Last year, Jason Leblebijian was one of the better hitters in the International League, earning a spot in the All-Star Game. It was a great start, and overall a good year, but the infielder saw his numbers and production dip in the final two months of season.
July was particularly a difficult month for him, batting just .167. But Leblebijian found plenty of learning points after his first season at Triple-A, and he's hoping to roll those lessons into a more consistent season with the Herd in 2018.
He's off to a solid start, helping the Herd to an 11-1 win over the Indianapolis Indians Friday night in Coca-Cola Field, driving in three runs, including a two-run homer, and scoring twice.
In his first five games this season, Leblebijian is hitting .389. A hot start is always nice, but the 26-year-old realizes that as the season progresses, the opponents will become more savvy when he's at the plate. That was part of his trouble in the second half last year.
"That's the great part of an offseason is you can see how pitchers were pitching you differently from the first half to the second half and learn from it," Leblebijian said.
"A lot of it was that was really my first full year with one team," said Leblebijian, who last stayed in one place for the duration in 2014 with the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts. "It was kind of cool to be in the same league for a full season and off of that pitchers learn you more, teams learn you more. You've got to learn what adjustments are being made and adjust back to the plan. That's the biggest thing I took away from it – they're going to make adjustments and I have to make mine, too. Hopefully moving forward I can continue to do that."
In Friday's game, Leblebijian hit his second home run of the season, a two-run shot to right centerfield in the fourth inning that gave the Bisons a 3-0 lead. He drew a walk in the sixth, then scored on a double by Ian Parmely. He drove in another run with a single in the seventh and scored from third on a groundout by Parmley.
It's been the type of play at the plate that manager Bobby Meacham likes to see from Leblebijian, an approach where he's looking for a specific pitch, working the counts, and not overthinking the issue.
"It looks like he's not in between. Looks like he's ready to hit the pitches that he's going up there to hit," Meacham said. "We call it hunting for the right pitches. I think last year he got a bit into 'Ok, they're going to throw me a slider here. I chased a couple sliders so I don't want to chase one. Then there goes the fastball.' One of the things he really wanted to do is hunt pitches and stay with that selection. He has done that a lot early this season."
Meacham, however, has some cautious words about adjustments. Recognizing them is one thing. Making too many of them can get a hitter into a heap of trouble.
"Everybody makes adjustments through the five- or six-month season," Meacham said. "The key is to make sure you do that, but you can also over adjust. You can try to do too much. You can get out of what you do well. I think that's what he has to recognize – what he does well, stick with it as long as he can. Just stay with it and see if they have to make some adjustments around what he's doing."