BRADENTON, Fla. -- Every now and then, when things aren't going too well for Alex Presley, his phone will buzz with a text message from his dad.
Ron Presley played football and basketball in high school, but never baseball, and occasionally he will prod his son with some words of advice.
"Sometimes I'm like, 'Dad, I'm in the big leagues now,' " Presley said. " 'I'm not in Little League.' But he knows me better than anybody."
It's never a big change that Ron Presley suggests. It's something small, like a key to his son's swing or a suggestion for his approach.
Alex Presley, 27, can sometimes be frustrated by the messages because, if anything, they reinforce things he already knows and should be thinking anyway. So even if there's a little pushback, Presley usually decides, "You know what, he might be right. Maybe I should listen."
"He knows what to look for," Presley said of his dad. "Not that he coaches me up during the season, but if I look to anybody when I'm not here, it would probably be him. And if I do, it's very simplistic."
Those conversations, which Presley admits aren't as frequent since he first stuck with the Pirates in 2011, underscore a back-to-basics approach the small, but speedy, outfielder has tried to adopt this offseason.
His impressive rookie season gave way to a sophomore slump. And with a lot more competition in the clubhouse, Presley now finds himself fighting for playing time and a spot on the active roster.
His struggles are not uncommon -- a textbook case of a young player wowing crowds in his first year and struggling when he tries to prove he is no fluke.
"Last year in the spring, I'm thinking 'I'm the guy,' " Presley said. " 'I should prove I should be there, prove I should stay there.' Maybe I tried to force the issue a little much in the game. In baseball, you can't do that."
In 2012, Presley said he had a "roller coaster, up-and-down" year.
"Both literally and figuratively," he said.
After starting the season in the major leagues, Presley bounced back and forth between the Pirates and Class AAA Indianapolis trying to figure out his struggles.
But Presley never found comfort in 2012. He finished the season with a .237 average and a .297 on-base percentage. He began the year as the Pirates' starting left fielder and leadoff hitter. This spring, he'll have to fight for a spot as one of the team's five bench players.
"There's still that guy that was the MVP of Triple-A, that played extremely well all over the place and did a lot of things offensively," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "That's in there."
Presley tried to find that player this offseason. He watched video from his stellar 2011 season, when he hit .298 in 52 games. He worked out at a baseball practice facility in Louisiana, but he didn't work with any coaches or trainers. He talked with Pirates hitting coach Jay Bell, hired this offseason, and Indianapolis hitting coach Jeff Branson for guidance. But he wanted to figure out what was wrong and fix it on his own.
He also rededicated himself to other aspects of his game he neglected, such as bunting and defense.
"The little separators that can keep me ahead of someone else," he said. "Things that keep me versatile, valuable."
Presley has a .306 average and five RBIs in 15 Grapefruit League games. He caught his manager's attention this weekend by going 2 for 2 with two doubles, two walks and a run in a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins. Presley had two of the Pirates' four hits in the game.
And while he faces more challenges than in any spring training he has attended with major league players, he is sure in himself.
"Like studying for a test, you come in ready for it, confident," Presley said. "It's the same here. You do all the work you have to do to prepare for the game, and you know you're ready to go."
Sometimes, his dad even offers to help him with his homework.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published March 18, 2013 4:00 AM