Harrilchak making progress in Arizona
Braves prospect goes deep, credits Mattingly for advice
Players typically boast about the benefits of being sent to the Arizona Fall League each year, usually about facing elite competition and making new teammates.
But Cory Harrilchak, a lefty-swinging Braves prospect, has found a fairly accomplished hitting coach to bounce questions off of.
"It's been an nice opportunity, especially playing for Don Mattingly," Harrilchak said of his manager in Phoenix. "He's helped me out, especially as a left-handed hitter, I've gotten a couple good pointers from him."
And Mattingly had plenty to be proud of Monday as Harrilchak went a perfect 4-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs to help the host Desert Dogs edge the Mesa Solar Sox, 8-6.
"It feels pretty good. The last couple days I've been good at the plate, and today was no different," he said. "I went up there trying to get a couple pitches to hit, and they found the barrel."
The Braves prospect, who had gotten a hit in five of his six previous games, went deep in the second inning, knocking in Jerry Sands (White Sox) for his first RBIs of the fall. He singled home Yankees prospect Brandon Laird in the third, singled and stole a base in the fifth and lined another base hit in the seventh.
His homer in the second came after he fouled off a few pitches and put himself in a 1-2 count. He didn't bite on two high fastballs, bringing the count full before whacking the seventh pitch of the at-bat from Mesa starter Jake Muyco (Cubs) over the wall in right.
"I got down in the count early, and I had a runner on second, so I just wanted to move the runner and be a productive out," Harrilchak said. "I spoiled off a couple pitches and put a good swing on one. The wind was blowing out, it kinda floated out there."
It's that kind situational hitting that Harrilchak said he's worked on with Mattingly this month.
"If I'm down in the count 0-2, he said sometimes the best thing is to do is step out and collect yourself," Harrilchak said. "At 2-2, you've worked your way back, your heart's racing a little more. So it's important to slow the game down and let the game come to you. That's helped me out a lot. And some of the terms he's used have been helpful."
The Braves certainly won't mind the help offered to Harrilchak, a North Carolina native who was Atlanta's 14th-round pick in the 2009 Draft. He entered the AFL after splitting his first full season in the Minors between Class A Rome and Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, where he finished hitting a combined .287 with three homers, 47 RBIs and 22 steals in 118 games. He added 26 doubles and eight triples among his 130 hits.
Harrilchak will turn 23 on Wednesday, and he'll spend it sitting in a dugout alongside Mattingly, the Dodgers' new skipper, and a roster of top talent from the Minors. It's been a thrill for the Cary, N.C. native thus far.
"I'm meeting guys from other teams, guys I hadn't played against, so it's been fun," he said. "I'm making a lot good friends. So it's a good time, being out here in a different climate and city, in different ballparks. So it's been enjoyable."
When it comes to hitting, the Elon University alum said he's seeing the ball well and feels comfortable at the plate. He's hitting .464 so far.
"I feel like I was consistent with my load and had a decent idea of the pitches I would see," he said. "I just went up there real relaxed and comfortable, and I think that's the reason why [I hit well today]."
Harrilchak also swiped his first base of the fall.
"[Steals] are a big part of my game," he said. "I'm trying to work on getting better reads and breaks and things seem like they're working. It's definitely a part of my game I'd like to include, to put some pressure on the defense and give the batters behind me better pitches to hit."
The biggest challenege so far, though, is the difference in talent he's facing on the mound. He's seeing pitches he hasn't had to worry about hitting before.
"I've only been in A ball, so I know (AFL pitchers) have better command of offspeed pitches," he said. "It's been an adjustment. I hadn't seen too many cut fastballs and heavy sinkerballs before, so I've been trying to stay on the ball a little longer. I can definitely tell the difference between the pitchers I saw in the Minors and up here. The umpiring is a little better and in more of a hitter's advantage. But pitchers are definitely executing their pitches much more."
Harrilchak was an Appalachian League All-Star in 2009 with Danville, where he batted .324 with two homers and 41 RBIs. He was 19-of-21 in stolen bases attempts in 60 games.
He's already come a long way from the Appy circuit.
"I want to work on hitting to all fields and barrel balls up and play solid defensively," he said. "I'm looking to be a dominant ballplayer out here and maybe get my name out there a little more."
NOTES: Muyco, a right-hander from North Carolina State, was hit up for seven runs on six hits and a walk over 2 2/3 innings to suffer the loss for Mesa. ... The Solar Sox bullpen of Ryan Brasier (Angels), B.J. Rosenberg (Phillies), Aaron Pribanic (Pirates), Robert Fish (Angels) and Chris Kissock (Phillies) followed up Muyco with 5 1/3 solid innings, allowing just one more run. ...Oakland's Travis Banwart made his third start, allowing five runs -- four earned -- on eight hits and a walk over 66 pitches. He improved to 3-0, despite having allowed eight runs over his last six frames. ... Switch-hitting Dodgers OF Trayvon Robinson homered off Muyco in the third, a two-run shot with two outs. He entered the game batting .346 with two RBIs. ... Mattingly penciled in a pair of Yankees prospects in the 3-4 spots of his lineup in C Austin Romine and Laird, a powerful outfielder who is batting .342 this fall. ... Another Romine, Angels outfielder Andrew Romine, went 3-for-4 and scored twice for Mesa. The two-time Texas League All-Star is batting .290 in the No. 9 hole.
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.