SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the course of his 11-game hitting streak (broken up with an 0-for-1 pinch-hitting appearance on Monday), New York Mets infielder Josh Satin had gotten a steady stream of encouragement from fans, family, family friends and old teammates. But, there’s one well-wisher who’s plaudits mean just a little bit more: those of his former teammate at the University of California -- NL All-Star Allen Craig.
“Shoot, Allen’s career has been amazing,” says Satin, who played with Craig from 2004 to 2006, through Satin’s redshirt sophomore season. “What he’s done is something I can only dream about doing. I talk to him quite a bit, just about what it’s like, and some of the guys that we’re facing. He texted me the last couple weeks, ‘Keep it going, keep it going!’ ‘I’m excited for you.’”
As it stands, Craig and Satin have been among two of the hottest hitters in the entire National League over the past month and a half.
Since being called up in early June, Satin has hit .362, with 13 runs, nine doubles, one homer, eight RBIs and 14 walks to 16 strikeouts He’s even stolen a base.
Even with Ike Davis back up in the bigs after a stint in Triple-A, Satin has made a case for continued regular playing time.
“He knows how to put the barrel of the bat on the baseball,” says Mets manager Terry Collins. “He has that knack. He has the ability to get his hands inside the ball for pitches in and rive it the other way and he’s one of those guys who, all he’s trying to do, he’s trying to drive it. He’s not trying to hit homers. He’s trying to get hits, and that’s what he has done throughout his career.”
Lately, Satin has shown an even more disciplined eye at the plate, working two full-count walks on Tuesday and drawing a free pass on a 3-1 count.
Craig has hit .347 (43-for-124) with seven of his 10 homers and 32 of his 69 RBIs. Craig’s hot streak and season-long excellence at the dish has earned him a berth in the All-Star Game. Satin’s work has earned him his longest career stay in the Major Leagues.
“He’s told me the last couple years that it’s only a matter of time for me,” Satin says of Craig. “He knows what I can do. It’s nice hearing that coming from a guy who’s killing it in the big leagues, and also, I know that he has faith in me. He sees hundreds of big leaguers every year, and if he tells me I can do it, that definitely means a lot.”
Satin is quick to point out that it’s only been less than a month since he’s gotten his latest shot in the Major Leagues. Instead of reveling in his big opportunity and the majesty of The Show, he’s up to his eyebrows in hitting. If Satin were any more focused, he’d go cross-eyed.
“It’s baseball; it’s just on a bigger scale. It’s a job,” says Satin. “I come here every day. You do whatever you can to succeed and help the team win. I mean, everything’s better. The amenities are better, you stay at better places, but it’s still a grind. You still have a job to do.”
Even his first big league home run – a solo shot on a 3-2 belt-high fastball a week ago against the Arizona Diamondbacks in New York -- is nigh on a sore subject.
“It was a great feeling, but it’s only been 60, 70 at-bats, and if I want to make a career out of this, it has to be thousands of at-bats,” says Satin. “It’s a great feeling, and something that I’ll remember forever, but my eyes aren’t on one nice experience. They’re on the future.”
For Satin, even returning to the Bay Area for the first time as a baseball player since he graduated from Berkeley – as he did this week with the Mets’ three-game set against the San Francisco Giants -- is more of a ho-hum affair than it is for Craig.
“I mean, I love being in the Bay Area. The Bay Area’s a great place to be. It’s a great place to live. I’ve got a ton of friends here and I got to see some of them the other day,” says Satin. “Some are coming out. That’s the coolest part; it’s not that Berkeley’s 10 minutes away. That’s awesome, but I’m not going over there. It doesn’t affect me that much, but the fact that other guys that I played with live around here, that’s cool.”
Much like Craig, Satin came out of Cal without a real position. He didn’t have enough consistent power to be a corner infielder, and wasn’t quite fast enough to be a middle infielder, as he’d been his entire life. One thing he could do, though, was hit.
After being drafted in the sixth round in 2008, Satin hit .303 and slugged .462. In 2009, splitting time between Savannah and St, Lucie, he hit .288 and slugged .426. In 2010, again splitting time between St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, he hit .311 and slugged .467. Like clockwork again in 2011, splitting time between Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo, Satin hit .323 in 94 games, with 11 homers and 60 RBIs and 35 doubles – a career low in two-baggers.
He played everywhere from first to third to the outfield to second after being drafted as a shortstop.
In 2011, he finally got his chance in the majors, but only for 15 games. Satin went 5-for-25 in spot duty in September.
“The first time I got called up, I was killing it in the minor leagues, but the last two weeks, I didn’t have a good last two weeks in Triple-A,” says Satin. I was hitting .320, so it looked good, but it wasn’t. I was able to muster up some hits in Triple-A because I was so confident, and I was relaxed, and then you get up here when the ball hasn’t been coming off your bat that well, you try to trick yourself into thinking you’re hitting well, but you’re not.”
In 2012, Satin – despite hitting well over .300 in Triple-A at the time -- got just one big league at-bat. He was designated for assignment shortly after his lone strikeout, and was not called upon again to come up to the Majors that season, finishing with a .286 average. The fact that a .286 mark constituted his worst professional batting average speaks says just about everything one needs to know about Satin as a hitter, but the fact that he didn’t let that September slight get to him – that says just about all one needs to know about Satin as a person. Just about.
There was no anger, nor was there an enervated throwing up of the hands. Satin had taken bigger body blows than that. He wasn’t about to let one hiccup stop him.
In 2005, Satin was a Freshman All-American and a member of the Pac-10’s First-Team, the only Cal freshman to earn both of those awards other than Xavier Nady. In 2006, Satin and the Bears floundered under expectations, and as the team sank below .500 – a team that included five future Major Leaguers in Craig, Satin, Brandon Morrow, Brennan Boesch and Tyson Ross -- Satin pressed harder and harder, bearing almost all of the emotional weight right between his bushy eyebrows. Midway through the season, he began to feel a pain in his wrist.
That pain turned out to be a stress fracture in his right wrist, which cut his average to an anemic .222, and he spent the final week of the year on the bench.
As a fourth-year junior at Cal in 2007, Satin was widely expected to go in the middle rounds of the Major League Draft, after having a nice bounce-back season. But, a .287 average and four home runs – especially at a time when metal bats were yet to be deadened by BBCOR standards -- just wasn’t enough. To this day, 2007 remains the only year in head coach David Esquer’s tenure when not a single Golden Bear was taken by a Major League club.
More than 1,500 players were taken in that draft. Not one of them was Satin. He was watching the computer screen with his family when the final name was posted. He got up calmly, and told his parents he was going for a drive.
"I didn't want to really be around my parents and everyone saying, 'Aw, it's OK, you deserve better, they screwed you,' when in reality, they didn't," Satin said at the time. "I understand the fact that I'm a middle infielder who's not all that fast, I don't know if I'm going to be a middle infielder at the next level, and I have to hit a ton and I really didn't hit a ton -- I just thought that I built up some sort of a track record that would have helped me as far as my first year. It was hard for me. There were weeks where I didn't know what I wanted to do."
He briefly thought about going to law school, about giving up the sport. Then he decided -- thanks to the counsel of Esquer and would-be Toronto Blue Jays second-round pick David Cooper -- to return to Berkeley. After an offseason of re-engineering and re-jiggering his swing, of working out and for the first time eating right, of making baseball his job, he wound up hitting a career-best 18 home runs – including a walk-off, 10th-inning game-winner on the last day of the season against UCLA – and a team-best .379.
So, when he didn’t get the call from the Mets in 2012, he didn’t despair. He just found another way to keep working, to keep focused.
He reunited with another former Cal teammate – catcher Charlie Cutler (Double-A, Pittsburgh Pirates) -- and now-Oakland Athletics rookie Nate Freiman on Team Israel for the World Baseball Classic Qualifying Tournament in Jupiter, Fla., as one of a bevy of Semitic swingers to represent the Jewish State. The group wound up winning its first two games, but ran into one-loss Spain – who they’d already defeated once – in the winner-take-all final, and fell 9-7.
“I hit .290 last year in Triple-A, an that was my worst year. I was never thinking about not playing,” says Satin. “I just needed an opportunity. I was hopeful that I would get it one day, and if not, just keep grinding until you do. If it doesn’t work out, then you gave it your best shot.”
In the tournament, Satin wound up hitting .273, with two runs, four walks and an RBI. While Satin’s swing had already undergone a complete overhaul between 2007 and 2008 with the help of Cooper – a period of time, Satin said, when he first started really studying and understanding his swing -- he needed only to fix a few minor parts of his stroke before the 2013 season began. He quieted down a big leg kick, mainly, but apart from that, he said, it was all about keeping things as bare-bones as possible.
“I think it’s overblown a little bit,” Satin says about the changes to his swing. “It was just tinkering with a few things that allowed me to be more simple, be more direct to the ball. I’m just trying to get the barrel to the ball as easily as possible.”
Those changes helped speed up Satin’s timing, and he started off the 2013 season hitting .330 in the month of May, with a .427 on-base percentage, a .545 slugging percentage, four home runs and seven doubles.
“There was a little difference,” says Satin. “I was driving the ball.”
In May, he cooled down to hit just .308, with five homers and 15 RBIs.
“I don't know what my final numbers were in Triple-A this year, but they weren’t much different than they usually were,” says Satin, subtly emphasizing the word final. He has no intention of going back down. “The ball was coming off my bat great. I knew I was swinging the bat better than I had been. My outs were better. Sometimes, in the past my outs were kind of pathetic -- just not really good outs [or] good at-bats. I would still get hits the other times. It took its time. My outs were driven in the gap and happened to get caught, so when you’re making consistent, good contact, throughout the course of a season, it just helps your psyche. You know that you can put a good at-bat together almost every time.”
With good friend Ike Davis struggling mightily in Queens, Satin was called into Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman’s office after the finale of a four-game set against the Tacoma Rainiers on June 9. He was switching places with Davis, at least for the time being.
“It wasn’t like I was taking his place, because I wasn’t playing first base,” says Satin. “For him, he was happy for me, because I haven’t had much time up here. He knows that I’ve done everything I can throughout my career to try to be here, so he was happy for me. He told me, he texted me and said, ‘If anyone was to come up, I’m glad it was you.’”
And, eventually, so were the Mets. In his first seven games, Satin had just 11 plate appearances and three hits. Then, he got the starting nod against the Phillies in Philadelphia on June 23.
Since going 0-for-3 on that day, Satin has gone 18-for-47 (.383) with eight doubles and seven RBIs, to go along with nine walks – including three on Tuesday night in a 10-6 win against the Giants, with several familiar faces in the crowd.
“We’ve got some of the guys that I played with, throughout my time, coming out,” says Satin. “[Former Bears] Stephen Carlson and [Chris] Errecart; Kyle Spraker was here [Monday] night, so it’s cool that some of those guys are coming out to watch me play. It’s nice. It’s great being here. It’s a great place to play, and it’s a great feeling.”
Satin got the starting nod on Tuesday after Davis played most of Monday night’s 16-inning marathon against the reigning World Series champs, and he’s been making life hard on Collins now that Davis has returned. Not that that's a bad thing for the irascible skipper.
“He just deserves to be in there right now,” says Collins. “Today’s a good day. Sunday, we see Jeff Locke, who’s absolutely pitching brilliantly, and he’s going to play that game.
Satin does show at least a modicum of pride when he acknowledges that he has made filling out a lineup card a bit tougher on the 64-year old skipper.
“I always felt like, every time I came here before, I never gave him a reason to play me or gave him a reason to put me in there when it mattered,” says Satin. “Now, even when I’m not starting, I can tell that, when the game’s on the line, and he needs someone to hit that’s not in the lineup, I’m batting. I can tell that he trusts me, and that he, you know, when the closer’s in, we’ve got a guy on second, he’s going to put me in. It’s a good feeling, knowing that I have his faith, and the whole team, really, believes that I can do it. I’m not just here because they need to fill a roster spot. I’m here because they think that I can help this team win.”
Ryan Gorcey covers Major League Baseball and publishes BearTerritory.net for Scout.com and FOX Sports NEXT. Follow him on twitter at @RGBearTerritory.