Jiwan James following Domonic Brown on Phillies' fast track

Jiwan James had a Lakewood-record 24-game hitting streak this season.
Jiwan James had a Lakewood-record 24-game hitting streak this season.
Posted: August 25, 2010

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - A lingering arm injury might have been the best thing that happened to Jiwan James.

James was drafted in the 22nd round in 2007 by the Phillies as a righthanded pitcher. Now, he is an outfield prospect for Class A Lakewood and, according to Baseball America, he is the fastest baserunner and best athlete in the Phillies system.

He has been so good that BlueClaws manager Mark Parent considers him the team's most valuable player.

"I felt like my career wasn't going anywhere with the arm injury," James recalled. "When I first approached the Phillies about it during instructional league [in the fall of 2008], they were appreciative how I did it and that they would let me know the next day. So I ended up leaving instructional league early because they called and told me to do what I needed to do at home and be ready to hit come spring training."

Last season, with the rookie-level Williamsport Crosscutters, the Williston, Fla., native hit .264 with one home run and 13 RBI in 30 games.

This season, with Lakewood, the 21-year-old is hitting .276 with 25 doubles, five home runs and 61 RBI in 121 games.

Not bad for a pitcher-turned-outfielder. On the defensive side, he has been stellar.

"His defense is outstanding," Parent said. "We would not even be close to a .500 record if it wasn't for him out there in centerfield. He plays the gaps, balls over his head and in front of him as good as any young player that I have seen in a long time."

Even more impressive for the former Florida all-state high school basketball, football and baseball player is that he is a switch-hitter.

"I am naturally a lefthander, but when I was 6 or 7 years old and my older cousin and friends were using a tennis ball and real bat," James said, laughing. "Me, being as young as I was, they let me use this big orange plastic bat and plastic ball. I got stuck hitting righthanded because I hit a home run my first at-bat."

He may not be considered a home-run threat, but he is dangerous in the leadoff spot. Last year, he stole seven bases and this year he has 30 with less than a month left in the season.

"Some people may not be able to catch on to some things as fast as I can just because I am athletic and whatnot," James said. "It helps especially in the outfield because my speed can make up for a mistake on a read I may have."

One player James has been compared to is Domonic Brown. Coincidentally, the same scout who signed Brown in 2006, Chip Lawrence, signed James.

"It's a lot of fun getting the comparisons to Brown," James said. "Actually, the funny thing is, during my rookie-ball season all I heard was 'Domonic Brown' and how I play like him. Then I got to instructional league in 2007 and Brownie comes around. It was the first time seeing him play. I said to myself, 'Me and him are the same player, only he hits for more power than I do.' "

James is already starting to make a name for himself. His season has been highlighted with a 24-game hitting streak, a BlueClaws franchise record.

"He works as hard as anybody day in and day out," Parent said. "He is not a vocal guy, but he is a real leader by example and those are the kinds of guys that, when I was in the big leagues, I liked playing with."

James' choices of bypassing a scholarship to the University of Florida, converting from the mound to the outfield, and learning to hit from both sides of the plate at a young age are paying off in his path to the majors.

"I am very happy with the decisions I have made," James said. "I am always confident in what I do. Any choice I make I feel like it is the best for me. Me trying to switch was something I felt like I can do and I am here now."

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