Versatile McGehee Streaking

(PHOTO/LARRY WOOLIS)

DES MOINES -- A day off recently came at the perfect time for Class AAA Iowa third baseman Casey McGehee.

On June 25, the Iowa Cubs had a scheduled break in between two series and McGehee, a Fresno State alumnus, made the two-hour drive from Des Moines to Omaha to see his former team beat Georgia for the College World Series Championship.

The next day, McGehee started a 14-game hitting streak that raised his batting average from .256 to .293.

"I think it was a coincidence," McGehee said.

Less coincidental was a change McGehee made before the streak. Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua had advised the 25-year-old Chicago Cubs prospect to spread out his feet further in his batting stance the past "few years," according to McGehee.

But McGehee said he was having success with his old stance and was reluctant to change. He batted over .400 in spring training with Chicago this season, but then started the minor league season at Iowa by hitting just .239 in April and .262 in May.

"Finally we got to the point where I said, ‘You know what, I need to change something,'" McGehee said. "It just so happened that as soon as I changed that, I got hot. And I feel pretty good that way. It is still new to me; it feels funny, but I think in the long run, it is going to be a good adjustment for me. Also I think it is going to help me drive the ball more and have more consistent at-bats and consistent contact."

Joshua said that minor adjustment has been a major help for McGehee.

"He was sliding, or getting out front too soon; his head was moving a lot," Joshua said. "So we spread his stance out a little bit, and all the sudden he started seeing the ball a lot better and his stroke got there."

McGehee has shown the ability to change over his five-year professional career.

He has played at least two games at every infield position in two-plus seasons with Iowa, and spent most of the 2007 season relearning the position of catcher with Double-A Tennessee. McGehee has made 12 starts at catcher this season for Iowa, which already has two full-time backstops on its roster.

"Casey is one of those guys, we always say he is a baseball player," Joshua said. "You see a lot of guys nowadays (that are) great athletes, good athletes, what have you, but they're not really baseball players. But Casey is a throwback to the old-school type of guys. He gets down and gets dirty. He plays the games hard. Sometimes, he gets a little too intense. But for the most part, when he keeps it under control, he does a good job.

"Over the years, I think he's matured quite a bit. He had a tendency to be very analytical with his swing, but he's not as bad now. He's really maturing."

McGehee has also developed into a capable home-run hitter, despite being a gap-to-gap hitter for much of his career.

A right-handed hitter, he tied a career best last Sunday with his 11th home run of the season. He also leads the team with 69 RBIs and was batting .283 against both right-handed and left-handed pitching after last Sunday's game.

Joshua said McGehee is strong enough to hit "25 to 30 home runs," but needs to refine his technique. A former Chicago White Sox hitting coach, Joshua compared McGehee's hitting approach to the front-runner for this year's National League Rookie of the Year award, Chicago catcher Geovany Soto.

Soto had never hit more than nine home runs in a season in his professional career – until last season, when he clubbed 26 with Iowa. Soto hit 16 home runs this season before the All-Star break.

"They both kind of had the same approach to hitting where they inside-out everything and hit everything to right field," Joshua said. "Geo finally got out of it last year. Casey, he is slowly getting out of it. He is starting to turn on some of those balls that are middle-in."

McGehee said hitting more home runs hasn't been a focal point.

"The home runs, whatever. They come, they go. I try not to focus on that," he said. "I mean, of course everyone likes the home run. It's nice to be able to change the game with one swing. But I've never been a big home-run guy or whatever … my biggest thing is just to drive in runs and not let them in on the field. And at the end of the day, that's what we're all here for."

McGehee was 15-for-37 [.405] in 21 Spring Training appearances, where he not only split time with Chicago third baseman Aramis Ramirez, but also transient-free agent Alex Cintron.

McGehee brought a sense of realism to the trip, but was happy with the result.

"I got a chance to play a little bit. It worked out to where I was swinging the bat all right … that's all you can hope for," McGehee said.

"Not being on the [40-man] roster and getting to go to camp – and getting some at-bats and hopefully putting yourself in a situation where if something comes up, they've seen your name and they've seen you play a little bit – I couldn't ask for anything more out of spring training. And I knew going in there was a one in a million chance of making that team, just with the guys they've got and everything. I was OK with that, but at the same time I wanted to come in and have a good showing."

McGehee said his poor start this season could be the result of the Law of Averages.

"It seemed like everything was falling in during Spring Training, and I really couldn't get anything to fall in (at) the beginning of the year," he said. "But hopefully I can finish up strong and put myself in a position (where), God forbid something happens and they need some help, to be able to go up there and help them."

Joshua said he thought that McGehee will be a good addition to Chicago "down the line," but that he needs another season in winter-ball.

McGehee has a wife, Sarah, and a nearly one-and-a-half year old son, Mackail, and said his off-season plans aren't set in stone.

"I've been in Mexico for three years," he said. "I'm kind of caught in between wanting to give my body a chance to recover, because I haven't really given myself a chance in the past few years, but at the same time I've got to go down there and take care of the family and make some money.

"I haven't decided what I'm going to do. I don't know if I'm going to go down there for the whole time; maybe just the second half or something like that. But I think it's a good way to get ready for Spring Training. I think the guys that go to winter-ball have a jump on the guys coming into camp because as opposed to being three, four months removed from live at-bats, you're only two or three weeks removed from live at-bats and live pitching.

"I think it's a good thing, and I have a blast going down there. I'm sure I'll go somewhere."

McGehee was a 10th round pick by the Cubs in 2003. He was the only Fresno State player drafted that year.

"Any time a school like Fresno gets in [to the CWS] and makes a run, it's pretty neat because they're not picked to do anything," McGehee said. "And honestly, we usually get the guys left over from USC and Long Beach and those schools. They did it with their best pitcher on the shelf for the whole post-season.

"It was pretty neat. It just showed that baseball, as much as it's an individual game, it's a team game and they put it together at the right time."

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