This is a regular in-season and off-season premium piece on the site where I along with other site writers sit down with a coach in the Indians minor league system and really break down and discuss several players on the roster and talk about some of the philosophies surrounding the development of players.
In this week’s edition of “Coach’s Corner” I had a chance to sit down with High-A Lynchburg hitting coach Larry Day. He completed his second year in the organization after joining in 2015 and serving as the hitting coach at Low-A Lake County.
As always, these pieces are in a Q&A format in order to provide the raw uncut comments from the manager or coach.
Q: Lynchburg was an impressive club offensively this season as just about every hitter on the team had a big year. How much fun was it to see that this year?
Larry Day (LD): It was great. I think ultimately when you look at the team that won the first half and tied for the second half champion, it was a successful year. That’s a lot of what we base our offensive discussions about is hitting to win. That is the premise for our foundation and philosophy is the reason we hit is to get on base, the reason we get on base is to score runs and the reason we score runs is to win games. The hitters did a good job in conjunction with the pitching staff to aide to a successful season as a team.
Q: First baseman Bobby Bradley had another MVP-caliber year hitting .235 with 29 HR, 102 RBI and .810 OPS in 131 games. What did you take from his season?
LD: He had a great year if you consider everything. You are talking about a 20-year old kid at the High-A level with the type of production that he has from a run production standpoint with the slugging and the RBIs. When we were scoring runs he was right in the middle of it. I think he had a terrific year for such a young kid at 20 years old to go up against a lot of older pitchers. As Bobby learned this year, there is some growth to be made in fastball counts at 3-0 and 2-1 as they don’t really exist as he saw a lot of right-handed 2-0 changeups and left-handed 2-0 breaking balls that he normally would come out of his shoes on but did a better job of not doing so. He did a really good job this year of understanding his approach and knowing what pitchers are trying to do to him. When you talk about a kid with that kind of run production it is very good.
Q: Is there any concern about Bradley’s low batting average and high strikeout rate?
LD: He struck out a 170 times and had the low batting average, but he hit 29 homers – 30 if you include the one in the All Star game – and he drove in over a 100 runs so we can’t have everything. If you look at the history of power hitters they don’t always hit for the highest average and they certainly strike out, so there is going to be some give and take. Sure, it would be great if he hit .280, but he hit 30 home runs and drove in over 100 runs. That might be the nature of myself as a hitting coach as I try to extenuate the positive and I have been with him for two years. Moving forward, there is plenty of room for growth to get better, but that is why he is in the minor leagues right now.
Q: Outfielder Anthony Santander had a great year hitting .290 with 20 HR, 95 RBI and .862 OPS in 128 games. Was it nice to finally see him get over his health issues and put together a complete season?
LD: He had an amazing year. The one thing when I talk about him is it is hard-earned. That kid doesn’t just roll out of bed and walk on the field and produce the way he did. He has had some injuries in his past, so because of that he spends a lot of time on his preparation. He spends over an hour on his body preparation and then he spends another hour in the cage executing his routine to get the mechanics of his swing right. He has a very intense approach in games. He has a good idea of what pitchers are trying to do against him and kind of lines up his approach to what they are doing. I think that is one thing that makes him different when it comes to his offensive advances is he doesn’t look for the pitch he wants to hit he looks for the pitch he thinks he is going to get and he makes that a strength. As far as his physical ability, I think he is a naturally born hitter. Our scouts did a great job of finding him and signing him, and our [development staff] did a great job creating an environment and atmosphere for him to grow as a hitter. It was great to watch him finally have the year he had. It was well-earned and based on the time he put in.
Q: Was Santander’s big year all about his health, or was there anything else that contributed to it?
LD: Not really. Him being healthy was a massive part of it. Like most hitters, he would go through ups and downs throughout the year and we would get into the cage and watch video and make adjustments whether it was the timing of the load or a tweak in the mechanics. But that is like every hitter throughout the course of the year. There wasn’t one thing that we did with him that was a sudden change for him to have success. I think he has always been a hitter and will always be a hitter.
Q: Infielder Mark Mathias had a very nice showing at Lynchburg (.274 AVG, 5 HR, 60 RBI, .764 OPS in 115 games) before a late season promotion to Double-A Akron. What impresses you the most about him?
LD: He is one of the toughest players that I have been around not only physically but mentally as well. Everyone knows about the injury he missed time for after getting hit in the face, but he also got hit in the head by a line drive during batting practice when we were in Wilmington. Those are just two physical examples. Mentally, you are talking about a kid in his first full season who started out cold and was barely hitting .200 through May and you barely knew it by the way he acted in the clubhouse, cage, dugout and the way he interacted with his teammates or his coaches. The kid is as steady as the day is long with his approach to baseball. He is going to show up and he is going to prepare and try to get better and play hard no matter what.
Q: Was there something Mathias did at the plate that got him going offensively?
LD: What got Mark Mathias going was Mark Mathias and how steady he is as a player. He made some adjustments with his mechanics. We altered the way he loaded his body and altered the timing with how he got into a launch position to help him have a better chance to be on time more often. From a mechanical standpoint, there were some adjustments we made to get him into a firing position more consistently. It was an adjustment he made as a player and hopefully helps him moving forward.
Q: Outfielder Taylor Murphy is another player who had a very strong season at Lynchburg (.267 AVG, 14 HR, 62 RBI, .790 OPS in 99 games). I know he dabbled some at third base last year, but did going back to the outfield this year help him regain his comfort at the plate?
LD: Taylor has a career year from a power production standpoint. There has been some big time growth with him, especially recently with the efficiency of how he loads and fires his lower half. Those things will help him hit balls hard from pole to pole. It will help him going forward to hit balls hard all over the field. He has the pull-side ball in his back pocket. He has some serious pull-side power which he showed the ability to tap into more consistently this year. I think a lot of that has to do with putting him in his natural position in the outfield. He plays a pretty good right field, has a bazooka for a throwing arm and I think it is his more natural position, so when you put a guy in a position he is more comfortable with positionally he will have more confidence at the plate. It’s not that he couldn’t play first base or third base, but he’s a pretty good outfielder.
Q: Infielder Claudio Bautista may have been one of the only hitters to have a so-so year this year at Lynchburg (.239 AVG, 6 HR, 32 RBI, .694 OPS in 70 games). What have you worked on with him to get him going offensively?
LD: We have done some things with the mechanics of his swing to tap into his power more and to create a stronger posture. He is a guy who shows up ready to work on a daily basis. He listens to instruction. He is very easy and fun to work with in the cage. Because he is so athletic he can make mechanical adjustments quickly. It is just about creating a stronger posture, getting to a stronger spot and loading his hips more efficiently so he can hit the ball harder more consistently.
Q: Outfielder Dorssys Paulino’s year was a tale of two halves: the one before his hamate injury and the one after it. While he had a solid season overall hitting .284 with 6 HR, 31 RBI and .799 OPS in 55 games, you had to really love his performance when he returned from injury as he hit .330 with 5 HR, 20 RBI and .950 OPS in 28 games (.235 AVG, 1 HR, 11 RBI, .639 OPS in 27 games before his return). Was he really that different of hitter in his return from injury?
LD: I think you need to throw out all of the statistics pre-injury. Who knows when that hamate actually snapped. Having gone through that injury myself, I think every statistic under his name pre-surgery should be completed disregarded and thrown out. When you look at his numbers and production since he came back from surgery they were really good. He came back from his rehab in Arizona in a really good spot, which is a testament to our medical and strength and conditioning staff and the coaches there. He hit the ground running.