 average, and he's tied for second in hits with 149. He only had five homers but drove in 62 for Lynchburg.
It's been a dream season offensively for Negrych, a third-year pro who batted .267 and .282 his first two seasons for rookie-level Williamsport and low-A Hickory, respectively. The difference, he said, has been staying healthy.
''My first year out I tore my hand, and last year I was hitting .300 and then tore my oblique,'' Negrych said. ''This offseason I was healthy. I didn't have to rehab anything, and I could hit the weights hard and really work on my swing and try to perfect stuff. It really seemed to pay out in great dividends so far.''
Negrych is a lock to win the Carolina League batting title and credits his success to patience at the plate. He had as many walks (55) as strikeouts at Lynchburg.
''I like to see pitches, get a good feel for what the guy's out pitch is and work off that,'' Negrych said.
The other key - for him and every hitter - is approaching every day as a new day.
''You keep going day by day and not focusing too much on what you did the day before,'' Negrych said. ''If you get four hits, you go on and put in the same work the next day. If you get no hits, you go on and do the same thing.''
Negrych played shortstop and second base his whole life and has the body (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) of a prototypical second baseman. The Pirates moved him to third base this season, and the transition has not gone well.
Negrych committed 25 errors at Lynchburg, a big reason why the Bucs kept him there so long rather than promoting him to the Curve. He's played five games for Altoona so far, the past three as designated hitter after committing two errors in his second game.
''One thing that just stood out is he had a lot of movement [on defense],'' Leiper said. ''We just want to try to eliminate movement and keep things as simple as possible. ... If you have a lot of moving parts, there's a lot of things that can go wrong.''
Why did the Bucs move Negrych to third?
''There are some people at second base that are pretty good in this organization,'' he said. ''Third base seemed like a spot where they said I can get up the food chain a little bit easier.''
Negrych will go as far as his bat takes him, as long as he's not a major liability defensively. Keppinger's bat has made him an everyday player in the big leagues, and Negrych would love to be able to say the same someday.
Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.