Alec Mehrten hitting his stride for Dust Devils

By Jack Millikin, Herald staff writerJuly 17, 2013 

Alec Mehrten is no bonus baby, the term given to an early-round draft pick that is often awarded a hefty signing bonus before beginning a professional career.

But Mehrten, a Tri-City Dust Devils second-year shortstop, doesn’t necessarily need money to motivate himself to be a productive player.

All he needs is the chance to fulfill his dream of being a major leaguer.

“Whether it’s next year or two years from now, I don’t care how long it takes. Even if it only happens for a couple months, I want to try and get there,” said Mehrten, a 25th-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies out of Fresno Pacific University in 2012. “I feel like I’ve come a long way since high school. I want to give myself a name and put myself on the map.”

Through the first 32 games of the Northwest League season, Mehrten has proven he’s got a keen batting eye and the maturity that goes with being a clubhouse leader. In the eyes of Dust Devils skipper Drew Saylor, that adds up to a valuable asset for any organization.

“First and foremost, his reputation with teammates, the professionalism he exudes and the maturity he has shown even from spring training to now is a huge part of his success,” Saylor said. “He has done a wonderful job exemplifying what it means to be a Dust Devil but also a Colorado Rockie.

“I’m thrilled to death to see the success he’s having. It’s well earned and well deserved.”

Gesa Stadium has always been known as a pitcher’s park, but Mehrten didn’t let that stop him from leading the NWL in hitting at the end of June. Through 15 games, the 6-foot-3 right-hander topped the circuit with a .391 batting average and a .540 on-base percentage.

“It was just a rhythm, a zone. The whole series in Vancouver, I was seeing the ball really well,” Mehrten said. “You go up to the plate not really thinking about anything, whether there’s runners on or whether you're leading off the inning. You're just hitting.

“That’s when hitting is the most fun.”

Mehrten had some fun at Fresno Pacific, where he was a four-year starter for the Sunbirds. He left as the program's all-time leader in games played, walks, hit-by-pitches and double plays turned. He also ranked second in career at-bats, third in hits, fourth in runs and fifth in RBIs.

One of the most valuable skills he learned at FPU was the ability to hit to all fields, a trait that has come in handy in the NWL.

“In college, (pitchers) tended to work you more away, so you need that ability to go to (the opposite) field,” Mehrten said. “My college coach (Oscar Hirschkorn) felt the outside pitch needed to be hit to right field. That has definitely helped me this year and all last year.”

One of Mehrten's biggest moments as a Dust Devil came on July 21 of last season, when Mehrten lined an opposite-field single to right off Steven Johnson to give Tri-City a 5-4 home win over Salem-Keizer. He also provided a few big moments this season, knocking the team’s first home run of the year of Boise's Duane Underwood in a 7-5 road win on July 4.

“I didn't know it was out. I was running out of the box,” Mehrten said. “The whole dugout said it was gone off the bat. Apparently, I was the only one who didn't know.”

Mehrten has also been remarkably efficient at the plate with just 10 strikeouts in 89 at-bats (a strikout rate of 11.23 percent). Only three players in the NWL had a lower strikeout rate through July 16 — Shawon Dunston of Boise (11 strikeouts in 103 ABs, 11.21%), Ryan Gebhardt of Hillsboro (10-115, 8.6%) and Cesar Galvez of Tri-City (2-82, 2.4%).

“Mert has been really consistent with everything — his work, setting up at the plate, his approach at the plate — without a lot of changes,” Dust Devils hitting coach Warren Schaeffer said. “His approach is hitting the ball where it’s pitched. In this league, you're going to see a lot of fastballs away, especially with two strikes. (Mehrten) had over seven two-strike hits in the first month, and that's all the other way.”

Mehrten's average has dropped a bit in July, but he's still sixth in batting (.303) and second in OBP (.471) in the NWL and leads Tri-City with 16 RBIs and 25 hits through July 16.

He still leads the NWL in one rather painful category, having been hit by a pitch 10 times. Next is Everett’s Jamodrick McGruder, who has been hit six times.

But Mehrten will take the bruises if it means realizing his boyhood dream.

“A couple of players and I were talking about it in Boise while watching fireworks. At that moment we sat back and realized (playing pro baseball) is something not a lot of people get to do,” he said. “A lot of people would love to continue their career after college or high school, but we actually get to.

“It’s really something special when you stand back and look at it.”

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