Kevin Kiermaier needed this.
A year ago, the Bishop Luers graduate played just 63 games at three levels of the minors in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, with a pair of broken hands cutting short his season.
But Kiermaier has rebounded in a big way in 2013, hitting .313 through 92 games with 64 runs scored, 14 stolen bases and a .376 on-base percentage while batting lead-off for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League.
The performance has earned Kiermaier a berth in the Southern League All-Star Game scheduled for Wednesday.
“This is my fourth minor league season, so it is about time I made (an All-Star game),” said Kiermaier with a laugh. “It feels good especially at the Double-A level where it really starts to become crunch time in terms of your career.
“I needed a year where the Rays said, 'Hey, this kid can still play.'”
After being a 31st round pick of Tampa Bay in the 2010 Draft out of Parkland College, Kiermaier excelled in rookie ball before struggling in 2011 with Bowling Green in the Midwest League, finishing with a .241 average.
But the Rays saw enough promise to promote Kiermaier last year to High-A Charlotte for 57 games and even a few games at Triple-A Durham.
But Kiermaier's most successful season so far has been 2013. He has worked on plate discipline as he continues to adjust from being a power hitter in college to being a lead-off man in the pros.
“I have always been a guy with high amounts of strikeouts, and I knew that had to change,” said Kiermaier, who has shrunk his walk to strikeout radio from about 1:3 in 2011 to 1:2 this season. “I tell myself to never try to do too much or get home runs in hitters' counts. This year has been all about getting productive at-bats.”
While Kiermaier has been getting on base at the top of the Montgomery lineup, he has had trouble moving into scoring position via stolen bases. He has converted just 14 of 25 steal attempts, something he knows he must improve.
“It is tough at this level (on the bases),” Kiermaier said. “Pitchers are very quick to the plate and I tip my hat for getting me out. But at the same time, I have to be better. Speed is a big part of my game, a big weapon in my arsenal, and I need to be better at it.”
Playing for an organization like Tampa Bay that builds its major league roster primarily through its minor league system, Kiermaier knows that the opportunity is greater to break through to the major league club. He hopes this season has opened some eyes and a promotion to Triple-A could be in his future this season or next.
“Tampa Bay likes the hard-working, blue-collar guys they can get for the least amount of money,” Kiermaier said. “For me, there is lots of hope because they like athletic guys who are aggressive and play defense. I can play defense with anyone.”
The Rays like to have most prospects go through each level of the system, including Triple-A. Some organizations jump their best prospects from Double-A to the majors at times, but Tampa Bay likes to promote a step at a time.
“If you play well and perform and keep getting promoted, they will have no other choice but to call you up sooner or later,” Kiermaier said. “I just am keeping my eyes on the prize and that's making it to the big leagues. I am not sure what that time frame is, but the Rays like me and I have confidence in myself to make it.”