This is the first season Carlo Testa hasn’t worried about who is coming to take his job and, probably not coincidentally, the first season he’s been in no danger of losing it.
Finally free from the pressures of affiliated baseball, where he played six seasons in the Kansas City Royals organization before his release last year, Testa is sustaining the promise that made him an intriguing prospect but that he could never permanently fulfill in the minor leagues.
Testa, Wichita’s 27-year-old left fielder, is putting up MVP-quality numbers, including a .366 batting average, possibly spurred by a switch in the batting order, that ranks third in the American Association.
“I didn’t even really think about goals or anything like that, I just wanted to come back and have a healthy year and have fun,” said Testa, whose time with in the Royals’ system ended after two injuries last season.
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“The last couple years with the Royals have been stressful. It’s always stressful with affiliated ball, you’re always worried about what the people under you are doing, who you’re signing, who’s moving where, what people above you are doing. This year I just set out to have fun and try to get back to what baseball is supposed to be.”
The left-handed-hitting Testa was batting .320 as Wichita’s No. 7 hitter through the first seven games, but it was largely without a purpose. He provided the bottom of the order a veteran hitter with power potential, but his best tools – speed and contact hitting – weren’t always utilized most effectively.
When he moved to the No. 2 spot on May 22, Testa’s purpose returned. He describes himself as a free swinger, and at the top of the order putting the ball in play and handling the bat capably are vital assets. He’s batting .389 since the switch, but average is only part of his value.
Testa’s name is scattered throughout the league leaderboard, as he ranks first in triples (six) and hits (52), fifth in runs (28) and steals (10) and sixth in RBIs with 26.
“I feel comfortable there,” Testa said. “I feel like I can handle the bat in any situation. I feel like if I need to hit for an RBI, I can do that, but I also have the ability to lay down a bunt when needed, or hit and run. I’m very comfortable with the bat, and I’m glad that (manager Kevin Hooper) sees that and has confidence in that, as well.”
The switch to hitting second made the rest of the Wingnuts’ lineup fall into place. Testa bats between Ryan Khoury and Jake Kahaulelio, and all three have on-base percentages of .417 or better.
Khoury is second in the league in OBP and in walks. His patience often means Testa and/or Kahauelio bat with someone on base in the first inning.
The Wingnuts don’t boast the power of 2013, when C.J. Ziegler led the league with 30 home runs and three other players reached double digits, but the smoothness of the top of the order gives Wichita one of the AA’s most dangerous lineups.
“I think it really has to do with our approach at the plate,” Testa said. “Ryan takes a lot of pitches and gets on base for Jake and I, and I am more of a free swinger, I like to hit early in the count. Jake is a mix of both. When you put those three together, it’s a hard thing to do (for a pitcher).”
Testa describes this year as a chance to “play with my best friends.” He’s also played his best baseball without the worries of a high-minor league player. Testa was firmly on the Royals’ radar after hitting 15 homers in Double-A in 2012 and being chosen to play in Australia during the offseason.
He’ll take being off the radar if it means enjoying the game again.
“One guy I know who played independent ball said, ‘It’s not the same because you don’t have the opportunity to make your dream come true,” Testa said. “You can’t be called up at any second, where you could be from Double-A or Triple-A. But there’s no more stress. There’s no more early work. You don’t have to wear your pants a certain way or walk a straight line like a lot of affiliated teams have you do.
“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 7 years old, and I didn’t want it to end on an injury like it did with the Royals. I wanted to have a healthy, good year and have fun with it, and see where that takes me.”