Adjustments evident in Storm prospects

Hitting coach Max Venable has moved up to Triple-A Portland but was part of a new Championship team in Lake Elsinore. We spoke with Venable about Kyle Blanks showing power, the tale of two halves for Mike Baxter, Craig Cooper turning on inside pitches, Seth Johnston finding a spot defensively, and Josh Alley back on the map.

Kyle Blanks changed his stance from the year before and really seemed to free up his hands. Was that a big reason for his success this year?

Max Venable: They tinkered with him a little at Instructs and closed him up and widened him out – it was a little more of a bat angle to free him up so he could use his hands more.

This year they pitched him inside a lot and he handled the ball quite well. It was more of him being patient and hanging in there with the sliders and curveballs away while they pounded fastballs in. I think it was more bat angle and using his hands more.

Mike Baxter struggled to begin the year – the second year in a row he has – but turned it on down the stretch. What adjustments did you make with him?

Max Venable: It was soul searching with Baxter. He has all the ingredients to be a good player. It might be one of those things that he is a guy that starts off kind of slow. Some guys do that – start off slow and end strong. Baxter fits into that category.

As you go, you try and come up with some solution – ‘got to get you off to a better start than you have in the past because we know at the end you are going to have a much better season.'

Guys tend to fall into certain categories. Whether you start off slow and end up strong or start strong and peter out at the end.

Craig Cooper hit for a good average but the expectations have to be higher with his power. How can you get him to pull the inside pitch more consistently and will he hit for more power?

Max Venable: He definitely has power the opposite way. It will help – pulling the ball you are apt to have more power. But there are guys who can hit the ball opposite way and have power. If you look at the stats, I am sure most home run hitters pull the ball. With Coop, being his second year of pro ball and like every other young kid coming up, once they learn the strike zone and learn to look for certain pitches the power will definitely come as the years go – maturity.

Seth Johnston quietly had a solid season. What does he need to do to take his game to the next level?

Max Venable: Hitting-wise – here is a kid that is starting to develop into a good hitter. I like Seth a lot. I think he is capable of hitting .300 every year. The power has come along.

As he is moving up in the next year, he has to find a position. He has played second base and was a shortstop in college. Because of his size and mobility, third is more suitable – and maybe in the outfield. My opinion – second or shortstop is not a position for him. I think he is capable of playing third or first or left field in the future. It might benefit him more. He is a big kid at 6-foot-4. With his frame he needs to get a little more agility to play that position.

Josh Alley was a shot in the arm for you guys down the stretch. What did he bring to the table?

Max Venable: He was phenomenal in the leadoff spot. He has an ideal leadoff guy mentality. He saw a lot of pitches, got a lot of walks, made contact. He was a sparkplug for our offense. He was on base, a threat to steal bases. When he was there you knew he was going to go 3-1 or 3-2, see some pitches and would put the ball in play, get on base, and give us a chance to get things started.

He spent a lot of time in the cage working on his game to get better, knowing the opportunity was there – he took full advantage of it and made the best of it.

He put together a really good season. I commend not only Josh but all those guys. They worked really hard and it paid off.

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