Legends' Mier battling 'growing pains'

But in last month, shortstop finds his old self at the plate

mmaloney@herald-leader.comJuly 14, 2010 

  • Wednesday

    Hickory Crawdads at Legends

    When: 7:05 p.m. TV: WZLEX-18.2

    Pitchers: Crawdads, Thompson (6-6); Legends, Minaya (3-8)

    Radio: WLXG-AM 1300

For 21/2 months of this season, Jiovanni Mier spun his wheels, an all-too-familiar routine for No. 1 draft picks in Lexington.

Of the Houston Astros' seven first-rounders since 2000, Mier is the fifth to play here.

Through 60 games (June 17), Mier, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound shortstop, was hitting .199 with 28 RBI.

His first-round predecessors in Lexington had struggles, too, marked by injury (Robert Stiehl, the 2000 pick), depression (Derick Grigsby, 2002) and illness (Max Sapp, 2006). Brian Bogusevic (2005), a pitcher here, now is trying to stick as an outfielder.

Since June 17, Mier has found some traction, going 22-for-76 (.289) with 11 RBI. Overall, his average is at .222 and moving up.

"I just kind of relaxed," Mier said. "Kind of just got back to the way I used to play and got back to my old self."

Mier said he put pressure on himself to do well, but he denies he felt heat because of his lofty draft status.

Manager Rodney Linares helped by dropping down Mier in the lineup — from the No. 2 spot to No. 7.

"He was thinking way too much when he was hitting second," Linares said. "He didn't show that he was able to see a lot of pitches early, and he was getting behind in the count early. And he wasn't producing.

"We talked and, as a consensus, we agreed on dropping him down, and you see the results. He's driving the ball. He's getting his hits."

Mier is beginning to show why the Astros plucked him out of Bonita High in California last year. He was the first high school shortstop taken in the draft, 21st overall, and he signed for $1.358 million at age 18.

Mier broke into pro ball last summer with the Greene ville Astros (Tenn.). Under Linares, he hit .276 with seven homers and 32 RBI over 51 games. Baseball America tabbed him Player of the Year, Rookie League All-Star and Best Defensive Player in the Appalachian League. Coming into this year, he was tabbed No. 2 among Astros prospects.

As he struggled early, Mier relied on his defense.

He kept his spirits up by reminding himself that the season is a marathon, twice as long as last season.

He tried mixing things up at the plate, collaborating with hitting coach Stubby Clapp.

"I was changing everything up," Mier said. "But me and Stubby here found something that works, and we're continuing to stick with it and just keep trusting myself."

Mier finally connected for his first homer of the season on the Fourth of July, a three-run shot that led the Legends to a 6-5 come-from-behind victory over Augusta.

Being homerless "was eating me alive," Mier said. "But it felt good, mainly just because it put us up ahead."

As for his name — "Jiovanni" rather than the more common "Giovanni" — Mier said, "My mom wanted to switch it up. ... I've got an Italian name with a German last name, and I'm Mexican, so it's a whole big old mix-up."

Mier's parents, Fausto and Laticia, emigrated from Mexico when they were both very young, said Jiovanni, who was born in Pomona, Calif.

Jiovanni and his brothers Jessie and Robert grew up bilingual. Jessie, a 12th-round draft pick in 2007, is a catcher with the Dodgers' Class Double-A affiliate in Chattanooga, Tenn. Robert works in Arizona.

In tribute to the bond among brothers, Jiovanni has a tattoo on the right side of his torso that combines their names — Hu Je Ji — as well as "3" for three brothers, and "faith" for his Christian beliefs. "Je" and "Ji" are for Jessie and Jiovanni. "Hu" is for Robert's nickname.

"The 'Hu' is for Hueto, which basically means 'light-skinned Mexican' in Spanish," Jiovanni said, "because my brother's real light-skinned."

Each at-bat, Jiovanni pats his tattoo "for my brothers and for the good Lord."

Of late, it's all been working for Mier.

"He's as good as advertised," Linares said. "I said it at the beginning of the year — he's a pretty special player. He's just going through growing pains. At 19 years old, playing 'A' ball for the first time, just finding out what his swing is. I didn't expect him to struggle as bad as he did in the beginning but, to his credit, he just works on it, and his defense hasn't slowed down."

■ Legends outfielder J.D. Martinez was named South Atlantic League Player of the Week Monday. Martinez batted .500 (10-for-20) with four homers, two doubles, eight RBI and seven runs scored last week.

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