Meet Stevie Mangrum
Run through pretty much any offensive statistic in the 2017 Northwoods League and you’ll find one name close to the top of every list: Stevie Mangrum. Only three players have more than his 245 at-bats. Only three players have more than his 79 hits. And only two players have more than his 12 home runs. After a fantastic 2016 summer in Wausau, Mangrum has elevated his game even further, to the point where he is a legitimate candidate not only for Wisconsin MVP, but League MVP.
“The older you get, the more you realize that being a ‘power hitter’ is more than just pure strength, more than just bat speed; a lot of it has to do with approach,” Mangrum said. “The higher you get in college, the more pitchers can throw two or three different pitches for strikes, and the game just gets faster.”
Mangrum led the Northwoods League in home runs for almost the entire month of June, but he’s simply a different kind of hitter than most of the other guys atop the homer leaderboards: he’s got a lot more hits and a lot fewer strikeouts than his opponents, and he says that’s thanks to his approach at the plate.
“If you’re naturally a big guy that gets a good lift or puts the right backspin on balls, they’re going to end up going out,” Mangrum said. “That’s just how the game is. But you’re definitely going to hit more homers and get more hits, especially over 72 games, if you can find a good approach and just focus on putting the barrel on the baseball.”
Perhaps the only thing Mangrum credits more than his approach is his team. Last year he was a member of one of the best offenses in the league, a squad that hit .283 as a team and featured sluggers Steele Walker and Steve Passatempo, just to name a few. Even in that elite group, Mangrum posted a .308 average with 74 hits, 16 doubles and seven home runs, all top-four among team regulars.
This year, the Woodchucks as a team haven’t been mashing the ball quite as much, but Mangrum has still managed to get better. There have been plenty of guys with offensive ability to come through Wausau this summer, and Mangrum highlighted them as the reason for his success, immediately shaking off any notion that he’s the team’s go-to guy on offense.
“We have a good lineup, before and after me,” he said. “This is a game where you don’t have to face a hitter if you don’t want to. It’s easy to pitch around players. I think having people on base ahead of you and hitters behind you are just as important as the guy at the plate bringing in the runs.”
Mangrum might not even have been in Wausau this summer if it weren’t for the presence of one guy: Andrew Fabian. This year’s Wisconsin field manager was an assistant in 2016, and Mangrum cited him as the biggest reason why he and fellow second-year Chuck Chad Fleischman returned for a second go.
“He’s big into development and he’s competitive, but he also understands that in this game you’re going to have failures,” Mangrum said. “When you’re trying to learn something new, you’re going to fail sometimes. With him here, I know that if I try something and fail, it won’t be cutthroat. I can come up here and be fully relaxed and work on my game, and he’ll be behind me, understanding what I’m trying to do and be with me through the ups and downs.”
Tim Hackett, Broadcasting Intern