This past weekend’s Sunday Notes column included a section on Brock Deatherage, a self-described “country boy from North Carolina” who aspires to be a farmer after his playing days are over. As promised within those paragraphs, we’ll now hear much more from the 22-year-old Detroit Tigers outfield prospect. More specifically, we’ll learn the reasons behind his poor junior season at North Carolina State and how that experience made him a better player today.
Deatherage is thriving in his first taste of professional baseball. In 231 plate appearances between the GCL, West Michigan, and (most recently) Lakeland, the left-handed-hitting speed burner is slashing .329/.383/.512 with six home runs and 16 stolen bases. He’s doing so after being selected by Detroit in the 10th round of this year’s June draft, one year after choosing to return to school rather than sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Deatherage discussed his tumultuous penultimate collegiate campaign, and how he subsequently turned things around, prior to a recent game.
Brock Deatherage: “I had a pretty tough junior year. I started the season really well — I was hitting .400-plus — but then I kind of ran into a little wall. I was having some good at-bats, a lot of hard contact, but balls weren’t falling. From there, the mental side of the game kind of took over. I obviously knew it was my draft year, and I was projected to go pretty high, so I started to press at the plate. A lot of those little mental things started piling on, piling on.
“Then I started to make physical adjustments. I tried everything. I widened out. I shortened up. I stood up taller. I leg-kicked. I started open and strided in. I started with my hands a little bit lower, a little higher. I was trying everything to get out of that funk, but you can’t go in there and hit one way and then show up the next day and hit another way. Basically, I was trying to figure out what worked for me rather than sticking with what got me there and just working through it. I kept making all of these changes and adjustments, and it obviously didn’t work.
“The college season isn’t long — 60 games including postseason play — so once something like that happens, it’s hard to get out of. I didn’t really get out of the funk I was in until late in the season, and by that time I was hitting .220. It was frustrating.
“I’m very, very aggressive, and always want to do more, do more, do more. I try to do too much sometimes. At times that hurts me a little bit, but it’s just the type of player I am. It’s the style of play I live by. Unfortunately, I was letting the game beat me a up a little bit. You can’t fight the game. You have to let the game come to you. If you fight the game, it’s going to beat your ass.
“I was a big football player growing up. I had multiple opportunities to go play football in college. I was a defensive back, a free safety, and I had offers from East Carolina, UNC Charlotte, Appalachian State. William & Mary, and a few others. I was also getting heavily recruited by ACC schools in the area, like Wake Forest, Duke, NC State, and UNC Chapel Hill. I could have played both sports, but I decided it would be tough to do that and really succeed, so I committed to just playing baseball.
“Baseball is a slow game. You have to learn how to manage everything — your style of play, your aggressive mentality. Whenever I’m doing well, I’m controlling that aggressive style and using it in a way that benefits me. When I’m going bad, I’m up there swinging at everything. I’m trying to do too much. My junior year, I struggled with that a little bit.
“The scouts I talked to were basically just asking me what was going on. They were very positive — I never talked to a scout who wasn’t positive — and mostly just said to hang in there. The knew the sky was the limit for me and that I just happened to run into a little funk in my junior year of college. There are guys struggling in the big leagues today. Everybody is still trying to figure everything out. It’s baseball. It’s a game of failure. What I went through was a humbling process that I learned from.
“I did finish strong. At our regional, in Kentucky, I had some good at-bats. I was back to the player I was. When the Pirates drafted me in the 29th round… I didn’t see myself as a 29th-round player, if that makes sense. I declined and went back for my senior year and finished my degree in agricultural business management. Along with wanting a degree, I wanted to grow and mature as a player. I wanted to use my last year of eligibility to get better. Sure enough, that’s what I did.
“I went back to the basics when it came to hitting. I pretty much forgot every adjustment I’d made my junior year. I just stood in the box and whatever was comfortable… I went back to simple mechanics, a very elementary type of swing, and tried to repeat it over and over and over, trying to be as consistent as possible. I took that into my senior year and hit .307 with 14 home runs.
“My approach is to attack the baseball. I’m looking for something early in the count that I can crush. But speed is the biggest part of my game. To first base on a bunt, I can run a 3.5, and on a ground ball it’s anywhere from a 3.9 to a 4.1. The other day I had two infield hits off of MacKenzie Gore, who is a challenging matchup. One of them was chopped up the middle. The other was a ground ball in the six-hole that the shortstop had to backhand, and I beat it out. He really had no chance. Pretty much what I did was put the ball into play and let my legs do the work.
“Speed is by far my best ability, and I thank the lord for giving it to me. It’s a huge benefit to have that in center field, and to swipe bags, to turn a walk into a triple. Speed is something you can’t teach. At the same time, I’ve been hitting in the middle of the lineup here, and I have some power to drive balls into the gaps. You have to know who you are as a player. You have to go out there and do what you do. What you don’t want is to try to do too much. That doesn’t work.”
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.