Rangers First-Rounder Justin Foscue Talks Hitting

The Texas Rangers brought a promising young hitter on board when they took Justin Foscue with the 14th-overall pick of last summer’s draft. A 21-year-old second baseman, Foscue put up a .958 OPS in his sophomore season at Mississippi State University, and he followed that up by slashing 321/.464/.509 in last year’s truncated collegiate campaign. Moreover, he displayed exemplary plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills. Foscue had 69 plate appearances with the Bulldogs in 2020, and drew 15 walks while striking out just three times.

What kind of hitter does the Huntsville, Alabama native view himself as, and how might that change as he advances through the professional ranks? Foscue addressed those questions, and much more, over the phone earlier this week.

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David Laurila: How would you describe your hitting approach?

Justin Foscue: “That goes into what your strengths are as a hitter. For the past two years — my sophomore and junior years — I was really keyed in on advantage counts. On 1-0, 2-0, 3-1, I was sitting on a middle, middle-in, fastball, and if it was there I was trying to hit it out of the ballpark. If it wasn’t there, I wasn’t swinging. In those advantage counts, you’ve still got more pitches to play with.

“As a hitter, you have to be very disciplined with your approach, because if you don’t stick to it, you’re not going to be as successful as you could be. I kind of just try to hit mistakes. I’m also sitting fastball, because when guys are throwing 94 to 98 [mph], you’ve got to be keyed in on that or you’re going to miss it. And if he hangs a breaking ball, you have to be ready for that, too. One reason I’ve been so successful is that I haven’t missed too many pitches that I should be hitting.”

Laurila: What about when you’re not in an advantage count?

Foscue: “As the count gets to two strikes, I think it’s really important to keep your head open to what the pitcher has in his arsenal. I want to know every single pitch he has, and I need to understand that he can throw it in any location. Then, if it’s close, I’ve got to swing. For me, putting the ball in play is very important. It was really important for our team at Mississippi State. We kind of had a two-strike-approach mindset to where we battled our asses off. It was a keep-the-lineup-going mindset.

“When I’m up there with two strikes, I’m not setting my sights on one zone, or one pitch, because I think that ties you up. You can get fooled a lot easier if you do that, so I’m thinking, ‘any pitch, any location,’ and I want to be ready to hit the ball wherever it’s pitched. That’s kind of tough — I don’t think a lot of people can do that — but I work on it in batting practice. I think that a good hitter beats good pitching. He can throw it in any zone, but if you can hit it in any zone, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Laurila: It’s long been said that good pitching beats good hitting…

Foscue: “You know, man, I really… I’ve told people that good hitting beats good pitching, but I should be more careful about how I put that. What I mean is, if you swing at mistakes, and you hit those mistakes, and you take the balls that are barely off the strike zone, then you should have a lot of success. Over the course an entire season, a team that consistently does that should have a lot of success.

“Obviously, if the pitcher paints three fastballs low and away, or he ties you up, up-and-in… I don’t have stats to back this up, but I don’t think that happens very often. Pitchers make mistakes throughout a game. It’s our responsibility as hitters to hit those pitches. That’s what I mean by good hitting beating good pitching. I use that as a mindset. Whatever the pitcher has, if I do a good job hitting, I should be successful.”

Laurila: Your bat-to-ball skills have been pretty impressive. You struck out three times in 69 plate appearances last year…

Foscue: “Coming into pro ball, I’m actually wondering if striking out a little more could be better for my game. That’s if I can hit more home runs. I’ve been a very handsy hitter, and I think that’s why I’ve been so successful putting the ball in play. I need to find that good mix between strikeouts and the production numbers.”

Laurila: You said earlier that you’re looking to drive the ball out of the park when you’re in advantage counts…

Foscue: “The way I look at it, if a ball is left over the middle of the plate, I should be able to hit a home run on it. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. But I do remember joking with somebody, going into my junior year, ‘Why couldn’t somebody hit 100 home runs?’ When you see so many pitches over the course of a year, why couldn’t you? I mean, that’s obviously not going to happen either, but if you have that mindset of doing damage, good things are going to happen. I’m trying to hit the crap out of the ball, and that’s going to produce doubles and home runs.”

Laurila: Is it always the same swing?

Foscue: “No, because pitches do different things, and you have to adjust as a hitter mid-swing. I’m not going to take one swing to every pitch and location. That’s just not possible. I think I’m pretty good at adjustability, and recognizing where the pitch is going to end up.”

Laurila: What do you want your A-swing to look like?

Foscue: “It’s being on time, nice rhythm, and catching the ball a little bit out front on an upward plane to where that ball backspins. That’s what it should look like.”

Laurila: Getting on top of a high fastball is one of the biggest challenges in today’s game.

Foscue: “That’s something you have to work on in practice. You want to get a velo machine and practice. It’s all about feel-versus-real, but when I think ‘being on top of the ball’ and kind of chop at it, my plane to the ball is flatter than what I actually feel. I feel like I’m chopping at the ball, literally, but my plane is flat through the zone, which helps me get to those fastballs in the upper part of the zone. But again, you’ve got to work on it. The game is moving towards that — pitchers throwing up in the zone — and as a hitter you have to be disciplined about what you swing at. When you’ve got a Gerrit Cole on the mound, you really have to be very disciplined. You also have to be able to hit that upper fastball if you hope to be successful.”

Laurila: You spent time at alternate camp last summer. What were [minor league hitting coordinator] Cody Atkinson’s primary messages to you?

Foscue: “Man, he really kind of just let me be. I think he mostly wanted to see how I go about my business every single day, and what my routine was. I thought I did pretty good at the alternate site, and I think he thought so too, so he kind of just let me do my thing. He didn’t have any big adjustment for me.”

Laurila: Did you have a lot of live ABs at the alternate camp?

Foscue: “Yeah, we scrimmaged pretty much three or four times a week, facing pretty much the same arms.”

Laurila: How did those arms compare to what you faced in the SEC?

Foscue: “I’d say the biggest adjustment was what they did in counts. In college, on 2-0 they were probably going to give you a fastball. Here — and I learned this very quickly — they don’t care that it’s a 2-0 count. They throw whatever pitch they feel you’re not going to be on, so I got a lot of 2-0 changeups, a lot of 2-0 curveballs. They’d also throw a fastball when you were least expecting it. That was the biggest adjustment for me. It was knowing that the pitcher can throw any pitch, in any count, in any location. An adjustment going forward might be to have more of a two-strike mindset, although I’m still going to want to stay on the fastball.”

Laurila: Would it really be like a two-strike mindset? Like you said earlier, if you’re ahead in the count you can afford to take the pitch.

Foscue: “Yeah, I think it’s going to be kind of in-between phases. If it’s a 2-0 count and they throw me a changeup, I’m going to either swing through it because I thought it was a fastball — I’ll just hit my cap to the pitcher — or I’m going to take it. But it is going to get to a point where they make a mistake, and you’ve got to hit it. That’s how you’re going to be successful in professional baseball. The elite of the elite don’t miss those mistakes.”

Laurila: I’m intrigued by what kind of hitter you’re going to be at the highest level — a contact-oriented guy who hits 10-12 home runs, or one who makes less contact and hits 25-30 home runs.

Foscue: “I definitely don’t want to be a contact kind of guy, especially with where the game is moving. I feel like I can hit 25-30 home runs. I’m strong enough to do that. It’s just going to be a matter of can I do it? Can I consistently make hard contact and put the ball in the air? I feel like I have the ability to do that.”

Laurila: Either way, we’re probably not going to see another “three strikeouts in 69 plate appearances.”

Foscue: “No, that’s probably not going to happen. Not in professional baseball. That would be pretty insane. I think Nick Madrigal is the closest to doing that. But it really just depends on what kind of player you want to be. I don’t want to just hit singles, and strike out less. I’d rather do a lot more damage.”

Laurila: In terms of value, that damage would ideally come as a second baseman. While that’s your primary position, you also played some third base at Mississippi State.

Foscue: “I was at second at the alternate site, and in instructs; I didn’t play any third or shortstop. They just had me work at second base, and I think that’s where they want me. I’m a pretty versatile player — I could play the outfield if I had to — but with my power, and the hitter I am… there aren’t a lot of second baseman that can do that. So yes, I think they see a lot of value with me at second.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Foscue: “Just that I want to be clear about what I said about good hitting beating good pitching. I think you’re the first reporter I’ve ever told that to, and I don’t want it to come out wrong. I just think that as the game progresses, we’re going to get to where good hitting is going to beat good pitching. At least more consistently. If you’re disciplined, and you’re locked in on every pitch… I mean, if you hit the good pitches, you’re going to win. You’re going to beat the good pitcher.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Joey Gallo, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Tim Hyers, Trevor Larnach, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Daniel Murphy, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker.





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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Jim
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Jim

Foscue made a miscue: good pitching will always beat good hitting. He’s what, 21?