Larish looking to impress in AFL

Larish looking to impress in AFL

DETROIT -- Jeff Larish made a return trip to the Arizona Fall League this year in large part to expand his versatility as a fielder. With the schedule heading towards the home stretch, he's making his mark on the league with his bat.

With Tuesday's three-hit, three-run, two-RBI game for the Mesa Solar Sox, Detroit's slugging corner infield prospect pushed his AFL average over the .300 mark while continuing his charge up the league leaderboards. With an league-high 21 RBIs in 19 games entering Wednesday to go with 22 runs scored, second in the league, he's averaging a run and an RBI every contest and then some.

Much of that production has come in about half that many games. In the process, he's showing the hitting talent that made him Detroit's Minor League Player of the Year in 2007 before struggling off and on over the course of this year.

"He is hitting the ball well," said Tigers player development director Glenn Ezell, currently in Arizona to evaluate Detroit's talent. "It doesn't matter when in the count he's hitting."

The way he's hitting over the last two weeks, there isn't much of any situation to slow down his bat. After starting out slowly and trying to make consistent contact, he has been hitting just about everything solidly since late October.

A three-hit, four-RBI effort two weeks ago became the catalyst for his charge. Over a 10-game stretch through Tuesday, he has gone hitless just once and without an RBI another time. He has scored a run in each of his last 10 games and multiple runs in six of them. In a three-game stretch a week and a half ago, he went 7-for-12 with two doubles, two homers, seven runs scored, six RBIs and four walks.

Larish has shown his potential to heat up over stretches in his career. What has stood out about this tear is the consistent contact. After striking out eight times in his first nine games this fall, he has fanned just seven times in 10 games through Tuesday. He didn't strike out at all over that aforementioned 7-for-12 stretch.

It hasn't been an all-or-nothing approach. Though his three home runs are respectable, the bulk of his damage has come on doubles, somewhat like his September stint in Detroit. By comparison, he had more home runs than doubles in each of his last two Minor League seasons.

Ezell, who has watched Larish for his entire pro career, said his at-bats have simply been better. He has always been among the better prepared hitters in the system, and his ability to focus was something Tigers manager Jim Leyland pointed out in September. Now, the results are particularly consistent.

The fact that he's doing it against an upper echelon of young pitchers makes it more impressive. There's a comfort factor in his favor, staying close to home and going through the league for the second straight fall, but the level of competition adds to the challenge.

"This is not an easy league," Ezell said. "This is a league where the pitching's usually pretty good. You're facing pretty good pitching all the time. Anytime you do well in this siutaiton, I think it's a real building block for the future."

The more he hits like this, the more the Tigers could look for ways to get him into the lineup. That's where the other side of his fall league work could be useful.

Larish was originally slated to split his time between first and third base this fall, improving his chances of vying for a utility role in Detroit next spring. However, he spent the early part of the campaign playing mostly at first as an injury fill-in. He took ground balls at third during infield practice in the meantime while working with a cast of instructors. He's getting more time at third down the stretch.

"I think you have to play that position an awful lot to get comfortable," Ezell said. "It's a matter of each day, getting things done and getting stronger."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.