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Pujols enjoying success with improved approach

Jose Pujols, image- Jay Floyd
Following a pair of up and down years, Phillies outfield prospect Jose Pujols has taken strides to improve his approach as well as his outlook and the positive results have been apparent.  

Two seasons ago he looked like a promising slugger who made improvements. Last year he moved up a level and appeared to struggle. This year he’s returned to resembling a talented player on the rise and he's focus on staying on that path.

Pujols, signed as an international free agent at the age of 16 in 2012, was always promising, but showed he could be a powerhouse during his first year of full-season baseball in 2016. As a member, then, of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, the six-foot-three 175-pounder set that club’s single-season home run record at the time with a mark of 24. Overall in 128 games in the South Atlantic League that year, Pujols tallied a .241 batting average with 82 runs batted in.

He would move up to Class A Advanced Clearwater last year and his offense looked troubling. He batted .194 with just eight home runs and 29 RBI in 90 games for the Clearwater Threshers.

His manager, Shawn Williams, who had coached Pujols at three different levels, earning promotions along with him from Class A short-season Williamsport, to Lakewood and then to Clearwater, never saw his opinion of Pujols take a slip.

“He always told me, ‘You are a leader and don’t forget that!’,” Pujols shared. “He has always been around me and reminding me of the type of player that I am and the type of player that I can become.”

Asked if he feels like a leader around his peers and teammates, the right-handed batter describes leading by example.

“It’s like something that you feel. I just want to always see my teammates playing hard. I will always be there for them. Maybe one time you’re not hitting well, but there’s always something you can do to help your team stay in the game. There’s always something you can do. Maybe a good play, or maybe a good cut off and a relay, or a diving catch, or base running. There’s always going to be something you can do to help them out,” Pujols said.

This year, opening the season repeating the Florida State League, Pujols really turned things around. In 95 games with the Threshers he recorded a .301 average, blasted 18 home runs and drove in 58.

The outstanding production earned him a promotion to Double-A Reading, where he’s posted a .274 average with four homers and 18 RBI through 24 contests in the Eastern League.

The improvement this year is something that Pujols credits partly to an adjustment with his hands and where he holds the bat, but he feels that his statistical rebound was more between his ears. He describes having a better plan and a more solid approach at the plate being critical to his development. Understanding more of what the opposing pitcher is trying to accomplish as well supports his goals at the plate.

Striking out a considerable amount has become something that Pujols, like many power hitters, is known for. This is evident with strike out percentages in recent years: 32.6% in 2016 with Lakewood, 42.6% last year in Clearwater and 33.1% at the combined two levels this season. Though, he doesn't focus on this particular result

"I don’t think about the strike outs at all. I just think about (sticking) with my plan because when you have a plan good things can happen," Pujols stated. "When you have a plan you’ve got a better chance to put a ball in play and you know what you’re trying to do.'

In his first three years of pro ball as a teenager, Pujols played short-season leagues, combining for a .221 average with 15 home runs and 81 RBI over 168 games, part of that time with Williams, the son of former big league manager Jimy Williams, in Williamsport.

Pujols looks at Williams as a father figure and credits him for remaining a believer and a supporter in his abilities.

When the pair first met, Pujols didn't know how to play pepper, a common drill or game that helps players develop hand-eye coordination. Williams mentions that instance to Pujols on occasion as a reminder of how far the young man has come in the game.

A father himself, Pujols has a toddler son in the Dominican Republic. For Pujols, the past couple of seasons as a parent have been difficult. He does his best to communicate with his son often and values every moment he can with his child. Pujols looks forward to a lasting career in baseball that will allow him to bring his son to the United States.

It's his love for the game, as well as his son, that drives him. The boy is named after Yankees great Derek Jeter. Jose and his brother Cristopher, a minor leaguer in the Mets organization, admired the future Hall of Famer so much that they had an agreement during childhood that the first of them to have a son would name him after Yankees all-time hits leader.

What stood out to Pujols so much about Jeter was his respect for the game. A respect that Pujols holds with considerable regard on the field every day, even including umpires in his focus and approach to the game.

"Everything between the lines is one thing," Pujols expressed. "Sometimes (I may want to express displeasure to an umpire) when I feel mad about something, but I just let it go, because after all they are people and they can make mistakes and there is no way that people doesn’t make mistakes. You’re all going to make mistakes once in a while. So, I just let it go and go back to my game and have fun."

With that kind of consideration and outlook, Pujols seems to have the makings of a very good dad. Furthermore, the more he can influence those around him, prevail on the diamond and pepper the opposition, the more fun and success Pujols is bound to enjoy in the Phillies developmental system.

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