BRADENTON This time last year, Alex Presley was a bit of an enigma.
An eighth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Presley came from seemingly out of nowhere to earn the organizations Minor League Player of the Year award in 2010.
Was he a one-hit wonder? Would his big numbers in 10, when he .320 with the teams Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, translate at the next level?
Last weekend at Pirate City, Presley was joking in the clubhouse with centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and batting leadoff against the Minnesota Twins.
Presley is now part of the Pirates plans, and heads into 11 expecting to flank McCutchen on one side while Jose Tabata does the same on the other.
Its a good feeling to be put in that category of somebody they want for the future, the 26-year-old said Saturday prior to the Pirates game against the Twins. But at the same, you have to be getting better and try not to listen to too much stuff. I just do what I do. But its definitely a good feeling to be in the plan.
The Pirates drafted Presley in 2006, but he never played above high Single-A until 10, when he opened the season with Double-A Altoona. Presley took advantage of his opportunity, driving in 85 runs and totaling 166 hits with Altoona and the Pirates Triple-A team in Indianapolis.
Consequently, he earned a September promotion to Pittsburgh.
He spent 87 games in Triple-A last year, hitting .333, before hitting .298 in 52 games with the Pirates.
Last year I found out I could play, more so than anything, he said. The year before, in September, it was just an experience out there. I didnt play a whole lot. I got plugged into the lineup last year a bunch and I played well, and I felt like I belonged, and I think Im coming in this year with a lot more confidence.
The Pirates feel the same way. Garrett Jones, who spent some time in the outfield last year, is expected to split time at first base with newly-acquired Casey McGehee. And the Pirates brought back Nate McLouth, but to serve as the teams fourth outfielder.
Hes an exciting player. He can do some things on the baseball field, general manager Neal Huntington said of Presley. He can be that second centerfielder in left field, he can be dynamic at the top of the lineup Were going to give him every chance in the world to show what he can do.
This spring has a different feel for Presley. Hes no longer fight for a spot on the 25-man roster, so he can devote his time in Bradenton to getting himself ready for his first full big-league season.
And he came into camp wanting to improve his bunting and his aggressiveness on the bases.
You cant be afraid to get thrown out, said Presley, who stole nine bases in 12 attempts last year, and knowing when to run, thats part of it. Just going and saying, Whatever happens, happens is something you have to do.
Its something he is happy to work on, especially because hell get a chance to apply it in Pittsburgh this April.
There was a lot of questions going into the past seasons, whether I was competing (for a spot) or not, Presley said. I know the guys a lot better this year, and thats half the battle.