Cincinnati’s Spencer Steer Believes in Contact and Backspinning Line Drives

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Spencer Steer is emerging as a solid big league hitter. One of three prospects acquired by the Cincinnati Reds from the Minnesota Twins at last August’s trade deadline in exchange for Tyler MahleChristian Encarnacion-Strand and Steve Hajjar were the others — Steer is slashing .289/.356/.498 with a 124 wRC+ over 225 plate appearances. One year after homering 23 times between two minor league levels, and twice more after a September call-up, he’s gone deep eight times in 2023.

Eric Longenhagen has been bullish on his bat. Back in January, our lead prospect analyst wrote that the 25-year-old corner infielder has “a well-rounded hit/patience/power toolkit,” adding that he is “a good hitter who will stabilize an infield spot in Cincinnati for the next half decade or so.” Longenhagen ranked the 2019 third round pick out of the University of Oregon no. 2 in Cincinnati’s system; he was no. 47 on the preseason Top 100.

Steer sat down to talk hitting prior to Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park.

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David Laurila: Tell me about yourself as a hitter.

Spencer Steer: “There are a lot of ways I could go about answering that. I’ll say that for my entire life as a baseball player, it’s been, ‘Hit the ball.’ I try to keep it that simple. Obviously, that’s changed over time — how I go about it — but I’ve always prided myself on putting the ball in play. If you do that, you’ve got a chance to get on base. If you’re striking out, there is a zero percent chance you’re getting on base.”

Laurila: You’re not a guy who believes in the idea that a strikeout is just another out?

Steer: “No. Never. Obviously, there are situations… some strikeouts are bigger than others, right? When you’ve got a runner at third with less than two out, and you’re striking out, that’s not just an out, it’s a zero [percent] chance to score that run for your team. I’m a big fan of hitters who consistently put the ball in play, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Laurila: Making contact is important, but making hard contact — driving the ball — is even better. How do you go about balancing the two?

Steer: “That’s something I’ve dealt with. I was a contact-first guy in high school, college, and even my first year pro ball; it was always kind of, ‘Not a lot of power, but puts the ball in play a lot.’ But then, with the Twins over COVID, I kind of revamped my lower half and my swing. I added a leg kick. More power came out of that, but also more swing-and-miss, some timing issues. So I’ve really tried to find a balance between hitting for power and putting balls in play, not striking out as much. I’m still kind of fighting that battle.”

Laurila: Was adding a leg kick self-driven, or was it suggested by a hitting coach?

Steer: “That came from the Twins developmental staff. Ever since they drafted me, it was a goal of theirs to add power to my game. Over COVID, I was basically on Zoom meetings with hitting coaches while hitting. We were doing a lot of trial and error, because we pretty much had a whole year between seasons. We tried a toe tap, we tried a leg kick, and the leg kick obviously worked better. So, it was definitely driven by them, but also something I was open to trying. It ended up working out pretty good.”

Laurila: Making adjustments over Zoom calls doesn’t sound easy.

Steer: “It was tough. A lot of it was me sending them video, and then getting on a Zoom call and us breaking it down. It took probably that whole offseason to really make that full transition. And it’s still not perfect; I’m still working on it to this day.”

Laurila: Was there more to it than just the leg kick? For instance, how you’re getting into your back hip and rotating toward the baseball?

Steer: “Yeah. There was some mobility stuff and patterning stuff. The weight room kind of helps with that. They’ve given me exercises in the weight room to help my body move more efficiently. So yes, it was a lot more than just, ‘Hey, let’s leg kick and see what happens.’ Like I said, it took almost a year to really get it to something I can repeat consistently and be successful with.”

Laurila: Did your bat path change at all?

Steer: “No, it was strictly lower body. I changed nothing with the hand path, nothing with the upper body, swing plane-wise. It was pretty much just new timing and a new move with my lower half. I used to be a guy who was really spread out and stood straight up, and from there it was kind of, ‘Pick up the front foot and put it down in the same spot.’”

Laurila: The increased swing-and-miss was basically a timing issue.

Steer: “I had a hard time holding the leg kick on offspeed. I’m timed up to a fastball every time, and from there adjusting to offspeed by hanging back an extra millisecond. So yes, timing was the big thing. When your timing is off, you’re not seeing the ball as well, so you’re swinging at more bad pitches out of the zone. That kind of stuff. Once I got comfortable and got my timing back, I started to see the contact go up and the swing-and-miss go down.”

Laurila: Has the leg kick gotten higher or lower since you implemented it?

Steer: “It’s kind of gone back and forth, to be honest with you. It started off small and then started to get bigger. It got to the point where it was too big, and became inconsistent again. It’s that typical battle every hitter faces. You’re constantly making adjustments based off of what they’re throwing you. The results, as well. So, I’d say it’s gone back and forth. It’s gotten big, shrunk down, gotten big again. I’m usually going back to making it smaller and simpler, because that’s easier to to repeat.

“Again, it’s about timing. When it’s bigger, it takes longer to make that move. I’ll find myself being late, and that’s causing me to rush the rest of my swing. When I’m rushing the rest of my swing, I’m fouling balls off, or even swinging and missing. That’s something I can see on video, which helps me know if I need to make an adjustment or not.”

Laurila: You had solid power numbers in the minors. Is not trying to drive the ball out of the park something you need to be cognizant of?

Steer: “I’ve always just believed that… like, in my preparation work, in BP, I just try to backspin line drives in the gaps. Those backspinning liners in BP turn into those balls that really take off in the game. I’ve never tried to hit home runs. They just kind of come. Power has never been something I’ve felt I had to force.”

Laurila: That said, you’re a corner infielder, not a middle infielder who is going to win Gold Gloves. To what extent do you feel you need to provide power?

Steer: “I wouldn’t say I feel any pressure to hit for power, or to reach certain numbers. For me, [value] is going to be a byproduct of playing winning baseball, if that makes sense. Like, if I’m up there trying to put together good at-bats, maybe trying to score that guy from third base, or get a guy over, the rest will take care of itself. But typically, I’m going to just go up there and try to hit the ball hard — try to hit a ball on the barrel — and if I do that consistently enough, the power numbers and all that will take care of itself.”

Laurila: Did anything change, hitting-wise, when you came over here from the Twins organization?

Steer: “Yes and no. When I got traded over here, I was in a pretty good spot with my approach and my swing. Then, when I got to the big leagues [in September], I struggled. I learned a lot about myself through those struggles. Joel [McKeithan], the hitting coach here, helped me — especially in spring training — make some adjustments.

“I think the Twins were a lot more about analytics; they had a lot more of a data-driven approach to hitting. Here, I feel like it’s a lot more about feel. It’s kind of ‘Let’s break down your approach. What pitches are you swinging at?’ versus looking at the numbers. It’s not like we’re not looking at numbers — I think we do a good job of that — it’s just that there’s more of, say, what you feel in the cage. I think we have a good balance of analytics and what I guess you could call an older-school type of hitting. That really works for me.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Paul Goldschmidt, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Connor Joe, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Lars Nootbaar, Logan O’Hoppe, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Spencer Torkelson, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Alex Verdugo, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Mike Yastrzemski, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Bicycle Daze
11 months ago

Thanks, David, these are always great reads.