MLB

Joey Meneses looks MLB-ready

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By Ben Pope (www.philly.com)

Joey Meneses is a quiet, 26-year-old, never-drafted first baseman who speaks English to reporters only when no cameras are around and has bounced around the minor leagues for seven years. He was a decidedly under-the-radar signing by the Phillies back in February, shortly after the Braves let him walk into free agency,

Indeed, the native of northwest Mexico is not, and has never been, the kind of player to attract attention.

Yet in his triple-A debut season, Meneses is having nothing short of a showstopper campaign for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He was a shoo-in selection for Wednesday’s triple-A all-star game in Columbus, and his batting numbers are in the same stratospheric levels that would fast-track any top-100 prospect straight to the majors.

Fifteen home runs, the most in the International League, in 81 games. Fifty RBIs, good for third in the league. An efficient .300 batting average (seventh in the IL) and explosive .520 slugging percentage (second in the IL).

It’s just that hardly anyone is noticing — not even Meneses himself.

“I don’t feel any change,” he said Sunday, just a few hours before hitting a two-run, walk-off single to cap Lehigh Valley’s comeback win over Rochester. “I kept working hard at home and in winter ball last year, and I keep doing the same today here.”

Meneses’ road to simply get on a triple-A roster is an unlikely one in itself, but his performance since landing on this one is even more unfathomable, considering his nondescript past. He slugged just .403 and .329 in his two seasons with the double-A Mississippi Braves, hitting only 11 home runs in 171 games. The Braves never gave him a single look in triple A.

Part of the transformation might trace to Meneses’ substantial weight gain — listed at just 6-foot-3, 190 pounds two years ago, he has grown to 220 — and another aspect might be his ongoing efforts to add a loftier follow-through to his swing. IronPigs hitting coach Sal Rende said the “subtle, little change” is not only increasing Meneses’ launch angles but also making him stay through the ball better.

“He has a good idea of what he’s trying to do up at the plate; he’s been able to hit fastballs [and] off-speed pitches,” Rende said. “He’ll adjust to pitchers: He’ll see a breaking ball and he’ll swing at a bad one, and then the next one he sees, he hits.”

The road ahead from here for Meneses remains murky. The Phillies have a logjam at first base already, with Carlos Santana holding down the spot while Rhys Hoskins plays in the outfield. And Meneses, at 26, is not exactly prime-prospect age anymore.

Yet given Meneses’ dominant summer at the plate and moderate positional flexibility — much of his time in Mississippi was spent in the outfield — Rende thinks there is at least some road ahead for the unheralded hitter.

In May, Phillies director of player personnel Joe Jordan gave a tempered endorsement of Meneses’ MLB upside, contingent on his maintaining his lofty triple-A average over a larger sample size. Now that Meneses has done that, his future looks more guaranteed, whether it’s in Philadelphia or another organization.

“I’m sure there’s teams looking at him,” Rende said. “He’s done a great job against lefties, and there’s a spot [in the majors] for a guy like that, for sure.”

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