Palka shows off power with first AFL homer

D-backs prospect leading Rafters while settling into outfield position

Palka shows off power with first AFL homer

Daniel Palka might be learning a new position this fall, but it certainly hasn't cut into his production at the plate.

The D-backs' No. 29 prospect stayed hot on Friday, going 1-for-4 with a two-run home run in Salt River's 5-1 win over Mesa at Sloan Park.

Palka has collected at least one hit in all six of his games for the Rafters, batting .320 in that span. The home run, however, was his first of the Fall League.

"In the back of my mind I was thinking about how I've been hitting all singles and wondering if I've become a slap guy," said Palka after the game. "It definitely felt good to get that home run out of the way."

Palka turned in one of the more surprising breakthrough campaigns in the Minor Leagues this past season, showing an intriguing combination of power and speed in the hitter-friendly California League. In his second full season as a professional, the 23-year-old posted a .280/.352/.532 batting line in 129 games with Class A Advanced Visalia.

More significantly, Palka was one of three hitters in the Minors to tally at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, accruing 29 and 24, respectively. On top of that, he also recorded 36 doubles and 90 RBIs and paced the Cal League both in runs scored (95) and total bases (272). However, the fact that Palka also led the league with 164 strikeouts (28.5 percent strikeout rate) highlighted his room for improvement at the plate.

"I like my approach, it's aggressive, and the organization likes it too, but I know that I need to have better pitch selection," he said. "The big thing I'm working on this fall is trying to hit for average and cut down on the strikeouts."

After spending most of his first two seasons at first base, Palka -- a third-round Draft pick in 2013 out of Georgia Tech -- worked primarily in the outfield this year, logging 69 games in right field and 19 in left for the Rawhide.

"[The D-backs] knew I played outfield all throughout college, but then I got adjusted to first base in pro ball and it went well," said Palka.

"I slimmed down last offseason because I wanted to play the outfield more. When I came back this year for Spring Training, they started throwing me in the outfield some, and now I'm just trying to get better out there every day."

Despite his ongoing success after the position change, Palka is well aware that he's far from a finished product in the outfield.

"In the Fall League, I'm working on my footwork and staying agile out there, but also trying to keep that same explosiveness," he noted.

It didn't take long for the Rafters to get on the board, as the second batter of the game, D-backs No. 14 prospect Jack Reinheimer, plated leadoff man Roemon Fields with an RBI single. Mets No. 5 prospect (No. 92 overall) Dominic Smith followed with a walk ahead of Blue Jays No. 7 prospect Rowdy Tellez, whose RBI double gave Salt River an early 2-0 lead before the game's first out was recorded.

The Rafters added to their lead in the top of the third inning when Palka laced a two-run home run over the right-field wall off of Mesa starting pitcher Ryan Etsell. A solo homer from catcher Stephen McGee in the bottom half of the frame trimmed Mesa's deficit to 4-1, but Salt River ultimately got the run back in the sixth inning on sacrifice fly by Fields.

Nationals right-hander John Simms was credited with the win for Salt River, allowing one earned run in four innings of work, while a trio of Rafters relievers combined to scatter three hits over five scoreless frames.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.