Sappelt taking fast track to Major Leagues
Reds speedster jumped three Minor League levels in 2010
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Growing up in a Buffalo, N.Y., area that is more known for its beleaguered pro football team and heaping amounts of annual snowfall, Reds outfield prospect Dave Sappelt still shoveled himself into a niche as a baseball talent.If there was a kid living in his neighborhood and liked baseball, Sappelt's house was the place to be. "I've always had an indoor batting cage my whole life in Buffalo," Sappelt said. "When we moved, I had one in North Carolina. I've always had a cage with an automatic feeder." Sappelt's father, Jeff, built the cage when his son was around 5 or 6 years old.
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"Once he could realize I could throw and hit at an early age, he got a batting cage," Sappelt said. "We had all my friends over, and we hit all day. It was our thing to do."A lifetime .308 hitter in three Minor League seasons since he was a ninth-round Draft pick out of Coastal Carolina University in 2008, Sappelt has demonstrated he knows how to handle a bat. But his 2010 season is when his career went to another level -- actually three levels. Sappelt jumped from Class A Lynchburg to Double-A Carolina and finished the season at Triple-A Louisville. In 89 games at Carolina, his .361 average led the Southern League and set a new club record. In 133 games combined, he batted .342 with a .395 on-base percentage and was named the organization's Minor League hitter of the year. "It was one of those things where I felt like I was in college again. In college, I dominated the field," Sappelt said. "Last year, I felt like I was dominating also. It's a feeling you get when you're putting everything together. You're hitting pitches you should be hitting and not missing them, taking pitches you should be taking. I had a good year and felt good." Sappelt is in his first big league camp as a non-roster invite and will most likely be headed back to Louisville after he played only 25 games for the Bats at the end of the season. A speedy 5-foot-9 and 193 pounds, Sappelt stole 25 bases last season but was also caught 18 times. The organization wants him to work on improving his base-stealing technique and continue his progress of becoming more consistent as a hitter. "He moved through the organization fast. He's a very exciting player," Louisville manager Rick Sweet said. "He's aggressive. He swings the bat, puts the ball in play and runs. I would say the biggest thing is he creates havoc. He makes things happen. One thing about him is he's not a low-key, sit back and watch the at-bat player. He knows what he's going to do and what's going to happen." Now living in the Hilton Head, S.C., area, Sappelt spent the winter before the 2010 season working on his swing with a former college coach. His swing was broken down and compared to those of successful big leaguers like Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but for Sappelt in those sessions, it really provided a turbo boost of success. "As I was working, I eventually got it down almost perfect with their swings. Once that happened, I expected big things," Sappelt said. "No matter where they start, every time when they were getting ready to hit the ball, we were all the same. Where our bats went from A to B was the same with the legs and everything all the same. When I started out, I wasn't like that. By the end, I had it down pretty good." Although he is quick and a possible catalyst-type hitter, his aggressive nature at the plate doesn't currently project Sappelt as a future leadoff hitter. "He'll swing at pitches out of the zone," Sweet said. "He's still learning his approach to hitting. For that reason, I'd say probably not, but that's not to say he couldn't [lead off]. He can bunt, and he's got the speed to do it." Injuries at the Triple-A level and the need for outfielders at the big league level partially paved the way for Sappelt's rapid rise up the system. His performance created speculation that one more promotion -- to the Major Leagues -- might have been possible. However, with his not being on the 40-man roster and limited Triple-A time, the Reds promoted mostly infielders and pitchers as September callups. "I had the hot hand and I figured they'd want a hot hand up there, especially if it was for a week or two. It didn't work out, but I wasn't disappointed," Sappelt said. "I figured this year I will try to do the same thing and keep building my resume. Once your resume gets too good, they have to hire you."