So, once the season started, he forced his way into it.
When the media — myself included — was writing up their stories about the second coming of a Trenton Thunder “Outfield Of Dreams” that included highly touted Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin, there was nary a mention of Medchill.
So when it came time to pose up the team’s outfield prospects for photos on Media Day, it was Flores, Heathcott and Austin who would be in the shot, with the 25-year-old nowhere to be seen.
But after the first ten games of the season, Medchill is anywhere but in the background. The Oxford, Mich. native entered Monday’s game leading the Thunder with a 1.036 OPS and is at or near the top of the team leaderboard with a .361 batting average, two home runs and nine RBI in his first nine contests this season.
After an incredible 14 home run performance with Short Season-A Staten Island in 2009, injuries and poor performance had kept him no higher than High-A Tampa from the middle of 2010 until he finally got the call to head to Double-A Trenton early last season. But he was sent back down after a brief stay, and only re-joined the team last July, where he played well before a stress fracture in his leg ended his season prematurely.
“At first, I was frustrated a little bit, because I was just starting to play well,” said Medchill of last year’s setback. “But really, it doesn’t do much good. All I knew is it was the end of the year, and I’d go through the off-season, work hard and do my best next year. It is what it is. This game will beat you up, I’m not the only one that gets injured. A lot of people have injuries, and it’s just part of the game.”
Last year’s stay in the capital city deserves some credit for his breakout performance so far this season. It took Medchill some getting used to pitchers that have a better idea on how to throw, where they aren’t just getting by on pure stuff. But, perhaps moreso than that, he points to getting back down to his old Oklahoma State and Staten Island playing weight as a possible turning point for getting a once-promising career right back on track.
“I worked hard this offseason just losing some weight to hopefully help my game overall and to stay healthy throughout the year. It’ll help my back out a little bit, my hamstrings feel a little better and hopefully I can move around a little better in the outfield,” Medchill said.
“It was strictly all me, it was something I wanted to do. I’d played my best baseball when I was in college and at my first year in Staten Island, and I was about 220 pounds. I hit a few home runs, and I figured I’d put on a few more pounds and it’ll go a little further. And really, I hit the ball just fine over the fence at 220, so why not get back there and help my game overall.”
Also helping his case? Well, the presence of Austin, Flores and Heathcott.
“I know where I stand, and I know arguably our top prospects are in the outfield right now,” Medchill said. “Whatever I can do to get in the lineup, I’m going to try to do; whether it’s DH or if someone goes down, step in or if someone needs a day off, step in. As long as I continue to hit, hopefully I’ll continue to play.”
Better yet, with the attention on the trio of prospects regardless of their performance, Medchill’s been able to stay under the radar.
“I definitely don’t mind it,” he said through a smile.
“I kind of put a lot of pressure on myself my first year after Staten Island and having a good start there and skipping a level. So, I’ve been on the other side. I’ve never had the prospect status like these guys, but there was a little more pressure then, and I really have nothing to lose now.”
Thunder manager Tony Franklin offered that while it isn’t ideal for players to go under the radar — although he compared Medchill’s situation to Luke Murton’s performance out of seemingly nowhere last year — but acknowledged that while the “other three guys get the majority of the attention,” it isn’t necessarily all bad either.
“If you’re in the lineup, you’ve got a chance to make people stand up and notice, and that’s what Neil is doing right now,” Franklin said.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com