Author Archive

Sam Delaplane’s Slider Has Him Soaring Toward Seattle

When Eric Longehagen and Kiley McDaniel blurbed Sam Delaplane last March, they called the Seattle Mariners pitching prospect “an interesting sleeper.” Pointing to his eye-popping strikeout numbers in Low-A, they went on to suggest that Delaplane — unranked despite the platitudes — “might get pushed quickly.”

Delaplane proceeded to prove our scouting duo correct. Following 21 relief outings in Hi-A Modesto, the righty ascended to Arkansas, where he flat out shoved against Texas League hitters. In 37 Double-A innings, Delaplane fanned 58 while allowing just 13 hits. His ERA was a microscopic 0.49.

Flash back six years. In order to compete collegiately, the San Jose native had to travel 2,400 miles — and not to a baseball hotbed. The lone offer Delaplane received coming out of high school was from Eastern Michigan University; the low-profile program was coming off of consecutive losing records in the Mid-American Conference.

Delaplane spent four years at Eastern, earning a degree in marketing. Sold mostly on the promise of his strong senior season — a 3.27 ERA and first-team All-MAC honors — Seattle selected Delaplane in the 23rd round of the 2017 draft.

His most-lethal weapon had yet to evolve and blossom. It wasn’t until after Delaplane got into pro ball that he “flipped the switch” and turned a hook into what Longenhagen described as a “power, Brad Lidge-style slider with late, downward movement.”

Defining Delaplane’s best offering is a matter of semantics. Read the rest of this entry »


Matt Bowman, Chaz Roe, and Justus Sheffield on Crafting Their Cutters and 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 — Matt Bowman, Chaz Roe, and Justus Sheffield — on how they learned and developed their sliders and cutters.

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Matt Bowman, Cincinnati Reds

“With the unfortunate news of Roy Halladay [in November 2017] came the story of Mariano Rivera teaching him the cutter. I watched the interviews they did about how they threw it, and what their cues are. Halladay had that ball where he drew the outline of where his fingers should be. I literally gripped it the same way.

Matt Bowman’s cutter grip.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Zach Davies Plans to Rely Less on Changeups

Zach Davies threw a lot of changeups last season. Taking the hill for the Milwaukee Brewers, the now-27-year-old right-hander relied on the pitch an eyebrow-raising 31.3% of the time. In 2018, that number was 12.2%. In 2017, it was 14%.

Why the notable uptick in change-of-pace pitches?

“I was getting guys out in any way possible,” explained Davies, who was dealt to the San Diego Padres this past November. “Going into last year, I was coming off injuries [rotator cuff inflammation and lower back tightness] and wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot. I wasn’t able to go into spring training and work on pitches, and best way for me to get outs was fastball-changeup. That’s why the numbers were skewed. This year there will be a lot more of a mix.”

Not having a feel for his curveball, Davies threw his bender just 3.5% of the time last year, down from the 15-16% range he’d been accustomed to. His cutter usage was also down, albeit by only a few percentage points. I asked the command-artist what returning to more of a mix will entail.

“It’s really just going into games with the desire to throw different pitches,” said Davies. “It’s forcing myself to throw curveballs and cutters, everything, in every count. Coming here — them trading for me — I have the sense of having a job. I can work on things without feeling like I might be sacrificing my season.” Read the rest of this entry »


Boston’s Tim Hyers Talks Hitting

Tim Hyers has emerged as one of the game’s most respected hitting coaches. His resume speaks for itself. As Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator from 2013-2015, Hyers helped hone the skills of players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers. He then moved on to Los Angeles, where he was the assistant hitting coach for division-winning Dodgers teams in 2016 and 2017. Since returning to the Red Sox as their hitting coach prior to the 2018 season, the 48-year-old Georgia native has seen the club score the second-most runs in baseball. Moreover, he’s played a key role in the emergence of Betts, Bogaerts, and Devers as bona fide offensive machines.

Hyers discussed his hitting philosophies, and the strides made by multiple Red Sox hitters, late in the 2019 season.

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David Laurila: Is there such a thing as a Red Sox hitting philosophy?

Tim Hyers: “Yes. I think all hitters are different. I really do. That said, the Red Sox hitting philosophy is pitch selection, game planning, and mechanics. If we don’t dominate the strike zone, if we don’t have a good plan, if we don’t have solid mechanics — then we’re going to run into trouble. Every at-bat, those three things come into play.”

Laurila: The Red Sox probably aren’t different from most teams in that respect…

Hyers: “No. Teams are pretty similar. But when you’re talking about those basics, how do you peel back the layers? What is getting to the player? How is the player consuming the information? How is he buying into the importance of those three things?

“The mechanical realm is probably the one that can go in many different directions, depending on what organization you talk to, or what hitter you talk to. I really believe every hitter is different, but they also do similar things. How they go about them is what’s different.”

Laurila: You were in the organization [from 2013-2015], then came back [in November 2017]. Is the mechanical realm approached differently now than it was in your first go-round? Read the rest of this entry »


Seattle’s Kyle Lewis Does Damage To Baseballs, Aims To Be Direct

In a General Managers Meeting Notebook than ran here in November, I related that Kyle Lewis had the highest exit velocity among Seattle Mariners minor leaguers in 2019. Jerry Dipoto, the club’s Executive Vice President and GM, shared that bit of information with me as we conversed beneath bright sunny skies in Scottsdale, Arizona.

That exchange was on my mind when I visited Seattle’s spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona, a few short weeks ago. Curious as to how Lewis thought about his craft, I approached his locker to see what I could learn.

I began by asking the 24-year-old outfielder — No. 8 on our Mariners Top Prospects list — if he’s fundamentally the same hitter whom Seattle selected 11th overall in the 2016 draft.

“I would say for the most part,” responded Lewis. “But I have grown as far as my swing decisions. I’m taking more pitches, and I’m more aggressive on pitches I should be swinging at. I feel I’m better able to make good decisions on pitches in the damage zone.”

Power is Lewis’s calling card. Contact deficiencies are his bugaboo. The uber-athletic slugger had a 29.4 K% in Double-A last season, and he fanned 29 times in his 75-plate-appearance major league cameo. But when he does connect… watch out. Expanding on Dipoto’s information, Eric Longenhagen wrote in Lewis’s scouting profile that the Snellville, Georgia native “averaged 92 mph off the bat last year and hit 53% of balls in play at 95 mph or above.” Moreover, he went on to suggest that Lewis could have big league seasons where he “clubs 30-plus bombs.”

Asked if he’s made any mechanical changes, since signing, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Lewis said that he’s remained “largely similar.” He described “stepping into [his] legs,” and how he “likes to have [his] hands high.” Noting the latter characteristic led to the following exchange: Read the rest of this entry »


David Bednar, Brandon Brennan, and Tony Gonsolin on Their Changes and Splits

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives and careers. 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 —David Bednar, Brandon Brennan, and Tony Gonsolin — on how they learned and developed their changeups/splitters.

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David Bednar, San Diego Padres

“I never really had a great feel for a changeup. In 2017, after I first got drafted and was in instructs, I was kind of toying around with it when one of our pitching coordinators pushed me towards Hideo Nomo, who was one of our special assistants and helping out. The coordinator got me throwing in front of Hideo. He gave me a few pointers, and kind of switched up my grip in a way that worked better for me.

David Bednar’s splitter grip.

“The grip is a slight variation [from Nomo’s splitter]. My two fingers are kind of offset on the seams, so that I have something to pull down on. There’s a little bit of slider action to it at times, but for the most part it’s either straight down, or has a little bit of cut. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Mariners Prospect Jarred Kelenic Embraces The Art of Hitting

Jarred Kelenic is No. 11 on our 2020 Top 100 Prospects list, and his bat is the main reason why. As Eric Longenhagen wrote in the 20-year-old outfielder’s scouting profile, “[H]e’s been one of the — if not the — best hitters his age from the time scouts began to see him.” The New York Mets selected Kelenic sixth overall in the 2018 draft out of a Waukesha, Wisconsin high school, then shipped him to the Seattle Mariners in the seven-player mega-deal headlined by Robinson Cano.

Kelenic possesses marquee potential. In 500 plate appearances last year, split between three levels, he slashed a healthy .291/.364/.540, with 23 home runs. Moreover, Kelenic spent the final three weeks in Double-A, a heady accomplishment for a prep-draftee playing in his first full professional season.

I caught up to the fast-tracking youngster two weekends ago as he was taking part in big-league camp. Our conversation began with one of my favorite ice-breaker questions: Do you view hitting as more of an art, or more of a science?

“I think it’s an art,” answered Kellenic. “It’s something that’s developed over time. Kind of like a painting. It takes time to get all of the detail. Hitting is the same way.”

Kelenic credits much of his development to his father, Tom, and to a former minor-league catcher who throws him batting practice back home in Wisconsin. The latter owns STIKS Academy and Sports Training, and according to Kelenic, Sean Smith knows his swing just as well as he does.

Longenhagen called Kelenic’s left-handed stroke “short to the ball,” and the player himself had much the same description when asked to describe his M.O. at the dish. Read the rest of this entry »


Justin Dunn, Justin Grimm, and Tyler Mahle on the Cultivation of 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 — Justin Dunn, Justin Grimm, and Tyler Mahle — on how they learned and developed their curveballs.

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Justin Dunn, Seattle Mariners

“I had a curveball before I had my slider. I learned it from my dad at 12 years old. He used to play in men’s leagues, and while he never played at a real high level, he loves the game. He’s a student of the game.

“Essentially, I take a two-seam grip and put my thumb underneath, finger through the lace, pressure to the ball.When I was younger, he would tell me to just throw it like a football, to never turn my wrist down. It would be big, loopy, and slow. As I got older, I started to throw harder and understand finger dexterity and about pulling the ball down. I learned that I could pull a little bit more with my middle finger and get it a little tighter, and sharper. Read the rest of this entry »


A Conversation With Former Red Sox and Angels Outfielder Rick Miller

Rick Miller had a solid, albeit unremarkable, big league career. A left-handed hitting center fielder known mostly for his speed and defense — he was awarded a Gold Glove in 1978 — Miller slashed .269/346/.350 in 4,440 plate appearances from 1971-1985. He spent his first seven seasons with the Red Sox, the next three with the California Angels, then returned to Boston for five more.

Miller entered pro ball on the heels of a Big Ten batting title. In his junior season with the Michigan State Spartans, the Grand Rapid native hit .429, prompting the Red Sox to take him in the second round of the 1969 draft. Little more than two years later — this despite a swing adjustment that may have been ill-advised — he was in the big leagues to stay.

Miller discussed the early and late portions of his career when the Red Sox held an alumni game at Fenway Park two summers ago.

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David Laurila: What do you remember about the start of your career?

Rick Miller: “I was drafted in 1969 out of Michigan State. There were a lot of contact hitters at the time, and I got some bad advice when I first came up. This was from one of the people in the Red Sox organization. I’m not going to name him, but when I signed, I went to Pittsfield [Massachusetts], which was Double-A. They watched me take batting practice. I was told, ‘You’ll never be able to hit that way in the big leagues” — the way I was hitting.”

Laurila: What were you doing that they didn’t like?

Miller: “Well, I don’t know. But wherever it was, they didn’t like the way I was swinging. And I was hitting pretty well at the time. But I listened. I was young, naive, and stupid. I didn’t know any better. I’d hit that way on my life, and in my opinion you don’t tell somebody, ‘You can’t hit that way,’ until they get a chance to show if they can do it.

“So I changed. And I never hit that well in the minor leagues. I played two-plus years in the minors, and never did a lot with the bat. My defense is pretty much what got me to the big leagues. Once I was there, I did improve my hitting. It was a longer process, because I used to hit a certain way. I think I would have been successful had I… of course, I wasn’t a big guy. I didn’t hit a lot of home runs.”

Laurila: I recall you having success when you first came up [in September 1971]. Read the rest of this entry »


Michael Chavis Talks Hitting

Michael Chavis enjoyed a solid rookie season with the Red Sox in 2019. Primarily playing first and second base, the 24-year-old former first round pick slugged 18 home runs while putting up a .766 OPS and a 96 wRC+ over 382 plate appearances. Power was his calling card. Per Statcast, Chavis’ taters traveled an average of 419 feet, and his longest was jettisoned a prodigious 459 feet.

He rode a bit of rollercoaster on his way to Boston. Drafted 26th overall in 2014 out of Marietta, Georgia’s Sprayberry High School, Chavis scuffled in his initial professional seasons. Struggling to find his swing, he put up high strikeout rates, and tepid offensive numbers, casting doubt on his future. Then he began to find himself. Buoyed by a 2017 reunion with his old hitting coach, Chavis regained his stroke, turned a corner, and within a few years was once again propelling baseballs far distances.

Chavis discussed his power-packed swing — including how it was lost, and then rediscovered — at the tail end of last season.

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David Laurila: Is hitting simple, or is it complicated?

Michael Chavis: “It depends on the day you’re asking me. When things are going good, it’s as simple as could be — it’s easy — but when things aren’t going well, you start trying to find an answer. You start searching for a difference in your swing. Even though you know you should keep things simple, it’s not like you can be, ‘Oh, I just don’t care; it’ll figure itself out.’ It’s kind of… I guess the weird thing about hitting is you’re constantly making adjustments and changes in order to stay consistent.”

Laurila: You’re changing in order to stay the same…

Chavis: “Yes, which obviously doesn’t make sense. But that’s what it is. One day you can think — this is a random example — ‘swing down,’ because maybe you’ve been getting long and loopy. So you think about swinging down, and your body — just how the body works — is going to make an adjustment. But at some point your body is going to make that adjustment without you being aware of it. All of a sudden, thinking ‘swinging down’ is going to become physically swinging down. Then you have to make an another adjustment.”

Laurila: Basically, one of your mental cues needs to be adjusted. Read the rest of this entry »