Next week will be my version of Disney World. The wonderful land of unrelenting sun, waves of chain restaurants, and an endless supply of baseball talent awaits. Of course, I’m talking about spring training in Arizona. Unlike the talent on the ball fields, my time in the greater Phoenix area will be limited. During my seven-day stay these are some of the key hitters I plan to study.
This will be a two part Going Yard focusing on 23 hitters, a primer on who they are, and why they are worth studying. Some of these guys I want to get eyes on because their success doesn’t match what I see in their swings, others are pure physical freaks, and others are swings that you can’t not see when you are on a business trip to see the best hitters in the world.
This analysis will be broken into four groups:
- Power Rangers
- Hit List
Today we’ll focus on the Power Rangers and Hit List.
These are hitters with big-time power whose BP is as much of an event as their game action. With this group a big focus will be approach. Having power is great, but getting to unleash that power on a 3-1 pitch after a mature at-bat is even better.
So far spring training seems like a video game set on far too low of a difficulty for Bryant. He seems like a generous fellow with all the balls he’s donating to the fans sitting behind the outfield fence. All that being said, I’m yet to be sold on Bryant. I know the results are amazing and the physical gifts are nearly as impressive, but the swing itself has some flaws. He’s got some hip slide in his lower half and his swing plane can get steep. His swing is built to hunt pitches middle away. I want to see how Bryant responds when he is challenged on the inner part of the plate with big-league velocity.
I missed on Gallo last spring training. My notes were very low on him and did he ever turn that prognostication on its head. Last year he made real progress on his swing and I want to see if he’s continued to refine it. Gallo has always been long getting into the zone, so I hope to see pitchers challenge him repeatedly with velocity on the inner third. And yes, I’m making sure to see his BP. That is a can’t-miss spectacle.
McMahon has 6 power, but his swing pattern and high strikeout totals are a bit worrisome. Unlike fellow powerful third basemen Bryant and Gallo, McMahon will have to hit a little bit to have value on a big-league roster. His swing has plenty of bat speed and strength, but he’s long into the zone and his swing goes through numerous checkpoints before launching. I don’t worry so much about the swing as opposed to how he moves through his swing. If he starts to have some rhythm and follow in his swing, Colorado could have a three-headed monster of hitters in their minor-league system.
I wish had the literary prose to spin a seductive innuendo about the feelings Pederson’s swing conjures in the depths of my soul. But I’m not The Professor. Anyway, Joc’s swing is special because it goes against the grain of so much modern (read: bad) hitting instruction. He starts out narrow, has a big leg kick, moves his whole body forward, and aims to launch everything. There is serious thunder in this kids swing, but I’m more interested in how he approaches BP and cage work. Is he taking that huge swing 24/7 (a good thing) or is working on smaller, more subtle aspects of his swing off the field (also a good thing)?
Renfore is going to be an impact big-league bat. His swing is ferocious, with hip action that belongs as the feature to some provocative music video. Renfroe loves to swing and will expand the zone against weaker arms; 94 an inch off the corner: take, 87 an inch of the corner: oh man I can hit that! *cue monster swing* I want to see Renfroe have at-bats against battle-tested arms to see whose approach wins out. Renfroe’s approach isn’t so aggressive that it keeps him out of the big leagues, but it might be a separator between him finding a lineup spot at the five hole or at the three/four hole.
Jorge Soler, Chicago Cubs
I love this swing. I just want to watch his BP and watch him terrorize pitchers. This a big-league, middle-of-the-order bat. Soler’s swing isn’t built on just one power source. He can create force with his legs, his hips, and tops it all off with hand speed and an ability to manipulate the barrel. I want to see how he goes about his craft in the cages and in BP. Soler is the Cubs hitter I am most excited to lay eyes on this spring.
With this next group of hitters I’ll be looking at how they treat BP and how they perform in games. In BP, creating line drives won’t be an issue, but how they approach their individual craft will be the important item. Are they working on hitting to one side of the field vs the other? Are they working on mechanical aspects of their swing? When they do cut it loose and try to hit homers, does their swing stay intact or does it get offline? All kinds of information can be gained from the process of BP.
In games, all these prospects will collect hits, but is there any offering they can’t hit? Are they feasting on bad pitches from weak arms or crushing the pitcher’s best offering? Can they get hits even when behind in the count? Games are more than the box score.
Let’s get to the players!
David Dahl, Colorado Rockies
How much better would Colorado be if Andrew McCutchen were patrolling center field? The Rockies have their own version of Cutch progressing through the system in Dahl—a 5 tool athlete with a feel for the game and a plus hit tool. Last year Dahl hit lead-off to gain at-bats, but is more suited to hit behind Raimel Tapia in either the two or three hole. Like Tapia, Dahl is fairly aggressive, but I want to see a more controlled approach.
I love watching Dozier play baseball. The swing isn’t spectacular, but he gets the barrel on the ball and puts together good at-bats. There is plenty of strength and bat speed, but how much is he leaving on the table with some minor swing flaws (lower body in particular) and approach? He can get a bit jumpy in his swing, as he loves to crush fastballs. I want to see Dozier in game action against a crafty arm to see how he competes with breaking stuff early in the sequence.
Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers
Mazara is another guy who I saw in spring training last year and again during the 2014 season and thought what I was seeing was pretty good but not excellent. Then he went and reached Double-A as a 19-year-old. Mazara has a chance to have double 6s on the hit and power tool. He’s a bit of a mystery to me because everything says I should be hyping this guy, but I haven’t taken that leap yet.
I want to get a few days worth of looks on Peterson in game action. When I saw him in rookie ball he was just okay. I understood why he was a first-rounder, but he was swinging through offerings over the white of the plate. His BP was good, but not crazy impressive. When the BP crew saw him in the AFL, the reports talked about a dominating hitter with middle-of-the-order potential. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but an extended look at the Mariners prospect would help shed light on where he fits on that spectrum.
Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
I’ve heard crazy good things about Schwarber from sources both in the scouting community and coaching community. I have held off really studying his swing because I want a clean slate (or as clean as it can be) to fully examine Schwarber’s stroke.
Raimel Tapia, Colorado Rockies
I may like this kid a little bit, just maybe. Okay, I love me some Tapia. I want to see if he’s added strength in the offseason and if he’s still playing with his stance during at-bats like last year or has settled into one pattern. I know the swing will be there, so I will be more interested to see if Tapia’s approach has gotten a bit more refined. Tapia doesn’t need to be working walks like Joey Votto, but I would love to see him put himself in better counts and not swing at every strike simply because they are strikes. Goodness, if Tapia can improve his approach…
On Thursday I will preview the two remaining groups. Intrigue, which is filled with guys I haven’t seen enough (if at all) to make a solid evaluation. And Concern, hitters who have all the physical tools in the world, but something in their swing or approach has raised serious question marks.