When Jeff Baker stands in the on-deck circle for the Tulsa Drillers, the Colorado Rockies' Class AA affiliate, he can think about his swing, the pitcher he's about to face, the situation -- anything.
Because he no longer has to think about his wrist.
Throughout last season, his first as a professional, the Woodbridge resident was bothered by pain in his left wrist. Surgery on the wrist caused him to miss the beginning of the year, and he went under the knife again just after the end of the season. In between, he played through pain that he believes hampered his numbers.
This season, fully recovered from the surgeries, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Baker is putting up the numbers the Rockies expected when they drafted him in 2002.
"That's been the biggest difference -- to go out every day and not worry about if my wrist hurts or if one swing is going to bother it," said Baker, 23. "It's a big relief. I'm able to go out and showcase my talent."
Baker, who attended Gar-Field High and was the 1999 All-Met Player of the Year, began this season with the advanced Class A Visalia Oaks. In 73 games, he hit .325 with 23 doubles, 11 home runs and 64 RBI.
His play earned him a call-up to Tulsa, his biggest step up the Rockies' minor league ladder to date.
"Everyone says you figure out your strengths and weaknesses when you get to AA," Baker said. "The jump from low A to high A wasn't that big, but there is definitely a big jump from A ball to AA. You've got guys who've been in the big leagues, guys that are on rehab assignments. The players are older, more mature and smarter with the way they play the game."
Still, there has been little drop-off in Baker's production. In 24 games, he is third on the team with a .297 batting average. He has hit four homers and has five doubles and 20 RBI. Last year, he batted .289 with 11 home runs and 44 RBI at Class A Asheville.
Baker expects to finish the year with Tulsa, then go to the Arizona Fall League.