Marlins 2022 First-Rounder Jacob Berry Believes in Keeping It Simple

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Jacob Berry saw his prospect stock drop earlier this season. Highly regarded coming in, the sixth overall pick in last year’s draft had an abysmal .477 OPS in April and his .509 mark in May was barely better. Showing little resemblance to the player who’d raked first at the University of Arizona and then LSU, he fanned 41 times while logging just 25 hits, only two of which left the yard. Playing at High-A Beloit in Midwest League spring weather certainly didn’t help, but red flags were nonetheless flying. When our Miami Marlins Top Prospects list was published on May 31, Eric Longenhagen wrote that he was “content to have a hair trigger when it comes to sliding Berry because I was already skeptical… but deciding how much to slide him is challenging.” Our lead prospect analyst ultimately settled on No. 11 and a 40+ FV for the switch-hitter.

Berry’s June was markedly better. Rebounding from his two-month swoon, the 22-year-old third baseman slashed a solid .287.358/.447, with 10 of his 27 hits going for extra bases. Only one of them cleared the fence — his surprising lack of pop remains a concern — but overall, his success at the plate was much more in line with expectations. Despite understandable concerns, he remains a viable big league prospect.

What’s been behind his improved performance? Berry declined a recent interview request to discuss any adjustments he might have made, but he did sit down to discuss his hitting approach late in spring training.

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David Laurila: Do you view hitting as more of an art or more of a science?

Jacob Berry: “That is a great question, actually. With everything nowadays, I would say it’s kind of both. I believe it’s more of an artwork, but there are obviously a lot of analytics and all that. I mean, growing up, I looked at it as more of an artwork; it was guys trying to paint a picture of what they want to do with their swing and how they want to play their game. That’s still kind of how I view it. I want to barrel balls — that’s what I want to paint — so I would say for me it’s probably more art than science.”

Laurila: Wanting to barrel balls aside, how would you describe your art?

Berry: “I’m a very simple hitter. I go up there and try to barrel balls every at-bat. That’s my goal. But I’m going to grow as time goes along, grow as I get older and more mature. I think spring training has been really good for me. I haven’t played a lot, but I’ve been learning from watching a lot of good hitters on this team, guys like Luis Arraez, [Jean] Segura, and Jazz [Chisholm Jr.], as well as great hitters on the teams we’re playing. It’s cool to watch, seeing what they do successfully and things that I might add to my game in the future as well.

“I’m always open. That’s what every player should be doing: learning to get better. Again, I like to keep things simple in the box with nothing going through my head outside of barreling the ball. At the same time, I’m watching and learning. Like I said, I’m trying to grow. That’s something that’s benefited me in the past, and it’s going to benefit me in the future.”

Laurila: Is it ever hard not to think in the batter’s box?

Berry: “I used to think so when I was younger. But it’s almost like the game slows down when I step in the box. It’s kind of weird, in a way. My only focus is seeing where the ball is released. That’s all I think about, and that’s actually helped me slow down quite a bit. It’s helped me be mature in the box, whereas a lot of young hitters kind of get big and try to do too much. Obviously, I’ll have my at-bats like that — I’m far from perfect — but I think I have fewer of them than some guys do.”

Laurila: You’re a switch-hitter. I assume your swings aren’t identical from both sides…

Berry: “They actually are pretty identical, in my opinion. If you put them on a mirror, they look very similar. I mean, I’m very short both ways. I feel that I have a little juice both ways. That’s something I’ve attributed to my work ethic and to the people who have helped me along my path. Obviously, some days one side feels better than the other, but I try to get the same amount of swings on both sides.”

Laurila: What do you do in terms of drill work?

Berry: “I’ve done the same drill since I was five, six years old. My dad kind of taught me my routine. I’ve obviously added a few drills here and there throughout the years, but for the most part, my routine and the cage work have remained the same since I was just a kid.

“When I get in a batting cage, I usually start with tee work and get a few swings in there. I do a step-through drill to get a little rhythm and get fluid. Then I’ve got a top hand/bottom hand drill, which is something I do from both sides. That’s just to make sure my swing is short and direct to the ball; I’ll know if something is off, and I can correct it right then and there. Then I get into some flips and a little bit of short overhand. From there, I’m good to go. It’s real simple, real concise, and what has always worked for me.”

Laurila: Do you find value in traditional batting practice?

Berry: “I do. I like seeing the ball out of hand, because that’s how the game is played: it’s out of the pitcher’s hand and not out of a machine. I like reading where it’s going to be and from there trying to control the ball, putting good backspin on it all over the field. There’s a purpose for everything, so yes, I’m a big supporter of traditional BP.”

Laurila: What about when you do hit off of a machine? Do you like to crank up the velocity so that it’s more like game speed?

Berry: “Yes. I did it a lot in college and also a lot here in professional baseball. Arms are so good nowadays, and we have great machines that can slow the game down that way. It’s less about your swing path and more allowing your eyes to get adjusted to the velocity you’re going to see in the game.”

Laurila: What is your swing path? Is it built for loft or more of a flatter plane?

Berry: “I’ve never really had to answer that question, to be quite honest with you. I’d say I don’t view my swing as either. I don’t try to keep it level or with loft — a launch angle swing — I’m just trying to barrel the ball. That’s what I do, and what I’m always going to do.”

Laurila: That said, are you not trying to drive the ball in the air? I’ve been told many times that balls on the ground are outs…

Berry: “I try to barrel the ball. It’s as simple as that. Barreled balls are barreled balls. They’re usually good results in my opinion. How consistently you barrel balls is the key to the game. How .300 hitters impact the ball is the reason they’re hitting .300, or whatever their numbers are.”

Laurila: It sounds like exit velocity is something you feel is important…

Berry: “I actually don’t really look at exit velocities a whole lot, to be honest with you. I don’t know if that’s a great [indication] of a good hitter nowadays. A lot of people are big into exit velocities, but what happens if you hit a ball 105 [mph] with topspin? It doesn’t go out of the park. Then another guy hits a ball 95 with backspin and it lands in the third row. So, it’s a great stat to have, but I don’t necessarily believe in it. Again, I just want to barrel the ball, to hit it true. That’s the key to being a good hitter. We obviously have a batting title holder here, and he barrels balls everywhere. Good hitters put it on the sweet spot more consistently than bad hitters.”

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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, Charlie Blackmon, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Will Brennan, 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, Luke Raley, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Giancarlo Stanton, Spencer Steer, 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, Joey Votto, 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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arpollio
9 months ago

This is like the fifth marlins blog in 3 weeks. When is the announcement, or coming out blog, going to be written? I’ll help speed up the process here are some fun names off the cuff “marlins might be good at baseball!(?)” or the “Maybe hitting is overrated?” Idk.
There is a team at fangraphs I’m sure someone can come up with something fun. I just feel like the site has walked around the idea that maybe the marlins are good. I’m curious when the site will officially put there stance, even if it’s not a full endorsement, into words. The marlins are likely a playoff team and here is how it happened.