Red Sox 2020 First-Rounder Nick Yorke Talks Hitting

Nick Yorke was among the more intriguing — some might say confounding — picks in the 2020 amateur draft. Selected 17th overall by Boston out of a San Jose high school, the right-handed-hitting infielder wasn’t expected to go in the first round. Moreover, MLB Pipeline didn’t even rank him as a Top-100 draft prospect. Eyebrows were raised throughout the industry when Yorke’s name was announced on Day One.

Red Sox scouts obviously liked what they saw from the sweet-swinging California prepster. They’re convinced that he’s going to hit, and what they saw this spring only enhanced that belief. Yorke not only impressed during simulated games, he stroked a single off of Atlanta Braves southpaw A.J. Minter in his Grapefruit League debut. As Red Sox right-hander Garrett Richards said after watching him in action, “It made me stop in my tracks a little bit, because I had no idea that this kid was that young.”

Yorke, who celebrated his 19th birthday earlier this month, talked hitting — including his offseason sessions with Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger — midway through spring training.

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David Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a hitter?

Nick Yorke: “I see myself as a grinder in the batter’s box. I take every at-bat very seriously. I hate striking out. I hate being beat. And I love hitting. There’s just something about it. You’re having a bad day, so it’s ‘OK, let’s hop in the cage and have some fun.’ I find hitting fun. To think you could change the game with one swing of the bat is exciting to me.”

Laurila: Something I’ve asked a lot of guys over the years is whether they look at hitting as more of an art, or as more of a science. How do you see it?

Yorke: “Ooh, that’s a good question. I see it as more of an art. I think everyone works on their craft, everyone has different feel in the batter’s box, they’re trying to accomplish different things. I mean, I’m not going to go up there and have the same approach as a 6-foot-5, power-hitting lefty first baseman. Everyone has their own thoughts when they’re in the box, so yeah, I would say it’s an art.”

Laurila: A number of hitters have told me “art,” then gone on to talk scientifically about how they approach things…

Yorke: “No doubt. But I’m not really into the whole technology piece of the game. I do understand that some of the points of technology are important, but I can tell if I hit a ball good or not. I don’t really need readings for that. That’s why I think it’s more of an art than a science. I try to stay away from all the technology stuff and just play baseball. I’m more of an old-school guy.”

Laurila: Mitch Haniger was a guest on FanGraphs Audio recently, and told me that when he’s in the batting cage, he doesn’t want to hit the top of the cage. What he wants is to hit the ball right back at the pitcher.

Yorke: “Yes. It’s kind of along the lines of… I mean, if you’re on top of the baseball — if your sights are lower in the cage — then once get into the game it will kind of take care of itself and you’ll lift naturally. That’s why you see a lot of guys just hitting the cage before a game; they don’t like taking BP, because they feel like they get big when they see the field. They’re getting meatballs thrown to them, and they just want to hit home runs, which could jack up their swing for the game.”

Laurila: Do you prefer the cage, or hitting on the field?

Yorke: “I think there are good sides to both. I mean, it’s always fun to hit on the field, but this past offseason I didn’t hit on the field a whole lot. It was more cage work, and kind of having that tunnel vision and locking down that swing — that short, compact swing that you need in the game, rather than those big home run swings.”

Laurila: You and Haniger hit together during the offseason. Experience aside, how similar are the two of you?

Yorke: “Coming from the same high school [Archbishop Mitty] and being coached by some of the same guys, we’re pretty similar in that we’re just trying to hit a line drive somewhere. If it lifts and goes out, then cool. My older brother [Joe Yorke] is actually at Cal Poly — he’s a first baseman — so I have a little bit of relationship with their coach, too. That’s where Mitch went to college. So I would say we’re pretty similar, although he’s s obviously older, wiser, and more experienced than I am.”

Laurila: How would you describe your setup and your swing?

Yorke: “I’m very relaxed. I try not to think in the box. I’m a big believer in you’re working on what you need to work on in the cage, then once you get in the game it’s just go-time. Go have fun, clear your mind, and just be relaxed. When I’m in the box, I focus on my breathing. From there, I just try to zone in on the pitch I’m looking for. So I would say I’m relaxed, slow load, and then explosive. I try to be short, quick, and as powerful as possible.”

Laurila: What is your timing mechanism?

Yorke: “When that pitcher… I mean, if he’s coming at me with 99 mph, I’’m going to try to meet a ball out in front. If you’re late on 99, you’re not going to touch it. So I try to dance with a pitcher. When he’s separating, I’m getting into my load. I don’t have a leg-kick or a toe-tap; it’s just a stride.”

Laurila: There’s not a lot of movement…

Yorke: “Right. The quieter I am in the box, the slower the load, the better I can keep my head still and see the ball. I try to eliminate movement as much as I can.”

Laurila: Where are your hands?

Yorke: “I keep them just in front of my body, by my back shoulder. I keep my elbows relaxed, my hands relaxed. And I think the lower half being connected to the ground is huge. I kind of work from the ground up.”

Laurila: Do you pay any attention to biomechanics?

Yorke: “I never did in high school, but Mitch is pretty big into feeling his body and the biomechanics of the swing, so I learned a little bit about it this offseason. But like I said, when I’m in the box it’s just kind of, ‘Clear your head, it’s go-time.’”

Laurila: How often did you hit with Haniger during the offseason?

Yorke: Usually two or three times a week.

Laurila: Who else did you work with?

Yorke: “I have a hitting coach. His name is Joe Bettencourt. He was with Zoots Baseball, which was my summer ball team. His son is actually with the Phillies now, in Double-A: Trevor Bettencourt. I worked out with him a lot this offseason, too.”

Laurila: Earlier, you mentioned trying to catch high-velocity out front. Is that your approach against most pitchers, or do you like to let the ball travel?

Yorke: “In the past, it was let the ball travel, but then I kind of switched my sights around once people started throwing 100 mph. I’m a big believer now that if you’re early, you can always make an adjustment. But if you’re late, you’re late. You can’t do anything if you’re late.”

Laurila: From everything you’ve said, it sounds like you’re not too rotational with your swing…

Yorke: “Correct. I’m more of a directional guy. I try to get everything going back to the pitcher. When I’m swinging, my goal is to take the pitcher’s head off.”

Laurila: A hitter I talked to awhile ago referred to that as “trying to spin the pitcher’s cap.”

Yorke: “Yes, and I was actually hitting with J.D. Martinez this spring — with a lot of other guys, as well — and I was struggling with high velocity on the high pitch. This was off a machine. J.D. was telling me that when he’s getting that high fastball — something that’s hard to get on top of — instead of trying to hit it off the pitcher’s head, he’s trying to hit it at his feet. That helped me out a little bit, as well.”

Laurila: Martinez has said that his swing isn’t natural; it’s built. What about your own swing?

Yorke: “I’m a builder in the cage. Then, once I’m in the game, I just let it go. If you’re thinking about your mechanics in the box, you’re taking away from your athletic ability. I like to go up there relaxed, get my pitch, and like I said, try to take the pitcher’s head off.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, 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, Zac Veen, 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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JimmieFoxxalorian
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JimmieFoxxalorian

That’s interesting that he got some work in with JD during Spring Training. They have such opposite approaches– JD with his trusty iPad and Yorke shying away from technology and going more on ‘feel.’ That’s kind of refreshing to see an old school approach, and will be interesting to compare how to effective that is in today’s game of endless adjustments and analysis.

“When I’m swinging, my goal is to take the pitcher’s head off.”

Can’t wait to see how his bat develops!