Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Mike Boulanger (Part 2)

Lone Star Dugout has an interview with Mike Boulanger, who recently finished his first season as the Rangers' minor leauge hitting coordinator. Boulanger was the manager of the Oklahoma RedHawks in 2006. In part two of this two-part feature, we speak to Boulanger about some of the top young hitters in the organization.

Jason Cole: What were your impressions of Marcus Lemon's first full professional season?

Mike Boulanger: For a young kid in that league, he was in over his head early. He had to learn how to survive. I think mechanically we helped him some. He got better and better. If you look at his numbers from April, May, and June, he improved greatly in the second half – especially his approach and his plan.

Cole: Another guy that started slow in Clinton was David Paisano. Did you feel he was a little overwhelmed at the plate?

Boulanger: Probably a little bit. He's definitely one of those guys we talked about that had a little bit of a pull approach. He still does to some extent, but he got better. There's some technique involved in backing balls up, staying square, and not just trying to pull everything. In the last month of the season, he really picked up on what he's trying to do with his swing. I look for big things from him next year.

Cole: Did you get the chance to work with Elvis Andrus?

Boulanger: I showed up there when we first got him. He had a little bit of a flat bat and a little bit of an upper body swing. We tried to encourage him to use his hands and his back leg more. He's got some great hands and great eyes. In his case, he's real intelligent and real smart. He picked up on exactly what we were trying to get him to do. He's very talented too – that helps when you're working with guys. He got his hands a little more involved in his swing. He is a really exciting player. He picks up stuff really quick.

Cole: Scouts seem torn on how much power Andrus will develop down the line. How much power do you see him developing?

Boulanger: He's going to have some power. Whether that's all going to translate into home runs, I don't know about that. Just think about it. He was 18 years old when we got him. If we were just arguing about players – like baseball people do – how high do you think he would have gone had he come out of high school this year? I have no way of knowing because I don't scout, but if I had to slot him, he might have been one of the first two or three position players taken. You've got to look at it that way. He was essentially a high school player playing in High-A. I'm very, very impressed. He held his own very well. By the time he's 21 years old, I'd like to think that once he learns a little more about his swing and he's physically stronger, he's going to produce some power. Whether that's 15 or 20 home runs, I don't know. But he's going to have some power.

Boulanger is impressed with Andrus' makeup.
Cole: There has also been a lot of talk about his makeup and attitude, as you mentioned earlier. How much easier does that make the development process?

Boulanger: Anytime you're talking about hitters improving, the big thing coaches talk about is being able to retain information. You can talk, and explain, and teach, but sometimes you have to do it over and over again with some guys. In his case, you don't have to tell him many times before he says he's got it. His ability to retain information and take it from the practice field to the game is pretty impressive.

Cole: John Whittleman really struggled in the second half, both in Clinton and Bakersfield. Did you feel he was a little worn out?

Boulanger: I think so. Part of the case was that, before he got moved to Bakersfield, he was the man in that league for quite a few months. When I was managing, you'd pick a guy on the other team and say ‘This guy is not going to beat us. If there's anything we can do, we're not going to pitch to him.' That is pretty much what it came down to with John. They were not going to give him anything to hit. Maybe looking back, he probably should have taken his walks. But looking at his club, the score of the game, and the inning, sometimes he knew they needed a run to win the game and he might have expanded his zone a little bit. He probably should have stuck with his strike zone management. In turn, he probably would have walked. It would have been up to the next guy to get a base hit, but that's what we need our guys to do. Everybody in the lineup has got to pick everybody else up. Fatigue could have been part of it too. I'm pretty impressed with what he did. I wish he would have finished up a little bit stronger. I know he does too, I talked with him yesterday. But he did a fine job.

Cole: When I talked with him a few days ago, he said he felt he could have walked a bit more in Bakersfield, despite having 23 in 29 games. Do you feel that was the case?

Boulanger: Probably so. When I saw him in Bakersfield, it looked like he carried what he left with Clinton into Bakersfield. He was probably trying to do a little too much. You never know what's inside someone's head, but he could have walked a few more times. He has got to stay with that strike zone management he had when the season started. You never know what's going on in a hitter's mind. I know they are trying to impress and do well, but the same goes when you've got to get a good pitch to hit. That has to be one of the absolutes that we're trying to teach.

Cole: After a breakout season last year, Ben Harrison really struggled in Bakersfield this year. Are there still injury issues with him?

Boulanger: I think the injury led to his swing. I don't think he was physically hurt when he was playing in Bakersfield. But when he came back from that shoulder separation, he picked up some habits. It's in your head. It's like having a knee surgery. Doctors will tell you that you're ok, but I'm not sure you would want to get hit on that knee again. You may protect it a bit. In my opinion, in Ben's case, the extension you need with your right arm and your right shoulder to extend through the ball, I think he was cutting across the ball with his left arm. Actually pulling so much with his left arm and not using his right arm the way he should. It caused him to become a little in-and-out of his swing. Anything that's moving away from you – like a cut fastball or a slider – is going to pull you away from the ball.

Cole: Do you know if he'll be playing in Venezuela again this offseason?

Boulanger: I don't know. That is something that was talked about, but I haven't heard the final decision. I know he was thinking about it, but Scott [Servais] and some other people in the front office are trying to decide if that would be best for him. I don't really know what they came up with in the last few days.

Cole: What were your impressions of Max Ramirez after working with him in Bakersfield?

Boulanger: He's an impressive hitter. He's got a big leg kick. I remember the first time I saw him – in BP before he ever played in a game – I was wondering how it was going to work in a game. He has got a Manny Ramirez-type leg kick. He has a lot of movement in his pre-pitch routine. But I tell you what, he gets it down early, he gets in that hitting position on time, and I'm really impressed with his strike zone management. Especially for a strong guy with power. He's pretty good at not swinging at balls off the plate. I think that's one of the things that impressed me the most. I had heard about his ability to hit a baseball, but his ability to command the strike zone impressed me.

Cole: After seeing a leg kick like that, is that something you would change or is it something you just don't mess with after seeing his results?

Boulanger: We'll work to help him be a better hitter. We talked about it and I said ‘Let me watch. Let's see if we need to modify the kick.' After watching four games, I was convinced that we should leave him alone. He's got an idea of what he is doing. The leg kick is something you do before you swing. A lot of guys will carry that right into part of their swing where you never get separated and never get a chance for pitch recognition. He has got that. He gets it down on time, he separates, and he's in that square position. His timing and sequence is really good. Right now I just say to leave him alone.

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