CEDAR RAPIDS, IA -- Once the calendar turned to August, the light went on for Beloit Snappers' outfielder Joe Bennie, who made the proper adjustments to his plate approach to help turn his first year with a full-season affiliate into a positive one.
The Oakland A’s 28th-round selection in the 2013 draft started slowly with the Snappers in April, which should come as no surprise as many others also struggle out of the gate, especially in the frigid Midwest League. But it was what the 6'0'' left-fielder did after a pair of mediocre months in June and July that has put him on track to graduate to High-A Stockton in 2016.
Bennie slashed .253/.378/.333 during July, which was almost identical to his stat line during 23 games in June. That’s when he sat down with Snappers’ manager Fran Riordan and hitting coach Lloyd Turner.
“Earlier in the year I was overly aggressive and was trying to force the issue,” Bennie said. “Fran and Lloyd talked to me about seeing pitches, not missing your pitch and being able to get your pitch throughout at-bats.
“I’ve been able to work at-bats, get walks and am not missing my pitch. I’m making them throw strikes and am not going up there forcing the issue and swinging at the first strike. I’m forcing them to throw me a pitch to hit and do damage on. At the beginning of the year I was missing those pitches and in the second half I haven’t been missing them, barreling them up and working walks.”
The results have been noticeable for Bennie, who slashed .324/.351/.648 during 26 August games. The outfielder hit eight homers and doubled eight times, scoring 17 runs and driving in 19 more.
And Bennie didn't cool at all in September, finishing the abbrevated September schedule with a .381/.440/.524 line. The sizzling six-week stretch boosted Bennie’s final season slash line to .272/.363/.430. He homered 11 times and drove-in 56 runs over 131 games at the Low-A level.
Turner says there wasn’t anything in particular that Bennie changed mechanically in his swing, but that Bennie simply got a mental boost from a new mindset.
“He’s one of the players that have the physical ability to do a lot of things that a lot of other players can’t do,” said Beloit’s hitting coach Turner. “He needs a lot of positive reinforcement, telling him he’s doing good and those types of things.
“One thing that’s helped him out a lot is having a short-term memory in his at-bats. No matter what happens in his previous (at-bat), he’s 0-for-0. He isn’t resting on his laurels and looking ahead. He’s focused mentally on his approach and what he’s looking for, so that he doesn’t miss his opportunities on pitches that are mistakes by other pitchers.”
As should be expected, opposing pitchers are starting to change their approach to Bennie in the second half.
“Pitchers have adjusted trying to get me chase, but becoming a smarter hitter I’m not chasing as much,” Bennie said. “They’re trying to come in hard on me, back me off the plate and then they’ll throw breaking balls soft away.”
Now that the season is done, Bennie will take 10 days off before reporting to Arizona for the A’s instructional league. It will give him an opportunity to work on other aspects of his game.
“I need to be more aggressive on the base paths,” he said. “I’ve had some success stealing bases, but not as much. I haven’t used my speed as well as I should have. In the outfield I need to read the ball off the bat a little better. At the plate I want to cut down on the strikeouts and put the ball in play more.”
If Bennie continues to build on his second-half finish, he should be primed for a much warmer climate in the California League as he opens the 2016 season.