Health and playing time help Weglarz get on track
Akron, OH -- When Akron Aeros left fielder Nick Weglarz steps into the left-handed batter’s box, he is an imposing presence. Measuring at 6’3” and 240 pounds, he looks like a major league hitter, waiting to hit the ball over the right field fence.
Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, Weglarz started off his career doing just that, hitting 24 home runs in 2007, his first year in full-season baseball. Along with the homers, Weglarz posted a .393 on-base percentage after drawing 131 walks in 127 games.
The following season, Weglarz posted a .396 on-base percentage while cutting down his strikeout numbers. Prior to the 2009 season, he started drawing the attention of national baseball scouts and writers and was named the 58th best prospect by Baseball America.
Weglarz continued to gain exposure as he played for Team Canada in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. He hit .400 in the preliminary rounds and .450 in the Olympic qualifier game against Team Taiwan.
“As far as baseball goes, anytime you get to represent your country is an awesome experience,” said Weglarz. “I’m pretty patriotic to Canada, and I keep it close to my heart.”
Weglarz struggled to maintain his average in his first AA season in 2009, however, and missed the last two months of the season with a stress fracture in his left shin. After a hot start to the 2010 season, including a promotion to AAA-affiliate Columbus, Weglarz was bit by the injury bug again. While diving for a ball in the outfield, he sprained a ligament in his right thumb and missed the rest of the season.
Nagged all season by knee injuries, Weglarz suffered through a 2011 season in which his average dipped to .179 as he hit just three homers in 41 games. Weglarz came into the 2012 season looking to build on his 2010 season, the last time he was healthy and producing middle-of-the-lineup numbers.
“My goal [coming into the season] was to pick up where I left off in 2010 and obviously make the big leagues -- whether with Cleveland or another team,” said Weglarz. “That’s always been my goal.”
At the beginning of the season, Weglarz struggled to make good contact with the ball. As his production dwindled at the plate, he was dropped further in the lineup and was removed from the Indians 40-man roster on May 12. It was a big fall for the slugger who was ranked among Cleveland’s best prospects from 2008-2010.
Injuries and inconsistent playing time took their toll on Weglarz for the better part of three seasons, causing him to develop bad habits in his swing -- habits that he needed time and at-bats to work through.
“I think it had a lot to do with getting at-bats,” said Weglarz. “Last year with my knee surgery, I made a bad habit of getting out on my front foot because I couldn’t support the weight of my body on my back leg. Hitting is all about legs, that’s where you generate the power, so I strengthened my back leg and now I’m able to use it right. It translates well into power and hitting.”
After shifting his weight back into balance between his front and back legs, Weglarz started to see results. At the time of his designation, he was hitting just .202 in part-time play. The month that followed provided a jolt of power to the Aeros lineup and rejuvenated discussion about his future as a power prospect.
Weglarz batted .292 with a .415 on-base percentage, hitting eight doubles, eight home runs and 21 RBIs in 28 games during the month of June. He led the Eastern League in total bases, tied for the lead in homers and extra-base hits, and ranked among the top of the league in numerous other offensive categories.
“Getting game at-bats and being healthy, those are the two main things,” said Weglarz. “I’ve been hurt for the past couple of years and just getting back to playing every day and playing healthy for once got me back on track.”
In the month of July, Weglarz has leveled off a bit and is hitting just .152 over his last 10 games with two doubles and a homer. Over the next month and a half, Weglarz hopes to finish the season with a bang and prove that June wasn’t an accident.
“[I want to] finish up strong,” said Weglarz. “June wasn’t a fluke -- I know I have that capability in me. I want to stay healthy and just keep working hard, day in and day out. If I do those things, it should all take care of itself.”
Nathan Kemp graduated from The University of Akron in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. He plans to pursue a graduate degree through NEOMFA in the fall. Follow him on Twitter @NathanCKemp.
And yes, he is a minor league free agent at year's end. Indians have lots of interesting 6-year minor league free agents this offseason....Weglarz and Goedert are two of them off the top of my head.
But if he wants to get to the bigs, the door is wide open with the Indians, who desparately need a first baseman with power, a right fielder to replace Choo after next season (or sooner), and a DH to take over for Pronk. I honestly don't know where he would have a more wide open track to the bigs than here, assuming he can hit consistently like he did in June and most importantly, stay healthy.