Josh Womack (Photo: Mariners)
Talk to any Mariners' minor leaguer about the 2004 season - except maybe Felix Hernandez - and there will be both parts of the year they'd like to remember and parts they'd like to forget. That is the case for Wisconsin outfielder Josh Womack, who at age 20 has had an up-and-down year with the Timber Rattlers. InsidethePark's Kevin Damask talked to the San Diego native recently, and has this report from Appleton, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers outfielder Josh Womack knows he has a long way to go to make it to the major leagues, but with his optimistic demeanor and the heart he brings to the game, he hopes a spot on the Mariners’ roster isn’t too far away.
The 20-year-old outfielder will soon complete his first full professional baseball season. Womack has either been in the outfield or in the designated hitter spot in 104 games for Wisconsin. In the previous two seasons, the San Diego native played a total of 84 games, with the Peoria Mariners in 2002 and the Everett AquaSox in 2003.
Playing in the Midwest League has meant that Womack has had to deal with being far from home, and in the long grueling season that can come into play. In fact, the young prospect recently admitted it’s getting a little harder to concentrate solely on baseball, having played so many games so far from home.
“You’re always trying not to lose your focus,” said Womack. “But it gets hard when little things that you’ve done all year start to go wrong and you think, ‘why is this happening.’”
In an offense that has struggled all season, Womack has been one of the few consistent hitters for Wisconsin. Through Thursday, the Mariners’ farmhand was batting .262 with 35 RBI. Rattlers’ manager Steve Roadcap has often had the outfielder bat in the leadoff spot, but doesn’t envision him as a table setter in the future.
“I don’t foresee him as a leadoff guy, but he fits that bill for us right now,” Roadcap said.
Both Womack and Roadcap agreed that the outfielder must cut down on his strikeouts. The former second-round draft pick has fanned 104 times while drawing just 30 walks this season. Another facet of the game that Womack is working on is his bunting. Even though the art of bunting is difficult to master, it could certainly help him get on base. Once on base, he’s shown great speed for the Rattlers; he currently leads the club in steals with 20.
“I need to cut down on my strikeouts. I’m kind of embarrassed about that,” said Womack. “I need to get better with situational hitting, especially when there’s a guy on second and third.”
Defensively, Womack has improved greatly, especially compared to his first professional season with Peoria in 2002, when the outfielder committed 20 errors in 43 games while playing in the Arizona Rookie League. This season he has just one error in 85 games. But Womack still feels he needs to prove he has the arm strength to throw out runners from his outfield spot.
One of the things Roadcap likes about Womack is his work ethic. The young prospect is always willing to give it his all on every play and brings a positive attitude to the clubhouse. Womack commented on how the attitude in the clubhouse has been like a roller coaster ride. The Rattlers’ inconsistency has had the players’ emotions go up and down all season.
“It’s been kind of up and down, because we’ll win a couple games and we think we’re about ready to bust loose and then we’ll lose a couple,” said Womack. It’s been tough.”
With just a couple weeks left in the season, the Rattlers playoff hopes are pretty slim. Overall, the season has been a disappointment, considering Wisconsin was expecting to do well before the season started. Womack said he’d like to end the season on a high note, aiming as always to work at getting on base and collect more hits. But, as a team player, the outfielder really wants the Rattlers’ to win most of their final games.
When the season does come to an end, Womack plans on returning home to San Diego. He wants to find a job and take a short break from baseball. The outfielder plans to work on all facets of his game during the off-season.
“My plan is to keep swinging and to keep throwing and build up my arm, and then just look forward to next season,“ Womack said.
The former Crawford High School standout, hopes to improve his game heading into next season. His manager, Steve Roadcap, thinks Womack has progressively gotten better since this season began.
“I think he has gotten better at the things that he’s worked at like hitting, base running and outfield play,” said Roadcap, who admitted the outfielder still has a ways to go with his development.
Even though he’s struggled in some areas, Womack will most likely get promoted to the High-A Inland Empire 66ers to start the 2005 season. But, wherever he should end up next season, expect him to play with heart everyday. And at Inland Empire, a 150-mile drive away from his home town, home will again be where the heart is.
Womack isn’t complaining about that.