Interview: Hitting coach Orv Franchuck

SAN ANTONIO, TX: Orv Franchuck is in his first year with the Padres organization after stops in Oakland, Boston and Houston. A long time associate of Grady Fuson, Franchuck is a true believer in the patiently aggressive hitting approach of waiting for a pitch that a batter can do something with.

As the hitting coach in Double-A, his job is to refine an approach which most hitters should have several years of experience in attempting to implement before making the big jump to the big leagues.

We caught up with the coach to get his impressions on several of the Missions hitters; their strengths and weaknesses.

Can you give us a little idea of your background and how you came to this organization?

Orv Franchuck: Yeah, the reason that happened was that Grady Fuson and I basically go back to the Oakland A's organization where I spent quite a bit of time. I was originally with the Angels, where I spent eight years, and was with Oakland in '95 with Grady, Sandy Alderson, Keith Lippman and all those guys. Really initiated the selective aggressiveness to the hitting process. I was kind of nurtured through the professional ranks on that kind of approach.

It's not passive, it's about getting a good pitch to hit and one that you can do some damage with. Sometimes when people watch our guys play they are being passive and its take, take, take. It's not; it's about trying to get a pitch that you can do some damage with.

From there, I went to the Red Sox and they didn't have a minor league philosophy in '02 and I was there for four years. I ended up getting a ring, which was great. I helped to implement their hitting philosophy and when they felt they were good, they let me go. I then went over to Houston and tried to do the same thing there the last two years, but it didn't seem to catch on because they had something already in place. Anyway I don't have anything bad to say about anyplace that I went, but I really enjoyed my time with Oakland, it just made sense.

Now I'm over here with Grady, and I think he wanted me over here because he knew the philosophy that I was raised on and what I like to teach. He is trying to get some students of the process into the organization.

The great thing about you coming over here is there isn't any learning curve, because this is what you have been doing your whole career.

Orv Franchuck: Exactly. That is what is comfortable for me the only thing is getting to know every guy. Spring training was like a blur because I didn't know anyone, but in the off-season Jimmy LeFebrve, the big league hitting coach, asked me to spend some time with some of the guys so I got a feel for that. Jimmy is on the same page that we are, so it was good. You try to learn as many kids as you can, and now I am starting to get a feel for these guys. As a hitting coach, I feel that my job is to be able to get every player where they need to be to succeed and keep them there.

I feel like I have a ways to go, some haven't really bought into our philosophy, sometimes they don't understand, but we are getting close. Some kids are going to succeed, and some aren't; but it's not going to be for a lack of effort on anyone's part.

You have a pretty active day before anyone ever steps on the field. You are doing quite a bit of work with everyone in the cage.

Orv Franchuck: Yeah I get here early. For a 7:00 PM game, I'm usually here by 12. I prepare, I do a hitting chart on every opposing hitter, it's sort of like a spray chart. I'm responsible for that so when we play them again we have an idea of what the other team is trying to do. We know who the pitcher was, who the hitter was, where it was thrown, in what count, where they hit the ball... in essence a scouting report. I get my BP groups organized and I get here early mainly because I want guys to know they can get here early, get in the cage and work on whatever they need to do to get better, and if I can help them in any way, I'm here.

I've been impressed with Eric Sogard. It seems like every time he is at the plate, he has a professional at-bat. I don't think I've seen him have a bad one yet in terms of swinging at bad pitches or just not trying to work the count to his advantage every time. It's not that he is getting a hit every time up, but he doesn't beat himself.

Orv Franchuck: He is one of the guys that is already in the mode that we are talking about. He went to ASU and I know they teach that approach there, but he is the example that all of our guys would follow. He has a plan. He knows what he is looking for, what the pitcher is trying to do, if they have had success with the guys before him. Does he have command? Does he like to throw breaking balls in tough counts? If you ask Eric about any of those things he will have the answers and it shows in the way he plays.

Craig Cooper obviously has been having a good year. When we spoke with Grady last year everyone liked how he could hit for average and his on-base percentage, but the question was if he could pull the inside pitch. How have you been working with him on that?

Orv Franchuck: The thing about it he has been really good about using the middle of the field, which is what we preach, but from what I understand he was having some problems with pitches that were on the inner half. He was letting the ball in too deep, but he has really turned the page with that. If they start to pound him in, he is starting to get the head out and pound that pitch. He feels like there is not a part of the plate that he can't handle. Coop works his butt off. He is in here early every day trying to tweak and just get better. He asks good questions and is intelligent; these are the types of players that you just love to work with.

One guy that I have seen you do quite a bit of work with is Luis Durango. To me it looks like he has about four or five different types of swings. If you are a hitting coach how do you work with someone like that?

Orv Franchuck: We are trying to eliminate some of the funny things that he does. One of the things about Louie is – he has exceptional eye-hand coordination. I say "eye-hand" because you see the ball before you can react to it - his eye-hand coordination is very good so he can do some things with the bat that most people can't. He is still experimenting and I have done some things with him that he is still working on.

One of the things that I like about Louie is that he retains concepts pretty well, it's not like I have to keep doing the same thing over and over with him. We can advance and he has been pretty good with that. He and (Jesus) Lopez come in together early and do their routine. He is an exciting player. It is amazing that every time he is on base a lot, we win.

I always tell guys to try to get on base for the guy behind you, because if someone is on you are going to see more good pitches to hit. Especially if you can run a little. There are so many variable that go into offensive success, sometimes it get lost on some.

I've seen Mike Baxter play for a few years, and he really put together some numbers in the Arizona Fall League. He seems to work as hard as anyone that I've seen. He is in here early and any time a new pitcher is in the game he is on the top steps.

Orv Franchuck: Intelligent guys, Cooper, Sogard and him - and I am just using these three guys, we have quite a few bright guys on this team - what you have observed is correct. All these guys have a plan when they go to the plate. You are either going to try to get on base, or move a runner or drive in a runner; so you're plan should reflect the situation. They are really good at that. Additionally, the wrong plan is better than no plan and going up there just swinging. They are always asking all kinds of questions, all three are a pleasure to work with.

Cedric Hunter is one of the organization's top prospects. He's been struggling, but is also running into some bad luck. It also seems to me that he has a lot of moving parts to his swing. How do you fix those aspects without taking away from what he does well?

Orv Franchuck: He is realizing that this next level is a little more difficult than he thought it was going to be. The other night, he had good at-bats and is starting to turn it around. You are right he does have a lot of moving parts to his swing and we are dealing with that. Some guys have an easier time making adjustments, which is easier for some than others. We haven't really done anything major yet, but he does have some parts to his swing that will need to be cleaned up as he goes forward.

He has had success and I can't comment on a whole lot of things with Cedric because I haven't seen him for that long; but I do know that anyone that led all minor league baseball in hits so I haven't messed with his swing that much. He's had some success. I've tweaked a few things, but everyone has a little different approach. My thing with Cedric is he needs to get his load ready a little quicker because sometimes he is a little late. He's been getting better and he's also someone that asks good questions.

One thing I am really blessed with is that I have a real good group of guys. Win or lose, I sleep well at night because it is never for a lack of effort.

I've watched what you put Mitch Canham through; all the bullpens and individual instruction and he is still one of your better hitters. How does he still perform so well when there is so much emphasis on his defensive ability?

Orv Franchuck: He is one of the first ones here everyday. He realizes with all of the things he has going on in the day, he has to get his hitting done early. He has a routine that is solid and knows exactly what he needs to do to get ready. I've tweaked a little, but he has a very good idea of what he needs to do.

He has a great eye, do you see him developing more power?

Orv Franchuck: He will. I think that after hanging around Bagwell the two years that I was in Houston – he hit five home runs in the minor leagues. A lot of guys in the minors don't have many home runs there. I tell guys that it is easier to hit as you move up the ladder. The stuff is better, command is better and more importantly guys are around the plate. At the lower levels, especially in A-ball, you get guys that are trying to impress and throw too hard, so they don't know where it is going; as a hitter I don't like that.

It is hard to hit like that. But when they are around the plate, it's better, but you also get better pitches to hit.

Whenever we are around the minor league hitting coaches it seems like a lot of it is on the players to get help. Do you actively seek out players or is it on them?

Orv Franchuck: I told the guys that I am here early everyday and I will never turn you away. We will get it done, if we have to stay late or get here early. I can do my part, but they have to do theirs too. I can't control that. I will get on guys sometimes, some you have to get on others you don't. You have to be careful. It's not because I don't like them but it is because I think they can be better.

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