Darick Hall was leading the Florida State League with 11 home runs when he was promoted to Double-A Reading on the first of June. That should come as no surprise. One year ago, the 22-year-old first baseman led the South Atlantic League with 27 bombs in first full professional season. In 2016, he went deep 20 times at Dallas Baptist University prior to being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 14th round.
Hall, who was slashing .277/.367/.538 at the time of his promotion, began thriving after he adopted a high-launch-angle swing in his final collegiate season. And he’s certainly not turning back. While the 6-foot-4, 240-pound left-handed hitter is off to a slow start in the Eastern League — a .497 OPS and a pair of home runs in 12 games — he profiles as one of the best young power hitters in the Phillies system.
Hall talked about his game, including his power stroke and improved plate discipline, shortly before moving up to Double-A.
Hall on becoming a more complete hitter: “Any time you’re labelled a power hitter, your power tool is kind of what shines. But you always want to be a complete hitter. You don’t want to sacrifice at-bats just to hit home runs. Your goal is to hit the ball square as many times as you can, and you definitely want to walk. Power hitters sometimes have a high strikeout rate, a low walk rate, and a low average. That’s not something you aspire to. You obviously want the home runs, but you also want to get on base.
“Last year, I didn’t walk as much as I should have [29 times in 503 plate appearances], and my worst talent was probably the 3-2 count. If you look at it analytically, a 3-2 count is what, 40% strikes thrown? Being cognizant of things like that should help me grow as a hitter, including in terms of walks. I’m doing better in that respect [21 in 247 plate appearances].
“And sometimes stats are relevant to levels. In Low-A, a ton of guys throw the ball all over the place. There’s not really a rhyme or reason. You’re not really able to pattern them — they’re kind of random — so it can be harder to walk if you’re not disciplined. I also think the velocity was higher in the [South Atlantic League] than what I’ve seen this year. Pitchers here are more consistent, while last year some of the velo was kind of crazy with a lot of guys not knowing where their balls were going.”
On adopting a high-launch-angle swing: “My goal is to backspin to right, although the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been able to hit balls out of the yard to left-center and left field. What I want is to hit the ball out front, because your swing is on the up at that point, whereas when the ball is deep, you’re flatter and more apt to hit a ground ball. I want my swing to be on time, and early, especially in a hitter’s count.”
“When I was in junior college, I was told to get in my legs and pull the knob straight down. That’s how I’d been taught — it’s how I’d grown up hitting — and it had become a problem. I was consistently beating pitches into the ground because of my swing. When I got to DBU is the first time I ever heard about launch angle and hitting the ball in the air. It kind of scared me. That’s because I’d always been taught the one way.
“When I began hitting the new way, balls I was barreling started to go on a line, in the air. My slugging percentage, and my doubles and home runs, went up significantly from when I was in junior college. The level was better — a lot higher at DBU than it was at [Cochise College] — but the swing… it was a swing-plane change more than anything. My timing was the same, it was a matter of where I was hitting the ball on the bat.
“The thing about swinging down, and guys who don’t strike out… to swing down you have to let the ball get deeper to hit it. If you’re swinging level — if you’re swinging more up — you can hit the ball further out in front, and that produces more doubles and home runs. Hitting the ball on the ground usually results in outs. If you look at somebody like Joey Gallo, who has the crazy launch angle… everything he hits is in the air. You do kind of need to find that happy medium.”
On defense and keeping things in perspective: “As a first baseman, you kind of know [that you’re expected to hit for power]. If you don’t put up good numbers, especially if you’re not a plus defender — if you’re not a third baseman who plays first — you do have to produce. But I think I’m pretty good around the bag. Defense is definitely something I focus on. It’s something I pride myself on.
“Being a [14th-round pick]… playing professional baseball was my goal. I knew going in that I’d have to play well, but I also didn’t really want to change anything. I wanted to go about the game the same way I always have, just play and let things unfold. I’m a realistic guy. I’ll accept whatever happens.
“My career aspirations are to get to the big leagues, but if down the road I end up looking at myself in the mirror and not really seeing that happening… that’s a decision I’ll have to make if the time comes. Something I’ve always wanted to do is be a firefighter — that kind of runs in the family — so there are definitely some things… I have multiple loves. Baseball is one of them. I’m happy with where I’m at and doing everything I can to make the most of it. Thankfully, it’s going well so far.”
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.