FRISCO, Texas -- Elvis Andrus celebrated his 20th birthday Tuesday with his mother and oldest brother in attendance at Double-A Frisco's Dr. Pepper Ballpark to see him play. Andrus, a native of Maracay, Venezuela, was happy to be reunited with his family -- even though they were hoping they might get to see him playing in a Major League venue. "About three months ago, my mom said, 'You know, when I get there, I don't want to go to Frisco, I want to go to Arlington,'" Andrus said with a laugh, wearing his ever-present grin.
Andrus' mother isn't alone. The much-ballyhooed shortstop phenom has many wondering just how soon he can be in a Rangers uniform. However, Andrus, his family and others eager to see him in Arlington will have to be patient. Odds are, he'll be celebrating his 21st birthday before making his debut as a Ranger. After all, fresh out of his teenage years, Andrus is still learning to play the game. And those who saw Andrus on his birthday witnessed how much he's learned in his first full season in the Rangers organization. Andrus was 2-for-5 with a pair of singles to extend his hitting streak, which now sits at 14 games. His first single was pulled through the left side between the shortstop and third baseman. The second was a bunt single Andrus pushed to the right side between the pitcher and the first baseman to lead off the ninth inning with Frisco down a run. "He's always one of the first players our guys mention after leaving Frisco," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's the type of player you're naturally drawn to on the diamond with his physical skills and feel for the game." The only thing missing from Andrus' night was a stolen base, which he's compiled a total of 51 this season. Of course, also included in his stat line Tuesday was his 30th error of the season. "You talk about guys with a lot of range making more errors, but he usually makes those plays," Frisco manager Scott Little said. "He just makes silly errors when he forces throws now and then. He tries things here that he probably won't even attempt to do in the big leagues. You can't get away with them, number one, and this is the place where you learn what and what not to do." A defensive whiz before the season even started, most of Andrus' learning has come at the plate in 2008. Andrus entered the season with a career Minor League batting average of .266 over parts of three seasons. He appeared to be on his way to duplicating that average two months into the season when he was batting .268 for the RoughRiders. However, since returning from a finger injury on June 8, Andrus has begun to show his potential as an all-around shortstop, hitting .317 with four home runs and 46 RBIs.
Frisco hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh credits the turnaround to Andrus finding comfort in the hitting program professed by Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
"Elvis is a smart kid," Coolbaugh said. "He's not a kid who goes out there and accomplishes things through feel alone. He really understands what he's trying to do when he works in the cage. He understands what he does wrong and he makes his adjustments. From that standpoint, I think he's going to have success at the next level."
However, Andrus still has strides to make when it comes to handling inside pitches, pulling the ball and getting ahead in counts, which he openly admits.
Of all the weaknesses a hitter could have, though, Coolbaugh said pulling the ball is one of the easiest things to correct with a hitter. The fact that Andrus is already hitting to the opposite field can only help as he develops into a complete hitter.
Andrus must use that strength to his advantage when pitchers try to home in on the outer third of the plate against him.
"Pitchers are going to throw that breaking ball down and away or spot their fastball down and away and he's going to need the ability to fight off some pitches inside and handle some pitches to the outside," Coolbaugh said. "I think he's done a pretty good job with that, for the most part."
With improved plate discipline, Andrus should also sport a better walk-to-strikeout ratio. For the season, he's walked 36 times to his 88 strikeouts. Even during his post-injury surge, Andrus has only 24 walks to 47 strikeouts.
While his approach at the plate still needs to develop, few question Andrus' prowess on the basepaths and in the field.
Even though opponents know he's a threat to steal, Andrus' stolen base percentage is over 76 percent this season. Defensively, of his 30 errors, only 13 have come since he returned from injury.
"He's a good baserunner and he's a good basestealer," Little said. "He's learning to know when he gets a good jump. At the beginning of the year he'd just go to be going. I think he'll be a 30-50 stolen base guy, depending on what the team needs when he gets to the big leagues."
So, how soon can Andrus reach the Major Leagues? Well, don't expect to see him in 2008.
"He's going to be ready for the big leagues in a year or two," Little said.
Said Coolbaugh: "Elvis is going to play in the big leagues. What timetable? Who knows? But the main thing is making sure, when he goes up there, he's ready to go up there to stay."
And that's perhaps the most crucial factor the Rangers should keep in mind.
Aside from his physical skills, Andrus exudes confidence. Testing that confidence at the Major League level too soon is a risk the Rangers want to avoid.
"As for how quickly he'll move through the system -- that's going to be dictated by his continued development and our needs at the Major League level," Daniels said. "He'll be in Major League camp again next year and we'll let him tell us when he's ready."
Andrus isn't out of the loop.
He doesn't have any lofty expectations as to when he'll be in the Majors. He knows the time for his family to see him playing in Arlington will come soon enough.
"I just need to keep playing," Andrus said, his inner confidence showing through. "I'm young, so that makes me hungry to get to the bigs."
|"He's a good baserunner and he's a good basestealer. He's learning to know when he gets a good jump."|
|-- Frisco manager Scott Little, on Elvis Andrus|
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.