When the Augusta GreenJackets return to Lake Olmstead Stadium tonight to start a four-game weekend homestand, expect to see a new face in the home dugout.
It’ll be the one with the smile.
Mark Minicozzi joined the team last week during its road trip and will make his home debut tonight when the GreenJackets play host to the Savannah Sand Gnats.
“I don’t think he’s going to be here long,” manager Lipso Nava said. “He’s trying to get back into playing shape right now. For him it’s just a matter of getting his timing back.”
The 29-year-old infielder might appear out of place among the two dozen other San Francisco Giants prospects – all of whom are at least five years younger – but Minicozzi’s last five years include a comeback story with unlikely odds and unusual persistence.
“This has been an awesome opportunity,” he said. “I’m appreciative every day that the Giants gave me a second chance.”
Minicozzi’s first attempt at professional baseball started in 2005 when the Giants took him as a 17th-round draft pick. Coming off a college career at East Carolina, he immediately found success as a pro, hitting .321 in 70 games for short-season Salem-Keizer.
The Giants fast tracked the corner infielder, skipping Single-A Augusta and sending him to Advanced-A San Jose for a 2006 season that saw him hit .282 with 77 RBI. He earned an All-Star nod in Hawaiian winter ball later that year, and the Giants again moved him up in 2007 to Double-A.
But that’s when Minicozzi’s career started to unravel. He tried to play through a wrist injury in 2007 that resulted in poor numbers and a demotion back to San Jose. He still managed to help the Advanced-A squad win the California League championship and was named the series MVP, but that was the last bit of success he experienced in the Giants’ system.
Surgery fixed the injured wrist, but a blown out elbow the following season during spring training sent Minicozzi to the operating table again, this time for Tommy John surgery.
After the injuries stole more than a year and a half, Minicozzi tried to return for the 2008 season but the Giants released him during spring training.
“I was coming off two full seasons of battling through injuries,” he said. “Sometimes you want to give up.”
But Minicozzi refused to quit. Over the next three years he bounced around from one independent team to another, playing with teams from Manitoba to Massachusetts.
Though Minicozzi recovered from his injuries, more popped up. He had back surgery before the 2011 season, but still played 86 games for the Worcester Tornadoes, where he hit .328 with 77 RBI and was named an All-Star in the Canadian-American Association.
After three seasons in independent ball, Minicozzi said he felt ready to make another run at the big leagues. He contacted former GreenJackets manager Dave Machemer, who had worked with Minicozzi at the Double-A level five years prior, and Shane Turner, the organization’s coordinator of minor league instruction.
The Giants re-signed Minicozzi in early May and sent him to the GreenJackets, though his time in Augusta before returning to Double-A ball might be brief.
Minicozzi, who said he hadn’t played in five months before joining the team, had mixed results in his first two series back in affiliated ball. He went just 4 for 23 (.174) over seven games but had five RBI, including a homer, in Savannah and a double in Rome.
Nava tried out his new prospect at first, second and third base during the road trip, but Minicozzi said he expects to see more time at first during the homestand. His main concentration so far has been at the plate.
“I’ve got to work on getting my timing back,” he said. “I feel great. I feel like my body’s in great shape for the first time in four years.”