The minor league hitting coach is one of the most important people in the development of any young player. He's there to breakdown his players' swings, give advice on what the opposing pitcher has, and, most importantly, prepare players mentally for the grind of the pro game when many had only known success at the amateur levels.
Tom Tornincasa is in his ninth season in the Padres organization. Last year, he was in San Antonio with the Texas League champion Missions and chose to come back to Indiana this year to be closer to his home in Crown Point, Indiana. He's the type of coach the Padres' strive to have in their organization, someone who can keep everyone loose while getting the players to actually buy into the organization's "patiently aggressive" philosophy.
The players on the Wizards swear by him and uniformly give him credit with turning around their slumps with long hours in the batting cage and talks on hitting during the interminable bus rides.
As with Randy Ready, whom he worked with last year in San Antonio, he has the rare ability because of his relationships with the players for his criticisms to always come off as constructive, not negative.
An example of how much he enjoys giving the needle to his players was during the interview when he agreed to talk if only he could first give the real "lowdown" on Wizards' outfielder Robert Perry, who credited him with getting him out of an ugly first month slump, who happened to be sitting next to him on the bench.
Why don't you tell us a little bit about Robert Perry, his strengths and weaknesses? He really credited you with helping him in spring training and when he came back down to Fort Wayne.
Tom Tornicasa: He's very short to the ball so there isn't a lot that can go wrong. It's easy to keep him on track.
For someone that isn't that big, he seems like he generates some power. Where does it come from?
Tom Tornicasa: I don't know, couldn't tell ya [both Perry and Tornincasa had a big laugh].
That is a great answer, I love that. One guy that I missed seeing was Drew Cumberland; could you give us a rundown on him?
Tom Tornicasa: He can fly. A young kid that has a lot of tools to work with he just needs a little time to refine his skills. He has some pop in his bat, good bat speed. He really doesn't have many problems. He can get long and quick with his approach like everyone else, but I like him.
He's doing pretty well for someone that is as young as he is for this league. It's about a three or four year age difference in some cases.
Tom Tornicasa: Yeah, he is and he started off slow and then got hot. It's a shame that he got hurt because he was really locked in.
I just finished speaking with Yefri Carvajal and I noticed his OBP has been going up. He credited you with cursing at him from the dugout every time he swings at a bad pitch. You want to elaborate on your exact phrasing a little more?
Tom Tornicasa: [laughs] I have fun with these guys and if you have a good rapport with them it's easier to get them to do what they need to do.
He said that too, he was smiling when he made the comment.
Tom Tornicasa: I know he did, he's a great kid. He's just a free swinger, and he has a lot of power and potential. He just needs to settle down a little and let his hands do the work instead of his whole body. He's another young kid that I love too and keeping him in the strike zone is going to really help him.
He can absolutely crush a fastball.
Tom Tornicasa: He's right on top of the list for power on the team, even though he hasn't really shown it.
What about Felix Carrasco? Baseball Prospectus has a stat that they call the "Three True Outcomes" which is a home run, walk or strikeout and doesn't involve the defense. About half of his stats fall into that category, but he's had a decent year and much better than last. What do you think of him?
Tom Tornicasa: He's much like Carvajal. He has to realize that he can have a bad swing and put it on a good pitch and still have a better chance than putting a good swing on a bad pitch. He needs to improve upon his pitch selection, and he has, but he's still a lot like Carvy that he chases too many breaking pitches in the dirt. But when his plate discipline is good on a particular day, he's very dangerous.
How do you work with guys on improving their plate discipline?
Tom Tornicasa: There are a few things you can do, some drills that can be done in the cage. For example, I will take this tee and sit out in the open and put a ball on it, and they are not swinging or else I would be crushed, and I will then throw [another ball] at the ball on the tee and they have to tell me whether it would hit the ball on the tee. It makes them really zone in on a pitch and narrow it down.
The player will put the tee where they want a pitch to drive if they are ahead in the count it teaches them to look for a pitch in a certain zone, and surprisingly enough I do hit the ball on the tee quite often, as long as its close it gets the guys involved in knowing how to focus on a particular spot.
We do a few little things like that to try to refine a particular part of the game.
One of the more underrated players on your roster is Justin Baum. He's one of the leaders in several offensive categories, how would you describe him?
Tom Tornicasa: He's a gap type hitter, although he does have the power to drive the ball out of the park. As he matures, I think his power is going to show up more than it has. At the beginning of the year, we were guessing how many home runs we thought he would end up with and it came out to be around 9 or 10, which is good for this league. Once he gets a little more consistent with his approach, he gets a little quick, he could do some damage.