TAMPA — Dustin Fowler likes to escape to his native Georgia during the offseason, where life slows down and he can enjoy his days hunting alone in the wilderness.
“Everyone in Georgia pretty much hunts,” Fowler says in his southern accent, a pair of cowboy boats next to his locker. “It’s kind of something you fall into. It’s a passion of mine. I kind of try to stay on my own a bit. It’s really relaxing.”
On the baseball field, however, it’s different. Fowler may not be high on any Yankees top-prospect lists, but it’s easy to notice the 22-year-old center fielder because he plays the game with so much energy and enthusiasm.
“I’m a gamer. I do everything I can for the team,” Fowler said. “If there are runners in scoring position, I’m going to sacrifice myself, get myself out to help the team out. I’m going to get dirty to help my pitcher out in the outfield. I’m going to try to steal a base to try to produce a run. I’m just going to do everything I can to help the team out and put pressure on the other team.”
Fowler, who was drafted by the Yankees in the 18th round in 2013, has been a pleasant surprise in his second big-league camp, hitting .333 with two triples. He is expected to open the 2017 campaign at Triple-A Scranton.
Last season, he established career-highs in both homers (12) and RBIs (88) while posting a .770 OPS and stealing 25 bases in 132 games for Double-A Trenton. Fowler has become a strong run-producer in the minors.
“I just try to get as short as possible in those situations, and do everything I can to put the ball in play,” he said. “With my speed, if I put the ball on the ground I have a chance to beat out a hit. If I’m leading off the inning, I’m probably going to be a little more aggressive, trying to get an extra-base hit in that situation. But with runners in scoring position, I’m trying to put the ball in play. That’s my first goal.”
Fowler credits Yankees minor-league coaches P.J. Pilittere and Reggie Willits for his vast improvement as a hitter and a fielder.
“P.J. really changed my career from a hitting aspect. I was always a guy with my hands above my head, so he shortened me up, which allowed me to put the barrel on the ball more,” Fowler said. “Last year, my power numbers went up and my average went up a bit, so he’s helped me out getting shorter and making contact more.”
Fowler was only an average defender before he worked with Willits, the former Angels speedster.
“We butted heads a little bit, just because he and I believe in our ways a lot,” Fowler said. “It’s good, though. We kind of disagreed on some things, but it was good the whole time. He really helped my first-step reads, footwork, routes, everything. We really worked hard on that for a couple years, so in the end right now it’s paying off.”
Fowler has enjoyed the opportunity to interact with starters Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, two top-of-the-lineup outfielders he’d like to emulate. “It’s been nice getting to pick their brains and see how they go about everything,” Fowler said.
Said Joe Girardi recently: “He’s swung the bat well. He’s played good defense. He’s run the bases well. You kind of see a young man growing up in front of you, is what we’re seeing.”
Fowler grew up in the small town of Dexter, Ga., which has many dirt roads and few traffic lights.
“The first thing I wanted to grab was a baseball bat,” Fowler said. “It’s something I always loved and something I was really talented at.”
Scouts came to watch Fowler’s games at West Laurens High School, but he wasn’t very clued in on the draft process. He thought he’d end up going to college at George Southern. He did take seven days of summer classes there before realizing it wasn’t for him. He got $278,000 to sign with the Yankees and begin his pro career. His family is thrilled by his success. “They’re proud of me. They keep up with everything,” he said. “They’re enjoying it right now.”
Fowler, who is close with fellow “gamer” Tyler Wade, is hoping to make an impact one day — even if he doesn’t have the prestige of Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, James Kaprielian and other prospects in the organization.
“I believe in my abilities,” Fowler said. “I don’t really get into the hype and everything. I try to stay away from that as much as possible, but I believe in my abilities and I do everything I can on and off the field to help my career. Hopefully I can keep it going, stay healthy and get better and better.”
Published at Mon, 13 Mar 2017 13:00:00 +0000