Ford finally commanding attention

Ford finally commanding attention

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Darren Ford's speed has not applied to his progress through the Minor Leagues. But he now seems poised to advance more quickly.

Renowned as the fastest player in the Giants organization, Ford has dazzled observers while playing his way into consideration for a big league role -- not immediately, but sooner than anybody might have believed before Spring Training began.

"He's opened some eyes here, no doubt," hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "He's on his way."

The excitement Ford generates is tempered by certain facts: He's already 24, and he has yet to play a regular-season game above the high-Class A level. This doesn't bother Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who said, "Some guys just take a little longer."

Through Saturday's 6-0 exhibition victory over the Cincinnati Reds, Ford was batting .533 (8-for-15). Though 20 Giants had accumulated more plate appearances than Ford entering the game, he led the team with four stolen bases and had scored eight runs, matching Andres Torres' club-high total.

Virtually every time Ford steps on the field, he demonstrates his fleet feet, which have long separated him from other athletes. As a senior at Vineland (N.J.) High School, he won the state championship in the 55-meter run during indoor track season with a 6.5-second clocking.

Ford also ranks high in diligence. He has been in Scottsdale since mid-January, opting to stay here after the Giants' pre-Spring Training conditioning camp ended.

"To be the best, you have to work 10 times harder than anybody else out there on the field," Ford said.

Said Meulens, "He's hungry. He's very serious about his work."

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Eager to sharpen his defensive skills, Ford has received tips from Aaron Rowand, who has counseled his fellow center fielder on getting a good jump on the ball, employing proper footwork and taking an effective route to every drive.

"He has a good head on his shoulders," Rowand said. "He's really into taking any kind of suggestions or advice to get better at his craft. He knows that he can fine-tune certain parts of his game to become a better player and he's working very hard to try to do those things. That's very impressive, especially with a young kid who has his kind of tools."

Meulens said that Ford has tried to eliminate a tendency to roll over on his swing, resulting in weak ground balls.

"When people talk about him, they think that he can only run. But he swings the bat extremely well," Meulens said.

In fairness, Ford's speed tends to obscure his other attributes. His 251 stolen bases in five Minor League seasons reflect his ability to accelerate. Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery described Ford's horsepower by saying simply, "Amazing."

Ford is almost as skilled on the bases as he is quick. He negotiates turns cleanly and has no fear when he attempts a steal. As Flannery said, "Speed with guys who don't know how to run the bases is dangerous for both teams."

Ford's development seemed stagnant last year as he hit .217 in the season's first three months. But he batted .361 from July 1 on to finish at an even .300.

"I give all the praise to God," the soft-spoken Ford said.

Ford received a boost when he abandoned switch-hitting and started batting exclusively right-handed. He explained that hitting left-handed actually helped him because it strengthened his right eye, which was his dominant eye as a lefty.

Now, the Giants are keeping both eyes on him.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.