Last winter, Brad Tyler played in Venezuela and worked out less than he had in previous off-seasons.
"I just didn't get in the weight room like I wanted," said Tyler, who plays second base for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.
So, how come he is flashing more muscle than ever before and leads the Red Wings with 13 home runs and in slugging average?
"I think I've matured mentally," Tyler, 26, said. "I came into this season real relaxed, knowing I can play at this level, and I've stopped looking for too many fastballs. That's the biggest thing for me."
If Tyler is to make the final step to the majors, he will need to continue his productivity at the plate because defensively he still has work to do.
"He has to improve in the field to play at the major-league level," Rochester manager Marv Foley said.
The Orioles' sixth pick in the 1990 amateur draft, Tyler has been a capable, but not eye-opening, player during his climb through the system.
He has shown versatility -- playing all four infield positions and the outfield -- and that trait could make him a candidate for a utility role in the majors.
But Tyler hasn't abandoned the idea of playing second base regularly for the Orioles -- or another club if it comes to that.
"The second baseman in Baltimore hasn't been someone who has stuck around long lately," he said. "So, if I put up some numbers this year, it's going to be hard for the Orioles to say we can't put this player on the 40-man roster.
"It's important for me to have a good season because they need to do something, one way or another, with me."l His assets include what Tyler calls "hidden speed." He was second in the minor leagues with 17 triples while playing for the Double-A Bowie Baysox at Memorial Stadium two years ago and has stolen as many as 32 bases in a season.
Now, he is adding power to his resume.
"We worked hard on Brad's stroke," Foley said. "In spring training, we saw he tried to pull everything and he was getting out too fast, hooking too many balls."
Tyler is spraying the ball all around the field . . . and the home runs are coming naturally.
He said he feels comfortable in the outfield but has no idea where his future lies.
"It's hard to say. Last year, I thought for sure I was going to be a second baseman, but at the next level it's probably as a utility player," he said. "I've adjusted well to that, but it's also important for me to prove I can play every day. My goal is second base."
Slenderly built, Tyler is stronger and faster than he looks. If he can adjust defensively, he could play a role in the Orioles' plans and make the 40-man roster at last.
"I've come a long way in the field," he said. "It's not a major deal anymore. Bobby Dickerson [minor-league infield instructor] has helped me develop."
He already has learned that self-imposed pressure can backfire.
"It doesn't help to get out there and press," he said. "This year, I've learned to relax and just play. It's key to stay on an even keel and maybe you can avoid those 0-for-15 slumps."
Part of that attitude came from his trip to Venezuela, where the winter league is a religion and poor play is not tolerated, especially from Americans.
"I learned a lot about life down there," Tyler said. "You can appreciate the things we have here after that. It was good for me to just go down there and see that things aren't so bad here."
Name: Brad Tyler
Positions: Second base, third base
Team: Rochester Red Wings, Triple-A International League
Parent organization: Orioles
L School: South Dearborn (Ind.) High, University of Evansville
Estimated arrival in majors: 1996
(1 to 5, 5 highest)
Hitting: 4. Not a high-average batter, Tyler is nonetheless a threat because of his developing power and good speed. He has cut down on his strikeouts this year and is making consistent contact after discovering how to use all fields.
Power: 4. For a guy with a rangy build, he has excellent pop to the gaps and may be on the verge of a 20-homer season.
Speed: 4. Tyler is not a Curtis Goodwin-type burner but can surprise the opposition with his acceleration. Runs well from first third and is capable of 20 steals a year.
Defense: 3. The shortcoming. Although he has played six positions, he hasn't found a real home. Has improved at second base during the past two years but still has to widen his range and turn the double play better.
Arm: 3 1/2 . Good enough to play the outfield but nothing spectacular. The former shortstop's arm strength is adequate for a number of positions.
?5Yr. ... ... Team ... ... Avg. ... ... HR ... ... RBI
1990 ...... Wausau .. .. .235 ... ... 2 ... .... 24
1991 ...... Kane Cty ... .271 ... ... 3 ... .... 29
... ... ... Frederick .. .257 ... ... 4 ... .... 26
1992 ... .. Frederick .. .254 ... ... 3 ... .... 22
... ... ... Hag'town ... .223 ... ... 2 ... .... 21
1993 ... .. Bowie ... .. .236 ... ... 10 ... ... 44
1994 ... .. Rochester ... .261 ... .. 7 ... .... 43