Today we continue and wrap up our season ending question and answer session with Cleveland Indians High-A Lynchburg hitting coach Larry Day. If you missed part one, it focused on players such as Bobby Bradley, Anthony Santander, Mark Mathias, Taylor Murphy, Claudio Bautista and Dorssys Paulino.
Onto the Q&A…
Q: Shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang had an inconsistent showing at Low-A Lake County in 2015 (.232 AVG, 9 HR, 52 RBI, .655 OSP in 105 G) but had a great bounce back showing this year in Lynchburg (.259 AVG, 13 HR, 70 RBI, .795 OPS in 109 G). You had him both seasons, so what kind of growth did he make from one year to the next?
LD: He had another year of growth from the previous year. A lot of that was because he was on the field a lot more. I would also credit Chang as well as the development staff in that culturally he is just more comfortable. You see him in conversations with his teammates and coaching staff in that he can carry himself in a more comfortable manner now that he has been in the United States now for three years. That was one of the main things I saw in his difference being around him last year and this year. He is more comfortable with the language and culture. He was 20 for most of the year and didn’t turn 21 until August, so you are talking about a 20-year kid from Taiwan who is away from everything he knows with family and friends. It is tough. So by being more comfortable it freed him up to do his thing on the baseball field.
Q: What is the next step in Chang’s evolution as a hitter?
LD: He is another kid like Santander who is a hitter. He has one of the simplest, repeatable swings. He works at it. He has a very efficient load with his lower half and has a very clean stroke with his bat path which enables him to consistently square up the ball. He is a physical kid for a shortstop as he is big and strong, which aides in his power production. Another thing about him is he does invest in his body. He takes place in strength and conditioning camps that our strength coaches put on during the offseason. I think he can progress both as a defender and offensive player. He needs to continue to put himself in a position to hit high velocity fastballs around the outside part of the plate to be able to drive the ball to all fields. As he gets older he will face higher octane bullpens, so with added reps and more games played, all of those things will help him get better naturally as a hitter and defender.
Q: Outfielder Greg Allen only spent about two-thirds of the season at Lynchburg but was arguably the MVP of the league while he was there with how he impacted games in all phases (.298 AVG, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 38 SB, .825 OPS in 92 games). He’s another guy you were around for two seasons. What do you like about him?
LD: The kid is advanced from a maturity standpoint. That is another guy that you can tell had a very quality upbringing from his parents. You can tell when you meet his parents why Greg is the way he is. As far as the timing for when that talent popped, it was a matter of time. I was lucky to have been with him for a year and a half. I am the lucky one that way. When I talk about Greg, he is a very dynamic player. He can beat you with a base hit in the infield. He can beat you with a base hit in front of the infield. He can beat you with a base hit through the infield. He can beat you with a base hit in front of the outfielders. He can beat you with a double or triple between the outfielders and he can also beat you with a ball over the wall. He can steal bases and plays lights out defense. He is just a very dynamic player that can do a lot of things that can help you win. Those are just the physical things as he is a dynamite clubhouse guy. When he left our team it took us a week to figure out what type of team we were again. When you take that type of presence out of your lineup and locker room it is really felt.
Q: Allen is pretty advanced and has all of the tools to where he could be close to a Major League opportunity here very soon. What is the last piece to the puzzle for him?
LD: To be honest with you, I think it is just a matter of time and him continuing to do what he does well. I couldn’t sit here comfortably and say if he did this a little better then he would be a big leaguer. I think he has the tools to be a Major League player; it is just a matter of trusting the process and going through it. At some point he will get a shot. As far as when? I don’t know.
Q: Catcher Francisco Mejia had great year and really broke out as a prospect. After a strong showing at Low-A Lake County to start the year (.347 AVG, 7 HR, 51 RBI, .915 OPS in 60 games) he made a seamless transition to Lynchburg midseason (.333 AVG, 4 HR, 29 RBI, .869 OPS in 42 games). Since you had him last season at Lake County, what was the big difference for him from last year to this year?
LD: He took a step a forward with more than just the bat. He took a step forward as a person maturity-wise and he took a step forward as a defender. He tweaked some things with his swing to where the movements with his swing are a little more gradual. He starts his build up and loading process a little earlier and is able to perform his swing with a little more control. His ability to be able to control his naturally given bat speed – which is unbelievable – and then obviously his prolific bat to ball skills, for him to be able to control those things put him in a positon to be to have the production he had this year. When we got him he was doing a few things with his swing that were a little new for my eyes in comparison to what I saw from him in Lake County as far as his gradual loading process and his posture transformation, and he credited Junior Betances and Kevin Howard with it in Lake County.
Q: What was most impressive about Mejia’s 50-game hitting streak?
LD: You are talking about a 20-year old kid not from this country and he is a catcher. It is not like his sole responsibility on a nightly basis is to get hits. He has a lot of responsibility as a catcher. I think a big reason for the hitting streak is he wasn’t solely focused on getting hits. He would spend 20-30 minutes a day with [pitching coach] Rigo [Beltran] and the pitchers going over the opposing lineup and how to pitch to it, so there is a lot of development that takes place as far as learning how to call a game that Rigo helped him with. It was about keeping in the moment when it came to his at bats. Doing his daily routines and never talking about the hit streak, which I think in the long run gave him a chance to extend it for as long as he did.
Q: Second baseman Tyler Krieger had a great first half showing with Low-A Lake County (.313 AVG, 3 HR, 35 RBI, .812 OPS in 69 games) before moving on to Lynchburg in the second half where he performed very well (.282 AVG, 2 HR, 23 RBI, .773 OPS in 59 games). What are your first impressions of him after only seeing him for half a season?
LD: I know I have said this about a couple of different guys, but he has a pretty extensive background and is well-trained on the swing. He has been receiving high level instruction for a long time now. He worked out with our Double-A hitting coach Tim Laker since he was a young teenager, so he is very advanced when it comes to the mechanics of his swing, he knows his swing and he knows it as good as any player his age. A lot of that is a testament to his upbringing and being around a lot of high level instruction. He carried that talent to Clemson and he carried it right into our organization. He can certainly hit.
Q: Catcher Daniel Salters was only with Lynchburg for a short time, but he played well (.281 AVG, 4 HR, 17 RBI, .758 OPS in 48 games). What did you see out of him in the short time you had him?
LD: He is a really good person, good teammate and was awesome to have in the locker room. He got a lot of hits when he was with us. He has a good, flat bat path and his barrel is in the hitting zone for a long time which enables him to get hits whether or not he is on perfect time or not. The fact the barrel is in the zone for a long time he can get hits whether he is early or late with it. It is in the zone. I think that is one of the positive attributes about his swing. He is a really good leader and teammate and makes most of the situations he is in better for being in them.
Q: Catcher Sicnarf Loopstok found his way to Lynchburg in the second half of the season and really took off with his performance (.281 AVG, 2 HR, 17 RBI, .773 OPS in 55 games). What were some things he worked on to bring out his offensive capabilities a little more?
LD: He had a big year offensively. It was just about making everything about his offensive approach more efficient. Keeping it simple, hunting early count fastballs, keeping the mechanics of his swing efficient and not getting too loose and keeping things nice and tight and compact. We wanted to keep Loopy aggressive on early count fastballs to where he might get some and he did that this year. He made those adjustments which enabled him to have the success he had.
Q: Finally, you guys moved transitioned Paul Hendrix from the field to the mound late in the year. What went into that decision?
LD: He went down to Arizona to pitch. He was 92-94 MPH with a little arm side run. As far as pitchability goes, that is a question for the pitching coaches, but when I saw him [in Lynchburg] it was arm strength and a little arm side run to his fastball, and he throws strikes. He certainly has a chance to do something from the mound.