By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Outfielders for Appalachian League teams facing Bluefield’s Art Charles had better get familiar with the fence behind them.
Charles is in a three-way tie for the Appy League lead in home runs, with five, and he leads the circuit in runs batted in with 15.
The 6-foot-6 left-handed batter has punched 16 hits in 49 at-bats, for a .327 average. Thirteen of those hits have been for extra bases. On Friday in the Blue Jays’ win over Princeton, he went 3 for 5 with another double and a triple and three runs batted in.
The biggest question surrounding Charles seems to be how long he will stay on the Bluefield roster before being moved up in Toronto’s minor-league system.
The only apparent drawback? He’s struck out 17 times.
The Bakersfield, Calif., resident was drafted by Baltimore in 2008, by Kansas City in 2009 and by Toronto in the 20th round in 2010. He spent most of last summer in Toronto’s Gulf Coast League outpost, readying for his next move up.
“It was a lot different from here,” he said of his time in the Florida league. “It’s not as cool over there, it was real hot. It was just a lot of training, and getting my repetitions in.”
“I signed fairly early. I got in there I think on the 18th of June, so I could get in, have a full season, and move up. It kind of took awhile, because the paperwork took awhile to get approved, my contract and all that.
“But once I got in there, I got quite a few at-bats for my first season, which allowed me to be here now.”
He said the pitching in the Appalachian League is “a lot better” than the GCL.
“I feel like, over there, it’s guys just coming in through the draft, trying to get a feel for their pitches, maybe learn how to throw new pitches.
“Here, they’ve already got a base, of what they’re throwing. They’ve got their fastball. They’re able to locate more. Off-speed, they’ve got more than one pitch. ... It makes it a little more difficult, and you have to adapt to it.”
He has had no trouble adapting to Bowen Field. “I love it. It’s a beautiful field, it has a great little backdrop to it. And, the ball carries pretty good here, so that kind of helps me out a little bit,” he said. “We have a great grounds crew.”
It has been an environment custom-made for him to flourish, he said.
“I came into the season knowing that I’m going to do big things, and having a lot of confidence in myself that I’m going to go and put in work, and hopefully get moved up,” he said earlier this week.
“It’s something that I expected to do, to come out here and compete and have quality at-bats, every night.”
“It’s mainly just maintaining your plan and your goals for the night. We hitters, we constantly preach having quality at-bats, getting pitches that we can hit and not missing them. Fortunately, I’ve been getting those good pitches and I haven’t been missing them that much.”
Opposing pitchers are aware of his power. He’s aware of the need to be patient.
Charles said, “I’ve been getting a lot of off-speed pitches, for the most part, sliders coming toward the outside part of the plate, [and] even sometimes sliders in, to get me off-guard for the fastball.
“But they’re going to make a mistake sometime, and that’s when I ... try to capitalize on it with my adjustments and hit the ball hard.”
His height and reach at first base “not only helps me, but it helps everybody,” he said. “I’m a big target over there, so they don’t have to throw it in a small area.
“If they throw it a little bit off, I’m long enough to be able to go up and get it. If they throw it high, I’m fortunate to be able to jump pretty good. Being as tall as I am, and having as big a wingspan as I have, it benefits us a lot — not having to come off the bag and make the play.”
His experience with baseball goes back to early childhood.
He said, “My mom’s side of the family, my dad’s side of the family, they’ve all played baseball at one point. No one’s played professionally in my family, but I kind of grew up around the sport.”
His father was a “really good basketball player,” he said, resulting in plenty of hoops games on the court. But that sport fell by the wayside.
Charles said, “Baseball, I was hooked to it, kept going with it, got better and better, and felt I had a future in baseball. And here I am now, trying to make my way to the Major Leagues.”
In his junior year of high school, the first of several scouts made contact with him. He represented the Yankees.
He said, “That was kind of like surreal to me. I thought, ‘Oh, man, this actually could go somewhere.’
“I was pretty good. I was always that guy who was making all-star teams. But you know there are a lot of kids making all-star teams. Whenever I got that first scout to come up to me ... that’s kind of where it blew up for me.”
“I just kept working hard, and took their advice about what to do, and got seen, and here I am now.”
Part of “getting seen” consisted of showcases in high school, junior college, workouts at “little high school fields or college fields” for major-league evaluators.
He said, “I went to Toronto and I loved it there ... when I went to the stadium and everything. I was hoping they’d pick me up.
“Then they gave me a call and said they were going to take me in the 20th round. I was excited, my parents were excited, my whole family was excited. I’m just glad to be here.”
His father had guessed the pick might come “between the 10th to the 15th, that area,” Charles said.
“I didn’t get down on myself, because I knew I’d probably get drafted pretty soon. Every round, we were looking and waiting. Every time Toronto would come up, we’d get excited again.
“Once they did, I was very happy — I was happy to be part of this organization.”
He had plaudits for the Toronto player-development operation.
“As far as player development, we have really good guys, from our fielding to our hitting instructors ... people throughout our organization,” he said.
“Every team is pretty good. We have good managers at every level. You know you’re going to get your money’s worth, when you go to your next team. They might teach you something new at every level.
“Our manager now, Dennis Holmberg, he’s really a good, hands-on type of guy. He’ll help you out to understand the mental parts of the game ... little tips and tricks. It’s been good to be around these guys. ...
“I appreciate the help they’ve given me, at every level. ... I feel I’ve learned a lot since then.”
He said, “From when I was drafted, until now, I’ve learned so much more, more than I’ve learned my whole life in this short amount of time.”
He said part of the success of the Blue Jays this year is, “We’re great teammates. Everybody gets along with everybody — a lot of chemistry throughout the clubhouse.
“We always hang out — not everybody spread out. You know, where some clubs, maybe the Latin guys are kind of spread out by themselves, and the Americans are spread out.
“But we’re all together, all the time, joking around, hanging out ... acting like we’re giving interviews. It’s a lot of fun, but we all work together to make the team better.
“In order to have a good team, you’ve got to have good chemistry, a good bond with each other, and we have that here. It goes a long way.”
With good stats come the tendency to be looked at as a team leader. He said he has tried to do that regardless of his statistical numbers.
“I feel like I’m a pretty good leader, without all that, without the average, and without where I hit at in the order,” he said. “Whether I’m doing really well with the bat, I feel like I can bring something to the team, and I feel like I can help somebody out.
“Even if I’m struggling, I feel like I can help somebody else and make them better. I feel that we’re all, as a whole, capable of being a good leader.”
— Contact Tom Bone at