OGDEN -- A wry smile breaks over Jeremy Rathjen's face when you ask him about his time with the Ogden Raptors so far.
Yeah, you could say he's enjoying professional baseball.
Rathjen, the Dodgers' 11th-round pick this year out of Rice, has provided a definite spark for Ogden, his first minor-league stop since inking his contract with Los Angeles. The 22-year-old is hitting .319/.414/.457 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with three homers in his first 25 games with the Raptors.
As Raptors manager Damon Berryhill tells it, Rathjen's success out of the gate is a testament to his ability to make quick adjustments. It's a trait not always seen in players getting their first taste of pro ball -- even touted college players like Rathjen, who are, more or less, expected to succeed in the minors' lower levels.
"He's been a quick learner," Berryhill said. "Even polished college kids have a lot to learn in pro ball. It goes up and down the lineup -- I don't care if you're the No. 1 pick to whatever, there's always something you've got to work on with these guys."
A four-year starter at Rice, one of the most prestigious baseball programs in the country, Rathjen credits much of his fast start to his time spent under the tutelage of legendary Owls coach Wayne Graham.
"I think they did a very good at Rice of preparing me for professional baseball," Rathjen said. "I'm thankful for that."
When he left Graham and Rice, he did so with impressive credentials. He was a first-team All-Conference USA pick this spring after leading the Owls to the NCAA tournament, and many thought he was worthy of being drafted closer to the sixth or seventh rounds, rather than the 11th.
Baseball America, in their pre-draft player rankings comprised of both college and high school prospects, tabbed Rathjen as the 229th best draft-eligible player in the country. Had he been the 229th pick, he would have gone off the board early in the seventh round.
But instead of being taken where pundits predicted, he fell to the 11th round, and Rathjen seems pleased with how that's worked out so far. He's been given the opportunity to learn from Raptors hitting coach Doug Mientkiewicz, and the two have made a strong connection.
"(Mientkiewicz) was a player, and he was a good player, so he knows how to relate to us and explain things," Rathjen said. "He can show us what we're doing wrong and explain it in a way we can understand. For me, personally, that's really helped."
Already, Mientkiewicz has helped Rathjen speed up his timing and cut down his long, "metal-bat" swing to a short, direct-to-the-ball cut that's more suited for wooden bats.
"He's really done a solid job of (making adjustments)," Berryhill said of Rathjen. "He's being able to recognize pitches a lot better, which means he's getting better pitches to hit. He's driving the baseball."
While Rathjen was a star for the Owls, Raptors fans are getting to see an element of his game he wasn't able to show off at Rice. Rathjen has stolen 10 bases in 13 attempts for the Raptors -- just one fewer than he stole in four years at Rice -- making him a true five-tool threat.
"It's fun because if you can do something, you want to at least try to do it," Rathjen said. "I'm kind of excited to get the opportunity to run the bases hard and steal some bases.
Despite his blazing start, Rathjen is taking his success in stride. He knows that in professional baseball, where even simple things like learning how to take care of your body can present a challenging adjustment for young players, struggling eventually is inevitable.
"I've struggled before, and I'll struggle again at some point," Rathjen said. "You've just got to keep the same mental focus and mental preparation and know that you're a good player."