Fresno Grizzlies

Joe Sclafani’s contributions don’t go unnoticed by Fresno Grizzlies

Fresno’s Joe Sclafani, center, has been able to stay consistent at the plate despite inconsistent playing time.
Fresno’s Joe Sclafani, center, has been able to stay consistent at the plate despite inconsistent playing time. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Each day in the clubhouse begins with a quick peek at the lineup for Fresno Grizzlies middle infielder Joe Sclafani.

Regardless of whether he’s in or out, Sclafani eventually grabs a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Two bowls, actually.

Sclafani, the Houston Astros’ 14th-round pick in 2012, doesn’t get to play every day like some of his more heralded teammates.

But he remains big on routine – from his pregame preparation to his in-game focus.

His acceptance of a limited role has helped Sclafani remain a key contributor as the Grizzlies (78-49) go after the best record in Triple A.

“It’s definitely an acquired skill,” Sclafani said. “Everyone wants to play every day. Not everyone gets to. I try to take it all in stride.

“Playing once every four days, then trying to hit 95 (mph), it’s not the easiest thing in the world. You deal with it.”

In some ways, Sclafani has gotten used to serving as a utility player off the bench.

The 25-year-old Dartmouth product has done it during each of his four professional seasons, in addition to moving around from shortstop to second base to third base and back to second.

Scouts point out Sclafani’s makeup, saying his character and work ethic allow him to achieve beyond his talents.

Sclafani has played in just 66 of the Grizzlies’ 127 games. Yet the switch hitter managed to bat .302 (60 for 199) with 38 runs and 21 RBIs, and his .383 on-base percentage ranks fifth on the team.

Teammates and coaches praise Sclafani for his sacrifice and focus.

“When he gets in there, he doesn’t miss a beat,” said Grizzlies third baseman Matt Duffy, who’s in the running for Pacific Coast League MVP. “I don’t think people understand how important that role is.

“It’s guys like that and the depth that we have that allows us to win when other guys get moved up and down.”

During one stretch, Sclafani put together an 18-game hit streak – the second-longest streak by a PCL player this season. And it was achieved amid inconsistent playing time as Sclafani sometimes went four days between starts.

A stacked Fresno roster, which will get even more crowded this week with power hitting outfielder Preston Tucker set to rejoin the Grizzlies after getting optioned, has caused a logjam at nearly every position.

From the moment Sclafani joined the Astros, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound New Yorker has had to deal with others getting priority in playing time.

The same year Sclafani was drafted, the Astros already had picked two other shortstops: No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa and second-round selection Nolan Fontana.

“Joe is in a tough situation,” Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “He always has to overachieve. He gets caught behind other guys on the roster, whatever the situation might be.

“But Joe battles every time, gives you quality at-bats. He’s a great guy to have on your team.”

Sclafani admits it gets frustrating sometimes dealing with the inconsistent starts. But he takes pride in “being a good teammate and not rocking the boat.”

“Complaining isn’t going to help the team or my career,” Sclafani said.

Regardless if he’s playing, Sclafani tries to maintain a strict focus during games. He watches each pitch from the opposing pitcher and studies any patterns or ball movements as if he were on deck.

Sclafani goes through several reps in his mind, from envisioning his at-bats to his footwork on ground balls. So when his time comes to contribute, Sclafani feels as prepared as possible without the help of actually playing.

Perhaps someday, Sclafani can become a utility player off the bench for a major-league team. It’s how he envisions his major-league career.

In the meantime, he’s just looking to excel when given the opportunity.

“I try to stay locked in all the time so I’m always ready to go,” Sclafani said, “and sticking to a routine as much as possible.”

Bryant-Jon Anteola: (559) 441-6362, @Banteola_TheBee

Joe Sclafani file

Position: Middle infield, primarily second base

Drafted: 14th round by the Houston Astros in 2012

Height/weight: 5-11/195

Bats/throws: S/R

From: Brooklyn, NY

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