Bob Skube: It is constant adjustments every year, no matter where you are playing. If you have guys you are coaching up and they do well they are going to leave anyway. Unfortunately, we had a lot of injuries to key players. My two, three, four, and five hitters all were lost, if not for the whole season most of it. We really didn't have hitters who could replace them. We were putting seven-hole hitters in the two-hole and five-hole hitters in the three hole and playing games. It was a major adjustment.
It was a pitching-dominant league as far as I was concerned. There are a lot of 23- and 24-year-old pitchers facing pretty young hitters, especially on our squad. I had Cedric Hunter at 19, Rayner Contreras at 20, Daryl Jones at 20, Jesus Lopez at 20 and the list goes on.
After it is all said and done, as a hitting coach, you really want your guys to face the best pitching possible. They got to face much better pitching than they were hitters and they will be better in the long run.
Cedric Hunter had a great first full season. What kind of changes did you go through with him this year?
Bob Skube: He was a much better breaking ball hitter at the end of the year. He pretty much hit third for us all year and got a lot of breaking balls in hitters counts. He learned how to be patient. He did a much better job of pitch recognition by the end of the year.
He did a better job of paying attention to the game and watching pitchers pitch to guys on his own team so when he got to the plate he pretty much knew what the pitcher was going to try and do to him.
He is a very intelligent young man and really a natural hitter.
Was he better served in your eyes since the injuries took away from a lot of the protection he might have had in the lineup. Therefore, he was getting a lot more breaking balls where maybe he would have seen more fastballs had the lineup protection been there.
Bob Skube: Exactly. If he would have been surrounded by some better hitters I have no problem telling you I think he would have hit .300 in that league this year.
With all the injuries and what happened to us as a team, he was thrown in the fire at 19 and came out with the fourth highest amount of hits in the league. He got a chance to play in Triple-A and finish up in Double-A. From the coaches – and opposing coaches that saw him play – were impressed with his play.
Rayner Contreras was breaking out of his shell when he got hurt. What impressed you about the young man?
Bob Skube: He is one of our bright young stars from Latin America. He is definitely a good young hitter. He can backspin balls and hit balls into the gap. He has an exceptional amount of power for a small guy. He is not going to be a small guy much longer. He is going to blossom out and put some weight on and get stronger. He is another bright spot in our organization.
He is an exceptional power hitting guy. He hits the ball in the gap and hits the ball over the fence just as well.
He has always had that Daryl Strawberry type of leg kick. Does he still have that?
Bob Skube: Yes, he still has the high leg kick. It is not as high as it was in Spring Training. We are trying to filter out that right now. We feel like he is going to be pushed in the organization and at higher levels it will be another thing he has to worry about with his timing. If we can just keep that foot closer to the ground he is going to be that much better of a hitter.
Javis Diaz did well for you out of the leadoff spot. What does he need to do to keep improving?
Bob Skube: We had him down in Instructs and were giving him an opportunity to stay up in his stance a little bit more where he can drive the ball in the gap more. He showed us a lot more power than we anticipated this year. He had seven homers, had a lot of doubles and triples. He is so fast that you almost put him into a category where you want him to chop the ball and put it on the ground and beat balls out – but he showed us so much power that we have tried to make an adjustment with his swing in Instructs to where he is a little more upright in his stance, getting his hands back a little further, and actually driving the ball into the gaps and out of the park.
Daryl Jones had a slow start but turned things around right before getting hurt. What changes did you make with him and what does he need to do in the future?
Bob Skube: I wasn't around Daryl much but really enjoyed having him around this year. He came a long way before his season ending injury. He was driving the ball into the gap and getting a lot of extra base hits. He was not trying to pull the ball so much and not trying to just hit home runs.
I think he learned a lot about hitting in the last month of his experience in Fort Wayne. I believe he raised his average by 45 points right before he got injured. He got it up to about .270. He tailed off and was playing injured the last week. He had a 12 or 13-game hitting streak in there.
He made some adjustments and became a better hitter with those adjustments.