When it comes to hot stretches from a prospect, it would be hard to find one more scorching than in Cornelius Randolph’s two most recent games for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
The former first-round pick went a combined 6-for-9 with two home runs, three doubles and six RBIs against the Syracuse Mets on Wednesday and Thursday. Randolph had 15 total bases and six RBIs in two contests, as his performance mirrored the way he intends to play throughout the season.
“My approach coming into the year is trying to control what I can control,” Randolph said Friday on Zoom. “Just try to get pitches on the plate that I can hit hard and try to do damage on it.”
He certainly did damage on Wednesday and Thursday.
Wednesday in Syracuse turned out to be the biggest night of the left-handed hitter’s minor-league career. He went 5-for-5 at the plate with three doubles, a single and a home run to right-center field in a 16-1 Lehigh Valley victory.
On Thursday, Randolph hit an opposite-field solo home run in the second inning as the IronPigs fell to the Mets, 5-3.
“I’m trying to stay more through the ball, just work it to left-center field and just let everything else … go,” the outfielder noted.
Randolph went 1-for-4 on the day, while playing center field defensively. He’s been getting more comfortable playing the position as he puts in more time there.
Defense has been a priority of Randolph’s for a while now. As he spent time at home in Georgia during last year’s canceled minor-league season, Randolph worked to improve his conditioning and versatility in the field.
“I actually went and bought a Peloton, and I’ve been working on my body a lot,” he said. “I did a lot of cardio. … On the defensive side of the ball, I wanted to get faster, work on playing all three [outfield] positions, including center field. I want to turn into an all-around player.”
Randolph got to train with major leaguers Niko Goodrum and Dwight Smith in Georgia during their time off in 2020, and faced professional pitchers including Atlanta Braves reliever Will Smith. Randolph then played overseas in Australia, which helped him get ready to jump back into minor-league ball.
The 23-year-old is now hitting .341/.383/.636 in 47 plate appearances through 12 games to start his first year in Triple-A. Randolph has four doubles and three home runs so far this season. He does have 12 strikeouts and just three walks, but the power stroke and hit tool Randolph has shown early on are still encouraging.
Since being taken with the tenth pick in the 2015 draft, Randolph is a career .257/.344/.383 hitter with 34 home runs in 475 games. But as he’s developed and advanced, this year feels a bit different.
“Over the years, I’ve learned so much about being a pro,” Randolph said. Even at this level, he’s gaining knowledge from IronPigs teammates who played in the majors in Travis Jankowski, Ryan Cordell and Rubén Tejada. He’s getting better at reading pitchers and reading the game as a whole.
“Just learning how to actually watch the game, watch what pitchers are doing. Things like that, I would say, help me,” Randolph said.
If Randolph can play anywhere near the level he’s been of late, 2021 will be a lock for the best season of the young outfielder’s career. That’s not to say his current pace is sustainable or that Randolph will be a major-league star one day. But for a player who’s certainly been labeled a “bust” by many, the newfound success may be a sign he’s turning a corner. Even if it doesn’t come with the Phillies, a promotion to the major leagues at some point over the next two seasons is not as unlikely as it may have once seemed.
Randolph, however, isn’t worried about any of that discussion. He’s focused on going into each day and taking care of the business he can handle.
“Control what I can control, day in and day out,” he said. “You can’t control if you get hits. You can’t control pretty much half the things that go on with baseball.
“So, if I can control what pitches I swing at, how hard I’m working and things of that sort, I feel like I’m going to attain the goals I want to attain.”
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