Szymanski is sizzling for Lookouts
By: David Paschall
From playground competition through high school and all the way to the professional ranks, there is always that last player picked when divvying teams.
Outfielder B.J. Szymanski was the last position player added to the Chattanooga Lookouts roster coming out of spring training, but he’s been anything but an afterthought. Entering Tuesday night’s Southern League games, Szymanski led the league in batting average (.417), slugging percentage (.806) and total bases (29).
“You always hear the story about how guys don’t make teams in spring training, but there always seems to be those one or two guys who show up in great shape and have a great spring,” Lookouts manager Mike Goff said. “He’s a very talented guy physically, and he’s a guy we were willing to take a chance on.
“I think we’re all kind of sitting back and waiting to see what B.J. is going to do, and getting off to this kind of start can only help his confidence.”
Tallying three doubles, one triple and three home runs in his first 10 games as a Double-A player isn’t a huge surprise for the 25-year-old from Wichita Falls, Texas, who believes he’s had the ability all along. Opening in Chattanooga, however, did come as somewhat of a shock.
The 6-foot-5, 211-pounder was a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2004 but has struggled to live up to that status, hitting .239 in 128 games two years ago at Single-A Dayton (Ohio) and .242 in 123 games last season at high Single-A Sarasota.
“I would have guessed coming into spring training that it was better than 50-50 that I would go back to Sarasota,” Szymanski said, “but I really, really wanted and needed to come to Chattanooga. I wanted to feel as though I was making strides.”
Much of Szymanski’s woes the past few seasons can be attributed to two right-knee surgeries and a broken left hand he has endured since signing with the Reds. His second knee surgery occurred after the 2006 season, so this has been his healthiest stretch.
Szymanski started out in pro ball as a switch-hitter, but repeatedly planting and twisting on his right knee in the batter’s box has made batting left-handed all but unbearable.
“I came to the conclusion where I was either going to have to hang them up or just hit right-handed, so I’m making a go of this, and so far I’m making some strides,” he said. “Last year, I came into the season feeling that I could hit right-handed only, but now I know I can hit right-handed only. In spurts last year I hit really well, and this year I came in with a different attitude that if I work hard and do things right, I know I can do it, rather than hoping I can do it. It’s a completely different feel.”
This is obviously a big year as far as Szymanski’s development, considering he’s the second oldest position player on the Lookouts behind infielder Luis Bolivar, but that doesn’t mean it has to be pressure-packed. He was, after all, drafted by the Reds out of Princeton University, where he also played receiver on the football team.
“I have a Princeton education,” said Szymanski, whose younger brother is the starting quarterback at Baylor University. “I’ve got everything going for me. All I’m trying to do this year is have fun. You look at all the people who have great results, and the most important thing you see in them is that they love playing the game.
“I’m feeling good now. My body is not hurting, so I have a better chance of playing well, and that makes the game that much more fun. Because of that, there is not a whole lot of pressure. It’s just me versus me.”