GENEVA – A few players wondered aloud before Monday’s game about the destination of the Cougars’ upcoming six-day road trip.
Right fielder Reggie Golden quickly replied with “Tennessee,” which does not boast a Midwest League club.
It is, however, the home of the parent Cubs’ Double-A affiliate.
Advancement within the system understandably occupies players’ minds as the first full professional season for many nears its midway point. While the team results may still need a kick-start – a 10-4 loss against Cedar Rapids left the Cougars at 25-30 – a few players turned in head-turning individual efforts.
Golden, who will travel with his teammates to Burlington and Cedar Rapids after today’s off day, pummelled the first pitch he saw into the trees beyond the left field fence for a second-inning homer.
Call it progress for a former second-round pick (2010) eager to ascend after a left knee strain kept him on the disabled list for all but seven games last season.
“My adjustments are getting there. Getting there,” Golden said. “I’m still off a little bit, missing pitches that I’m supposed to drive, so I’m still trying to get that going.”
Golden lockers a few stalls away from center fielder Albert Almora, last year’s first-round draft pick who decidedly has had little difficulty hitting anything. Almora entered Monday batting .475 in his first 10 MWL games, with an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.148.
Almora, six weeks removed from his 19th birthday, singled in his first at-bat, creating further distance from about the only adversity he’s seen so far – an 0-for-5 day at the plate in Friday’s series opener.
He went 2 for 4 Saturday and 3 for 4 Sunday and has enjoyed patrolling center at Fifth Third Bank ballpark.
“You’ll find your holes in every field,” Almora said. “It plays good defensively, too, so it’s a good field to play on regardless.”
Monday’s game hinged on a rocky relief outing from Lendy Castillo, a converted infielder and Rule 5 draft pick who pitched with the Cubs last season.
Now the piggyback partner of fellow righty Dillon Maples – who missed most of 2012 with a strained ligament in his throwing elbow – Castillo entered in the fifth with a 4-0 lead.
He lasted just 2/3 of an inning, surrendering five runs – all earned – and two hits while walking four and striking out two. Cedar Rapids (36-20) jumped Justin Amlung for five runs in the next inning.
Cougars pitching issued 10 walks. Maples remains in search of his first professional win after limiting the Kernels to two hits in five innings, striking out seven and walking three.
“When you are at the almost 60-game mark and then you look at the schedule and they’ve got 80 more to go, I think it’s an eye-opener for some of these guys because they’ve never had that obstacle to overcome,” manager Mark Johnson said before the game.
“I think they will adapt. They have to. It’s a sink or swim [atmosphere].”