THE GAME HAD ended and the nightly chill of early April had begun to reclaim the air from a pleasant late Friday afternoon at Hickory’s LP Franz Stadium.
Travis DeMeritte was making his way down the left field line following the Crawdad’s 9-2 loss against Asheville. As kids raced along the fence calling for his autograph, the 2013 first-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers spoke of position changes and his comfort level in professional baseball.
DeMeritte signed quickly with the Rangers once he was drafted. That was due in part to the Rangers’ consistent pursuit of him and partly because with a scholarship offer from vaunted South Carolina in hand, any team that drafted him needed to be serious about signing him.
“I didn’t have a particular number in mind,” DeMeritte said. “If I went somewhere acceptable, I told myself I would take it and pursue my career as a professional baseball player, and it just happened.”
Texas had made its interest known several years before as DeMeritte broke records at Winder-Barrow High in Winder, Ga. The Rangers have made a habit of swooping into the Peach State and gobbling up top talent.
“Oh, yeah, definitely, I had a great relationship with all the scouts and the people in the organization,” he said. “It was definitely for me.”
With his signing bonus, DeMeritte said he bought an Audi and helped out his parents a little bit. Then he got to Arizona in time to put in 39 games with the Rangers’ rookie league squad. Playing shortstop and third base, he batted .285 with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage.
“It was fun, just getting to meet people,” he said of the time he spent in Surprise, Ariz. “The game elevated, sped up, and I was able to keep up with it. I enjoyed it.”
Many publications were quick to label DeMeritte as a borderline top-10 prospect coming into this offseason. The knocks? A lack of a true position and an unhealthy strikeout rate (49 in 144 at-bats).
In a very small sample size at Hickory, DeMeritte is batting .160 but has three home runs in eight games. He drew a walk in his final at-bat Friday evening, giving him four on the season against nine strikeouts. His on-base percentage is .300
“I’m just working on staying more consistent,” he said. “Cutting down on strikeouts and developing more of an approach and a plan at the plate. And always my defense. Defense can get better.”
While those same publications projected DeMeritte as a future third baseman, he has played all eight games with Hickory at second base. On his first chance Friday evening, he flashed his extreme athleticism by tracking down a hard-hit grounder into shallow right field to throw out Asheville hitter Jose Briceno.
An inning later, showing he’s still a bit of a work in progress, he was eaten up by a sinking liner off the bat of David Dahl that short-hopped and skipped off his glove as he fell backward.
All in all, though, the transition has been as smooth as it could be for someone playing his third position in less than a year. Whether he stays at the position is unknown to him.
“To be honest, I don’t really know if I will stay (at second),” he said. “I guess it’s safe to assume that. It’s something they’ve been experimenting with, but I don’t mind. Anywhere I can play. I’d play left field if I have to.”
As the weather warms up, DeMeritte plans to heat up on the South Atlantic League circuit.
“I love it. It’s a great league,” he said. “Clearly, you’ve got great competition. It’s going to be tough, but I enjoy it. It’s going to be alright. I’m struggling a bit, but the swing is starting to come along.”
Tags: Texas Rangers