Darnell Sweeney of the Chattanooga Lookouts performed well enough in the first half of the season to be a Southern League all-star.
Now he's a leading contender for the league's batting title.
Sweeney's .316 average ranks a distant second to Kris Bryant's .355 with the Tennessee Smokies. Bryant, however, was promoted to Triple-A following the Southern League all-star game, leaving the lanky 23-year-old for the Lookouts as the active leader.
"I could not have imagined that at all," Sweeney said Sunday. "Coming in, I knew this was a tough-hitting league because there are so many good arms. I'm trying to stay with my approach even when the pitcher does something I'm not looking for. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to these pitchers."
Sweeney has played mostly second base and shortstop but was in center field Sunday when Chattanooga's series opener against Birmingham at AT&T Field was suspended in the bottom of the third inning with the Lookouts trailing 3-2. Scott Schebler hit a home run to right field to pull the Lookouts within a run when the game was called.
It will resume today at 5:15 and will be followed by a seven-inning game.
A 13th-round selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, Sweeney played his first professional season last year with Rancho Cucamonga in the high Single-A California League. In 134 games, he hit .275 with 11 home runs and 77 RBIs.
Sweeney not only is the league's active hitting leader but also is first among active players in runs scored. He scored his 54th Sunday in the first inning after doubling down the right-field line, coming home on Daniel Mayora's single to left.
Lookouts manager Razor Shines isn't as surprised that Sweeney is challenging for batting crowns.
"I thought it was possible, because I knew he could hit .300," Shines said. "There is still a lot of baseball to be played, and I don't know where that number will go. What I do know is that he puts a good swing on the ball on both sides of the plate. To win a batting title on the Double-A level would say a lot about him.
"He's a tough out. He's selective, and he takes his walks. He's the type of hitter you want at the plate with the game on the line, because you know you're going to get a quality at-bat."
Sweeney had a 13-game hitting streak in which he hit .386 come to a close Saturday night with an 0-for-2 performance. It was his third 13-game hitting streak of the season.
"My brother's favorite number is 13, so it's OK with me," Sweeney said. "My parents kept up with the first two streaks for me, but I didn't know about this third one. All I'm trying to do is get good at-bats, and if I get a hit, it's a good thing."
Said Shines: "All the teammates love him. He's a great guy and the kind of guy you want in your clubhouse."
Matt Shelton (2-1, 3.62 ERA) is expected to start tonight's originally scheduled game on the mound for the Lookouts, with Nick McCully (3-6, 5.65) scheduled for the Barons.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.