Justin Toole is in his second season as a hitting coach with the Cleveland Indians organization. After spending the 2016 season with Mahoning Valley, Toole is with the Lake County this season. In this edition of “Coach’s Corner” Tyler Stotsky sat down with Toole and discussed in depth the hitters of the Captains lineup.
TS (Tyler Stotsky): What have you seen from the offense as a whole through the first two months of the season?
JT (Justin Toole): With any young hitters, there are some inconsistencies. There are days that we come out ready to hit and aggressive. Then, there are days where we are reactive. Trying to guess with pitchers and trying to go along with counts rather than being ourselves and being in a good position to hit. From there, making sure knowing what pitches we are going to swing at. It’s a matter of getting guys to bring there A-swing and A-mentalities to the batters box every at-bat. With young hitters, it’s tough to do that every time. There are some guys that we have playing in cold weather for the first time. Just making adjustments for those players that aren’t accustomed to it. The beginning of the season here can be an adjustment for a lot of guys. Guys are definitely swinging the bats well as of late. With this group, you always feel you have a good chance because they work hard. They go about the game the right way and play the game the right way with enthusiasm and energy. We talk about the time the things that we can’t control: attitude and effort. These guys have a great attitude and they put the effort in. The game of baseball is tough because you will do everything right and nothing shows up in your favor. Just a matter of staying the course and improving every day with their work and effort.
In Mahoning Valley last year, we didn’t really start off hot. We finished the year much better and the best thing for those guys is that they learned to trust the process and things will get better. They definitely aren’t hitting the panic button now which is good. It’s almost two months in but there is still a lot of baseball to be played. We are excited to see where this team is going and the improvements that we are seeing. They may not have shown up in the box score like the players and the coaching staff may have liked. We feel like they are turning in the right direction. It’s not how you start, its how you finish. That’s what we are preached to the guys.
TS: First, ten of the Captains’ hitters were with you in Mahoning Valley last season. Let’s talk about the guys that you have seen the most since you joined the organization. Logan Ice, a competitive balance draft pick last season, is a catcher that played in Niles last season after the draft. What have you seen from Ice since he joined the organization?
JT: Logan came in last year being a college catcher. Those guys usually are a little gassed from playing a long season. He did a great job coming in and getting ready during the offseason. He was into the season ready to hit. His bat speed has been good and he has been able to drive the ball a little better. He is having more consistent at-bats in terms of driving the ball better than he was last year at Mahoning Valley. Some of that comes from being a catcher, being rested and having his legs under him compared to last year. Definitely a guy that’s patient at the plate, sees a lot of pitches and draws a lot of walks. He has been a solid guy in the middle of the lineup.
TS: Now we move into the infield with Jorma Rodriguez. What has he been working on over the course of two seasons?
JT: Jorma is an energetic, fiery kid with a fast twitch and easily excitable. He doesn’t do anything unless it is 110 miles per hour. Some of the things that we have been working on with him are just having him stay within his self. He’s a strong kid that will try to drive the ball out of the ballpark. But sometimes he will chase some pitches as a result. When you are swinging at good pitches, getting good pitches and being ready to hit, good things happen so we are just trying to have him repeat that as often as he can.
TS: Luke Wakamatsu, one of the younger hitters on this roster, has shown some power glimpses this season. Has he done anything in his work to begin to hit for more power?
JT: Luke has been good for us this year. We have been working on getting him into some strong positions to drive the ball. With a lot of our guys, it’s just a matter of getting them ready to hit. He is a guy that we want to be in strong positions, ready to hit and do some damage. Being a switch hitter, it’s a little complicated at times to be able to work both sides of the plate but he has been doing a good job with it. Definitely turning it up and he has had some good at-bats the last couple of weeks.
TS: What have you seen with Alexis Pantoja?
JT: Pantoja has been good. We have been working on him getting himself into some strong positions as a hitter as well. It’s a similar theme with a lot of guys at this level, trying to get them ready to hit at this level. With him, it’s getting him into a good position to fire from. Not to be a guy that had a lot of power, getting him to think of driving the ball and hitting the ball hard as often as he can.
TS: Emmanuel Tapia leads the Captains with eight homeruns this season. As a power hitter, what does Tapia have to do to improve?
JT: Tapia has some serious juice. He is a big, strong kid that can drive the ball to pretty much any part of the ballpark. He is a fun guy to work with and something he has been doing a lot better job with this year is recognizing off-speed pitches. He has been doing a good job working into the count of at-bats more. Last year, he ran into some trouble early as he sat on fastballs and swung at off-speed pitches. And as well as the opposite while sitting on off-speed pitches and swinging at fastballs. He wasn’t able to adjust but now he is doing a better job.
TS: What do you see in Miguel Eladio from an offensive standpoint?
JT: Eladio is a kid that is a strong and athletic kid. He is easily excitable, like Jorma. We want him to take strong and good swings, and stay within his self. He is a great kid, in terms of his work ethic. It’s a matter of him taking a good approach at the plate and get good pitches to hit.
TS: Erlin Cerda, currently on the disabled list with a broken wrist, began the season with the team. What did he show as a hitter before the injury?
JT: He was good at the beginning of the season when he was here. He is a leader and a vocal guy. A lot of the guys in the clubhouse respond to him. He was having some at-bats and driving the ball well. He is a strong kid that is not very big. He has a chance to drive the ball and he was just starting to heat up before his injury. It’s unfortunate for that to happen to anyone, but he should back hopefully towards the end of the season.