Monroe adds more heat in Bradenton
Non-roster invitee's torrid spring at the plate is gaining notice
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Craig Monroe hit three homers and totaled four RBIs against the Twins on Thursday. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Outfielder Craig Monroe allowed the Twins to see on Thursday what they never gave him the opportunity to accomplish last year.
Monroe went deep in all three of his at-bats against his former team, giving the non-roster invitee six homers in his last three games. In fact, going back to Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays, Monroe is now riding a streak of four homers in his last five at-bats.
"I wasn't trying to hit home runs [on Thursday]," Monroe said, after a performance that drew a partial standing ovation from the crowd at McKechnie Field. "But I'm starting to see things that I'm working on start to become part of me. I can say that I've taken good swings since I've been there. For me, today just tells me that I'm going in the right direction."
Monroe's six home runs this spring are the highest total among any player in either the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues.
The 32-year-old outfielder came to camp after signing a Minor League deal with the Pirates this offseason. Despite having been an everyday player for the Tigers from 2003-07, Monroe spent most of last season as a spectator on Minnesota's bench.
His numbers -- a .202 average, eight homers and 29 RBIs -- were largely a byproduct of him not being able to adapt to not being an everyday player. He had only 163 at-bats all season. However, the Pirates saw in Monroe a player who was developing into an offensive threat with the ability to go deep at any time. And when the club contacted Monroe immediately this offseason, he saw Pittsburgh as being an opportune place to reestablish himself.
Monroe came into Spring Training as one of the Pirates' best options in their search for a right-handed-hitting outfielder and has only moved closer to taking on that role with what he's done over the last few weeks. Monroe, though, isn't counting on anything just yet.
"I'm not going to get ahead of myself," Monroe said. "I'm going to study the course and keep doing work with [hitting coach] Donnie Long. If I can keep working like that and keep seeing the results, then I'll be pretty excited about what happens."
With his three home runs and four RBIs on Thursday, Monroe is now 10-for-30 with nine RBIs this spring. He has taken advantage of significant playing time this month as well, largely because of the number of injuries to the Pirates' outfielders in camp.
That extra playing time has been instrumental in helping Monroe work on a variety of adjustments that he and Long have targeted over the past month. Among those is Monroe's work to reduce his once-signature high leg kick approach at the plate.
"The thing we're seeing from Craig is consistency, and it's not just the kick," Long said. "His approach is good, his stride is good, and he's seeing the ball."
Monroe has a clause in his contract that will allow him to be handed his release if the Pirates do not put him on the team's Opening Day roster. However, it's hard not to put him at the top of the list of the team's options right now, which include Steve Pearce and Jeff Salazar.
Pearce, who missed time nursing a calf injury, doesn't have the experience Monroe touts, and Salazar's chances of making the club are hurt by the fact that he hits from the left side of the plate.
Still, manager John Russell isn't ready to hand over a bench spot to Monroe, or anyone for that matter, just yet.
"He's done a nice job," Russell said. "We'll continue to evaluate as the spring goes. Obviously, [Thursday's performance] doesn't hurt."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.