Henry making his mark in minor league ranks|[07/11/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008

Compared to some players, Justin Henry’s season has been downright boring.

While some guys try new positions, or bounce from one level to another, Henry just keeps doing what he’s always done.

He hits, gets on base, steals bases and scores runs. Nothing flashy. Just the steady play of a man honing his craft and learning to be patient as he slowly climbs the ladder in the Detroit Tigers’ organization.

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“There’s only a select few guys that get to move up. The rest go through the process, and that’s what I’m going through,” said Henry, a former Vicksburg High and Ole Miss star. “They say you should try to move up a level every year, so that’s what I’m trying to do. I set expectations a year at a time. If it happens sooner than that, great. But that’s the way I’m approaching it.”

Henry has already cleared the first hurdle, advancing from rookie ball to mid-level Class A this season. After being drafted in the ninth round of the 2007 major league draft by Detroit, Henry became a New York Penn League all-star last summer when he was in the top-five in the league in average, hits and runs scored. He got off to a rough start this spring with the West Michigan Whitecaps of the Midwest League but has turned it on recently.

He hit .238 in April and May, then .305 in June. So far in July, he’s 14-for-32 (a .438 average) with six runs scored. He has hit safely in all eight games this month, has three multi-hit games, and went 2-for-4 with two doubles on Thursday.

The surge has lifted his average to .282, which is third on the team. He has also scored 53 runs – sixth-best in the Midwest League – driven in 28 and stolen 17 bases as the Whitecaps’ No. 2 hitter.

The July surge is nothing new. Henry hit .354 last July.

“I started out kind of slow. The first month or so I didn’t swing the bat as well as I normally do. But I’ve been doing better lately,” Henry said, adding that the more demanding schedule of professional ball aids in pulling out of slumps.

“It’s different. It’s every single day. I can count on two hands the number of off days we’ve had the whole year,” he said. “But you can also have a bad day and get right after it the next day.”

Although Henry has always been known for his speed and ability to get on base – in 2007 he led Ole Miss in average, stolen bases and hits, and was second to his younger brother Jordan in runs scored – he said he’s been focusing on his defense this season.

Henry played shortstop in high school, but was turned into a utility player at Ole Miss. At one time or another, he played first base, right field and second base in college. He’s been kept at second base this season, a move he said has helped him.

“I’m working on my defense at second base. In college I was playing a lot of different positions, so it’s helped to stay in one spot,” he said. “I’m a guy who can hit for a good average and play defense, so those are the things that are going to take me to the next level.”