Author Archive

Sunday Notes: Tigers First-Rounder Riley Greene Does What Comes Naturally

Hitting a baseball comes naturally to Riley Greene. That’s not to say the fifth-overall pick in this year’s draft doesn’t work on his craft — he does— but at the same time he likes to keep any tinkering to a minimum. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Prior to the Detroit Tigers’ calling his name on June 3, Greene had been labeled “the best pure hitter in the prep class” by Baseball America.

He hit the road running in pro ball. Greene scorched the Gulf Coast League to the tune of a 1.039 OPS in nine games, quickly earning a promotion to short-season Connecticut. While not nearly as prolific against New York-Penn League pitching — a .766 OPS in 24 games — he did show enough to get moved up to low-A West Michigan in early August. Playing against much-older competition in the Midwest League, Greene slashed .219/.278/.344 in 118 plate appearances.

When I talked to the 18-year-old Oviedo, Florida native in mid-August, he made it clear that his swing is already well-established.

“My dad has been doing baseball and softball lessons for 24 or 25 years, and he taught me to hit,” said Greene. “Growing up, most of my coaches never touched my swing. It was just my dad. He’s a simple A-to-B guy, not much movement, and that’s how I try to be.”

Greene told me his front foot is his timing mechanism, and that his setup at the plate has remained essentially the same. He “might be an inch taller with his body,” but that’s a matter of feel and comfort, not because of a calculated adjustment. He’ll maybe spread out at times, but “only by a centimeter or two.” Read the rest of this entry »


Cleveland’s Luke Carlin on Organizational Leadership and Collaborative Culture

The Cleveland Indians front office places a high value on organizational culture. From the lowest rungs of the minors to the big leagues, they want their managers, coaches, and players to embrace both a collaborative process and a forward-thinking mindset. For that reason, they also highly value leadership skills. Luke Carlin, a 38-year-old former big-league catcher with a Bachelor of Science degree from Northeastern University, possesses those attributes in spades.

Carlin has managed in the Cleveland system for each of the past four seasons, most recently the Lake County Captains in the Low-A Midwest League. He’s viewed by many as a future major league coach or manager, and his interpersonal skills, paired with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge — analytics-based and otherwise — is a big reasons why. In a nutshell, he exemplifies what one might dub, “The Cleveland Way.”

Carlin shared his thoughts on leadership and teaching following the conclusion of the Captains’ season.

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Luke Carlin: “To me, managing and player development go hand in hand. I’m passionate about teaching, and it’s an awesome feeling when you have a clubhouse firing on all cylinders and pulling in the same direction. When you’re trying to earn the trust of the team, it’s not just interpersonal skills; it’s also a bunch of content-based stuff. Can you get the guys better? Can you help them develop? I think that really clicks within the information-rich environment that players today are coming up in.

“I’m finishing my master’s right now, at Northeastern, in organizational leadership. And it’s not just leadership theory, but also organizational-behavior theory and team dynamics. Piggyback that with what I’m learning here with the Indians. There are biomechanics, motor learning, teaching-and-coaching pedagogy… we’re basically trying to create a recipe to where we can interact with the people around us, and do a better job of developing high-performance than everyone else. Read the rest of this entry »


Chance Adams, Domingo German, and Nick Pivetta on Developing Their Curveballs

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Chance Adams, Domingo German, and Nick Pivetta — on how they learned and developed their curveballs.

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Chance Adams, New York Yankees

“When I was in college my pitching coach was Wes Johnson, who is now with the Twins. He taught me my curve. For awhile it was kind of slurve-slider, then it went to a curveball, and now it’s kind of slurvy again. But it’s interesting, because when I got [to Dallas Baptist University] it was, ‘OK, I throw it like this,’ and he was like, ‘Well, have you tried spiking it?’ My curve was moving, but it wasn’t sharp, and I was like, ‘No, not really.’ Spiking it was uncomfortable at first, but after I got used to it, it was pretty interesting. It started moving better.

Chance Adam’s curveball grip.

“My pointer finger is off the seam, with just a little pressure on the ball. Wes said to try spiking it and see what feels good, so I worked on it with this much spike, that much spike. Even now, the spike kind of varies for me; I’ll move it back or forward for comfortability, but also movement-wise. Sometimes it’s sharper when it’s more spiked. It kind of depends on the day, and if I’m controlling it or not. Read the rest of this entry »


The Red Sox and Dave Dombrowski Have Parted Ways. Now What?

The Red Sox parting ways with Dave Dombrowski — last night’s announcement came at the bewitching hour — is somewhat surprising. Then again, it really isn’t. Questions about his future have been circulating for a few months, and while a death knell has yet to sound on Boston’s season, any hopes of a postseason berth are now on life support. Last October is but a memory, and as the saying goes, “What have you done for me lately?”

To say it’s been a disappointing season for the defending World Series champions would be an understatement. But that’s only part of the reason Dombrowski, the team’s president of baseball operations since August 2015, was let go. What matters is the future, and much as when Ben Cherington was jettisoned four years ago, the time had come for new leadership. For now, assistant GMs Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero Jr., and Zack Scott, along with Senior Vice President Raquel Ferreira, are expected to fill that role on an interim basis.

The extent to which Dombrowski and Red Sox ownership were no longer on the same page is unknown as of this moment. More may be learned when the involved parties address the media (though the team has elected not to hold a press conference regarding the decision), but even then questions will remain unanswered. In all likelihood, we’ll be left to speculate as to whether loggerheads had been reached with the important near-term personnel decisions that will shape the team’s future. Based on his track record, Dombrowski would presumably be averse to anything resembling a rebuild, while his two predecessors — Cherington and Theo Epstein — placed a high premium on player development and building from within. That divergence is reflected in Boston’s farm system rankings; the Red Sox system is currently dead last. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Nestor Cortes Jr. Brings Lefty Funk Out of the Yankees’ Bullpen

In terms of notoriety, Nestor Cortes Jr. barely registers a blip on the national radar. That’s not meant as a slight to the 24-year-old lefty. It’s just that when you play for a star-studded team — in baseball’s largest market, no less — it’s hard to make a name for yourself as a rookie reliever. More specifically, a soft-tossing rookie reliever who lasted until the 36th round of the 2013 draft.

He’s probably the most unique member of the 2019 New York Yankees. Born in Surgidero de Batabano, Cuba, and raised in Hialeah, Florida, Cortes has a little Luis Tiant in his windup — Oliver Perez would be a contemporary comp — and his lack of giddy-up is more of a wrinkle than a scar. He’s averaging better than a strikeout per inning with a heater that lives south of 90.

“I’m more of a deception pitcher,” said Cortes, whose 5.13 ERA is accompanied by an unblemished 5-0 record. “The cliche is that everybody throws 95 now, but what I do is try to mess up timing. The multiple windups I use, the spin rate on my fastball, hiding the ball well before I go to home plate… I try to abide by all of that. I cherish that I can use those things to my advantage.”

Those attributes are on display in The Bronx because the Orioles opted not to keep him. Cortes was a Rule 5 pick by Baltimore in December 2017, but after appearing in just four games last April he was returned to his original club. He spent the remainder of the season in Triple-A with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RoughRiders. Read the rest of this entry »


Larry Andersen, Durbin Feltman, and Trevor May on Crafting Their Sliders

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Larry Andersen, Durbin Feltman, and Trevor May— on how they learned and developed their sliders.

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Larry Andersen, Philadelphia Phillies (broadcaster)

“I was a sophomore in high school, and we had a senior pitcher named Don Beckwith who had a slider. At the time, I just had a fastball and a curveball. He showed me his grip and I was like, ‘Let me try this.’ From there I implemented it into my repertoire. It was a pitch I picked up right away. It felt comfortable. It’s almost like holding a fastball off-center a little bit.

“Of course, then there was the pressure on my fingertips and how far back I held it in my hand. That type of thing. I played with those over the years to the point where I felt I had three different pitches with essentially the same grip Don Beckwith showed me in high school.

Larry Andersen’s regular slider grip.

Read the rest of this entry »


New Royal Ryan McBroom is a Late-Bloomer Who Rakes

Royals fans aren’t exactly getting swept up in a wave of euphoria with the team’s newest acquisition. Ryan McBroom — obtained from the Yankees over the weekend in exchange for cash considerations — is a 27-year-old outfielder/first baseman without a big-league resume. Nowhere to be found on top prospect lists, he wasn’t even on New York’s 40-man roster (which is why this deal was possible a month after the MLB trade deadline).

That doesn’t mean that Kansas City didn’t get a player capable of producing at the highest level. Named last week to the International League’s Postseason All-Star Team, McBroom slashed an impressive .315/.402/.574 with 26 home runs in 482 plate appearances with the Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. His .976 OPS was tops in the circuit.

While he didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, the University of West Virginia product clearly turned a corner in this, his sixth professional season. Coming into the current campaign, he profiled more as an organizational guy — a Quad-A type — than a true prospect. Poor walk and strikeout rates stood out among the negatives.

Recently, I asked the suddenly productive right-handed hitter about his breakthrough. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Yankees Talk Football, and Other Screwball Stories

Luke Voit is a huge football fan. In recent years, he’s been a huge football fan without an NFL team to support. A Missouri native, Voit grew up rooting for the Rams, but the franchise relocated from St. Louis to Los Angeles while he was climbing the minor-league ladder in the Cardinals system. A void was thus created.

That jilted-lover experience is now safely in the rearview, and he has a new allegiance in mind. Voit recently bought a Sam Darnold jersey and is flirting with the idea of becoming a New York Jets fan.

“Because I’m playing for the Yankees now,” was the sturdily-built slugger’s response when I asked why that is (the Jets have gone 14-34 over the past three seasons). “I think it would be a fun connection to have. I want a team, and being in New York — I have a place there — I’ll be able to go to a game or two.“

His younger brother excelled on the gridiron. John Voit was a defensive lineman at
Army for four years, serving as a co-captain and earning the team’s prestigious Black Lion Award. Luke likely would have played collegiately himself had he not blown out his shoulder in high school. It was at that point that he devoted his full attention to baseball.

Upon learning that he’s been a linebacker, I asked Voit if he liked to hit people. His smiling response was, “Oh, yeah.” Read the rest of this entry »


Luke Voit Talks Hitting

Luke Voit is expected to come off the Injured List when the Yankees return home on Friday. Out of the New York lineup since the end of July — a sports hernia put him on the shelf — the 28-year-old slugger is currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. His bat looks healthy. Following a shake-off-the-cobwebs 0-for-3 in the first of his four games as a RailRider, Voit has gone 8-for-14, with a pair of home runs, against International League pitching.

He’s already proven that he can hammer big-league pitching. Originally in the Cardinals organization — St. Louis drafted him out of Missouri State University in 2013 — Voit has been an offensive force since donning pinstripes 13 months ago. Acquired in exchange for Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos, the right-handed slugger has gone on to slash .293/.395/,547, with 33 home runs and a 150 wRC+ in 564 plate appearances.

Voit sat down to talk about his evolution as a hitter prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Pawtucket Red Sox.

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David Laurila: If I looked at video from when you first entered pro ball, and video of you now, would I see the same hitter?

Luke Voit: “No, you’d see a completely different guy. I used to have a wide stance. My hands were probably in the same spot, but over time they’ve gone from down to my waist almost to where I have like a Gary Sheffield… my hands are moving. For awhile I had a big leg kick. That started working for me, then I slowly… it felt like pitchers were quick-pitching me. Not on purpose, but rather the quicker the guy was to the plate… that’s something I struggled with. That’s when I developed this little leg swing.”

Laurila: When did you make that change? Read the rest of this entry »


JT Chargois, Brad Keller, and Adam Ottavino on Developing Their Sliders

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — JT Chargois, Brad Keller, and Adam Ottavino — on how they learned and developed their sliders.

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JT Chargois, Los Angeles Dodgers

“I was having trouble getting one to spin — to turn over — so my high school coach showed me a spike. Over the years I’ve manipulated where I hold my [pointer finger] on the ball, but it’s still a spiked-curveball grip. I just throw it like a heater. Instead of getting out front and pulling it like a curveball, I stay true on it as though it was a heater.

“When I get in trouble — maybe it’s backing up on me — and I need to make an adjustment, I tend to change my mindset to more of a curveball, to more of a downer-pitch. I want it to have two planes, as opposed to just moving horizontally.

“It was actually taught to me as a curveball. Then I started throwing harder as I got older. I got stronger and was literally trying to throw the crap out of it. That’s kind of how it migrated into a slider. As opposed to having more of a wrist-turn to get a bigger break, [a slider] is more about the manipulation of your hand position at release point. Read the rest of this entry »