As a Class A second baseman in 2002, Jeff Keppinger swung for the fences in the home run derby at the South Atlantic League All-Star Game against the likes of promising sluggers Ryan Howard and Jose Bautista.

This is who Keppinger thought he was, a power-hitting infielder who dug the long ball. Memories of taking USC pitcher Mark Prior deep in the 2001 College World Series during a postseason homer surge for Georgia only reinforced Keppinger's self-image. Then one day after the All-Star break, Pirates roving minor league instructor Alvaro Espinoza broke the news to the 22-year-old whose sights were set beyond the outfield wall.

"He told me I was not going to hit like that in the big leagues so I'd better start moving the ball around,'' Keppinger recalled Monday. "I tried it.''

Over the next 10 games, Keppinger went 0-for-32. His confidence dropped quicker than his batting average.

"But in the offseason I said, 'Fine, if that's what they want me to do, I'll work at it,''' Keppinger said. "I'm not a speed guy, I'm not a power guy. You have to have some kind of niche so I figured that would be mine: I want to walk more than I strike out. When I get to two strikes, I decided to just make sure I put it in play.''