E.A. Sports Today

Long on a roll

Former Jacksonville player as comfortable as ever at the plate, and that’s bad news for the pitchers he faces

EDITOR NOTE: This is another in an occasional series on players from in and around Calhoun County playing professional baseball this summer

“I’m swinging it pretty well, I’m seeing the ball well. I’m so comfortable I feel there’s no pitcher who can get me out.”— Shed Long

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Shed Long is more comfortable at the plate than he’s ever been in his baseball career. That’s really good for Shed Long. It’s good for his Daytona Tortugas and it’s not so good for the teams they play.

Did we say it was really good for Shed Long?

The former Jacksonville catcher turned second baseman is hitting the ball better than ever, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time.

He’s been playing minor-league baseball long enough now that later this fall the parent Cincinnati Reds are going to have to decide whether to protect him to the 40-man roster, let him go or lose him in the Rule 5 draft. And he’s doing everything he can to make the decision as difficult as possible all the while putting himself in the best of positions.

Long continued his big May Thursday night when he went 2-for-4 with a double and game-tying RBI in the Tortugas’ 5-3 Florida State League loss to Bradenton. He went 9-for-15 in the four-game series with 14 total bases and three RBIs.

Since May 9 he has gone 16-for-34, to elevate his batting average to .322, top 10 in the Single-A league and second-best among the league’s second basemen.

“I’m swinging it pretty well, I’m seeing the ball well,” he said. “I’m so comfortable (at the plate) I feel there’s no pitcher who can get me out.”

And he’s faced some top prospects the last few weeks. He faced Braves’ left-handed prospect Drew Harrington who threw in the upper 90s and got three hits. On Tuesday night, he faced Pirates’ prospect Mitch Keller who touched 100 and got another hit off him.

“The biggest thing is I’m sticking to my approach,” he said. “I’m not letting what they’re trying to do make me deviate from my approach. I’m just sticking to what I want to do in the box and I’m being really successful at it.”

It’s something he learned from conversations with major-leaguers like Barry Larkin, Eric Davis and, especially, Dee Gordon.

After a slow start – 4-for-28 in his first eight games – that had everyone worried but him, Long has been one Tortuga en fuego.

In his last 30 games he is hitting .367. Interestingly, his homer and RBI numbers are about the same as they were this time last year, but his batting average is about 70 points higher.

“One of the biggest things is just trusting the knowledge; whatever they got, they give it to me,” Long said. “Dee Gordon and I had a couple conversations about sticking to an approach and really not going from that. They were trying to pitch me one way and I was getting frustrated with it and he was like, ‘Look, stick to it. I’m in the big leagues, I stick to it.’ They’re going to pitch you a certain way, it doesn’t matter, but they’re going to make that mistake. They make it in the big leagues, so I know they’re going to make it down there, so just stick to it.”

Which brings him back to what may happen in the off-season. It’s a crossroad, but he’s not worrying about it.

“That’s just another step closer to getting to the ultimate goal,” he said. “The biggest I think about is just controlling what I can control and let the rest take care of itself.”

And getting to that ultimate goal – the big leagues – is the reason two years ago he got out from behind the plate to find a place in the field. He was taking a bunch of ground balls from Jacksonville coach David Deerman just prior to reporting to an extended spring training two years ago to be ready for the move to second base that ultimately would help the hitting stroke that is so sharp today.

“It was a great move for me,” he said. “When I was catching I wasn’t able to really focus on my hitting a lot. It was having to worry about pitchers, always worrying about playing good defense That was all they cared about as a catcher, defense, hitting later.

“I’m the type of player who’s hit-first, so once I made that transition I was able to focus on my hitting whole lot more, have more legs under me when I was going up to hit. The biggest point of it was being able to play every single day and just getting the reps in. Everybody knew I could hit — I knew I could hit — it was getting in there every single day. Now, I’m in there every single game, playing 135 out of 140 games. I’m able to get into rhythm, just be comfortable in the box and do what I want to do.”

Looks like it’s paying off.

Cover photo of Shed Long at the plate by Luke Mauro/Daytona Tortugas

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