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Prospects Trapp, Schlehuber form bond in Australia

Class A Wilmington teammates sharpen skills this winter with Melbourne Aces

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MELBOURNE, Australia -- During a recent heat wave that saw temperatures in Melbourne top 108 degrees for four consecutive days -- the hottest stretch in recorded history -- Melbourne Aces teammates and Royals prospects Justin Trapp and Jared Schlehuber took the next step in an evolving baseball companionship.

"We sleep in the living room now because we don't have air in the back," said Trapp with a laugh before the Aces' final regular-season home game. "He sleeps on the chair and I sleep on the floor right beside his chair."

The pair have spent nearly all of the past nine months together and have helped each other grow both as men and as teammates.

"[Schlehuber] got called up midway through the season in Wilmington and we've been close ever since," Trapp said. "We've been down here for three months now and we got even closer."

The younger and more outspoken of the pair, the 22-year-old Trapp came to Australia following a season that saw him collect 25 doubles, 25 stolen bases and 10 home runs while batting .257 at high Class A Wilmington.

"We had a really good team, we were really talented," said Schlehuber, describing the 2013 Wilmington Blue Rocks, a club that featured Royals No. 1 overall prospect Kyle Zimmer and No. 5 overall prospect Jorge Bonifacio, among others.

"We had a couple of guys get called up about halfway, three quarters of the way through, so we struggled winning games after that, but it was good playing with three or four of the top prospects in the organization -- it was fun."

Schlehuber hit .299 with eight home runs, 24 doubles and a team high 59 RBIs in just 78 games for Wilmington. His season was cut short by injury, but he has picked up where he left off in the Australian Baseball League. One game into the final series of the season, the Aurora, Colo., native is hitting .321 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs. He has hit safely in 34 of 43 games and has collected more hits than games played (51 hits in 43 games) for the second consecutive season -- he finished the Carolina League season with 85 hits in his 78 games.

"That's the goal of the game," said Schlehuber in regards to his remarkable consistency. "That's what everyone tries to achieve. If you have a good game, build off that. There's also going to be days where you go 0-for-4, 0-for-5, just forget about that and move on to the next day. There's always going to be a tomorrow in baseball."

This season in the ABL, the 25-year-old compiled a team-high 14-game hitting streak; it was a streak nearly eclipsed by Trapp, who put together a 13-game streak. Overall, through 43 games, Trapp has hit .253 with a home run and 10 RBIs while leading the team with nine stolen bases. He doesn't hesitate to give an honest evaluation of his season.

"I was just struggling in the beginning," he said. "I had a couple weeks off and then coming out here and just playing on the weekends was kind of tough, but the game's tough, and like [Schlehuber] said, you're going to have bad games, it's about how you bounce back and just keep going forward."

The bounce back has been big. In 22 games since Dec. 15, the start of his streak, Trapp is hitting .317. Only four ABL players have collected more hits than the South Carolina native in that time -- and one of them is Schlehuber.

"The numbers might not show for me here, but I think I got better developing an approach coming to the plate," Trapp said. "I hit more balls to the opposite field this year in this league than I have, probably, in my whole career."

Perhaps another factor in Trapp's slow start with the stick was his switch to an entirely new position. After playing just four of 407 Minor League games as an outfielder, the middle infielder by trade has started in center field in 42 of the Aces' 43 games.

"Playing center field, that's a first for me and I think I got better at that, too," he said. "The toughest thing is just knowing where to throw the ball to when you run a ball down in the gap, hitting the cutoff man and knowing what base to throw it to. Other than that, I just let my athleticism go out there and take control of it and let it happen."

His ultimate assessment of the transition is simple.

"I love it," Trapp said. "I love going out there making big plays and throwing guys out. I love that."

Trapp isn't the only one getting used to unfamiliar territory. Schlehuber -- a lifelong first baseman -- has continued to get reps at the hot corner, something that started with the Blue Rocks in 2013.

"It's been good," he said of the move that gives him more versatility. "I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable since I played there two or three times a week in Wilmington. Definitely starting to feel more comfortable there."

Neither player knew what to expect upon their arrival, but both have been impressed with the level of play in the ABL. Both have also enjoyed sharing a clubhouse with former Major Leaguers.

"I honestly didn't know what to expect from Australian baseball," said Trapp, "but from what I've seen it's pretty good competition. It's been a great experience hanging with guys like Justin Huber and Brad Harman. Those guys have played in the big leagues, where we're trying to get, so we're picking and getting a little knowledge from them here and there, getting their stories on how they grinded it out."

Added Schlehuber, "Harman and Huber have been awesome. Being able to talk to them day in and day out has been nice. It's also great to see the younger Australian guys like [Rays prospect] Darryl George and [Royals prospect] Ryan Dale coming up. It's been fun seeing the whole spectrum of ages."

Now, with the ABL season nearly finished, it's almost time to head home. For Schlehuber that means Colorado, for Trapp, it means being reunited with his son, 20-month-old Justin Jr.

"I miss him, man," he said. "[Schlehuber] is my witness, he's with me on the road trips, he's with me at the house; it's tough. I talk about him all the time. I miss him, but the grind is the grind. I've got to sacrifice to get what I want."

Their respective respites from the game will be brief, however. Trapp and Schlehuber are just weeks away from heading to Arizona for Spring Training, where they will share an apartment. Both will look to build upon their strong ABL campaigns and start the 2014 season at the Double-A level. And if all goes well, they will be able to keep progressing together.

"It's way more than baseball now," said Trapp. "It's a friendship that [has grown], and I think it could go way past baseball."

Craig Durham is a contributor to

Kansas City Royals