Malo Fills the Void

After spending most of the season playing behind and filling in for starters, the St. Lucie utility man has seen his playing time and production increase as of late. Returning after a steady showing in 2006 with the team, Malo entered this season determined to make more of his opportunities. Inside Pitch caught up with him to see how he has progressed

Through the season's first three months, Jonathan Malo appeared in just 32 games for St. Lucie, registering 77 at-bats. As the team's utility infielder, playing behind Daniel Murphy in the hot corner and Jose Castro at shortstop, he knew his time would be limited on the field. However, as the calendar rolled on, an injury to Castro and games missed by Murphy opened the door for the 23-year-old.

Since July 1, his playing time has nearly doubled as he has already appeared in 31 games, refusing to let chances skip by. He maintained his average statistics in July, hitting .257 in twenty games and did not display much power. Yet, as the team moved into August, the coaches kept a slot for Malo. The continued play has let him really open up and refine his offense. In 11 August games, he has hit .368 with two home runs and 17 of his season total 27 runs batted in. Needless to say, it is pretty clear what has been the anecdote to his struggles.

"It's the added playing time I've received," he said of his recent outburst. "When I started the season, I was struggling because every time I played it wasn't regularly. But lately, as of I've gotten in more, I've seen the ball better, taken better swings more consistently and it's helped me have better results the last couple of weeks."

As a recruit desired more for his defense than his handling of a bat, Malo has faced an on-going battle in the batter's box. In 111 games last season, split between Brooklyn and St. Lucie, he hit a combined .228, but what intrigued coaches and observers about Malo was his slick, sure-handed play in the infield.

"I think I've move dup in the minor leagues because of my defense. I think that's what got me here out of college. It's definitely my strength in baseball," he said. "But, I've been swinging the bat well and playing good defense, and that's what will put me in a position where I can stay in the lineup."

"I was backing up for most of the season, but I'm getting more playing time and I'm trying to take advantage of other guys' injuries."

He sure has accomplished what he set out to do. Not only is getting his fair share of hits as of late, but he is showing more confidence and length at the plate. In the past, with perhaps only five or seven at-bats per week, he could never maintain a routine or footing at the plate, jumping at pitches out of the zone and swinging himself into outs.

"When I don't play a lot that's when I get anxious and start swinging at pitches I don't really want. When I play everyday, I can build more of a plan up there and have better production and more quality at-bats and looks at the ball," he explained.

"When I get to the plate now, I know what I want and I'm always looking for it. When I can't play everyday, I may try to do too much and that negatively affects me," he followed.

The team does not look to Malo as a relied upon contributor. His role is more like an assembly line work—just keeps everything moving. However, he does appreciate how his team-leading 16 RBI this month has affected St. Lucie's recent hot streak.

"I'm always looking to complete whatever job needs to be done in every single at-bat," he said. "I don't go for myself. I'm trying to win and do whatever I can to help the team win. But, I've hit a grand slam recently, had a few other big RBI games and taking the pressure off some the other guys has been great."

Yet Malo does keep an even head about his abilities at the dish. He still does have two significant areas of his swing that need repair. He has registered just seven hits in 43 at-bats (.163) against left-handed pitching and struggles mightily against changeups from those southpaws.

"That's something that I've had a few people talk about with me. Against lefties, I can't try to do too much. I'm looking to drive the ball the other way which I've been doing; I just haven't been getting lucky. As for changeups, I would say that is an area I need to work on, especially from lefties. That's been something I've struggled with the most, but like most other things, that improvement will come the more I can play," he said.

The numbers Malo contributes to the box score are a bonus given his standing on the roster. Nonetheless, it is his defense that is the defining characteristic of who he is as a ballplayer. With a rock solid glove already in tow, it is about growing has a capable, consistent hitter, which will warrant a raise to the next level. Thanks to a strong summer, he is on his way. The only question remains, will he get enough time?