Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Mike Boulanger (Part 1)

Lone Star Dugout brings you part one of a three-part interview with Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Mike Boulanger. In this portion of the feature, we take a look at some of the system's top hitting prospects in Double- and Triple-A.


Jason Cole: I believe Chris Davis has been pulled from the Fall League because of a foot injury. What exactly is his injury and how did he hurt it?

Mike Boulanger: He hurt it – I'm not exactly sure of the exact date but I believe it was back in May in Bakersfield. It nagged him all year and it was better some weeks than others. He fouled a ball off his foot in the Fall League and never did quite bounce back from it. They had it x-rayed and everything and it had a break in it. I'm not sure what they're going to do on that. There has been some discussion about whether to shut him down and rehab it or to go in and do a little minor surgery first. But anyway, he'll be shut down for a few weeks.

Cole: So it's safe to say he's done for the Fall League season?

Boulanger: He's probably shut down for the rest of the winter. He's not going to go back and play or anything.

Cole: Davis has spoken to us about wanting to shrink his strike zone after he got up to Frisco. Judging by his numbers, he seemed to do a pretty good job with that.

Boulanger: He started doing that in Bakersfield. He had two issues we tried to address with Brant Brown, his hitting coach there in Bakersfield. For one, he had a big shoulder roll that added some length to his swing. He's a big guy anyway. When he did that it added some length. He couldn't quite get a grasp of it, so what we did is we videoed him from behind and showed it to him the next day. That seemed to do it. Sometimes some guys see themselves from a different angle. I told him ‘this is what I'm seeing every night' and he said ‘I didn't think it was that bad'. I've got to give him and Brown credit for working on that. The main thing right there is that he started separating better. When you start separating better, that's everything you're doing before your swing. That gives you a chance to see the ball better. Besides taking some length out of your swing by separating on top, that gets you to stay square as we put it. When you're square, you're seeing the release point with both eyes and not just your lead eye. Without getting too technical, I think that helped him. He was trying to shrink his strike zone and I think when he started separating better it was easier for him to determine ball, strike or slider, cutter earlier in the pitch sequence.

Cole: He was able to cut his strikeout numbers down once he went to Double-A. Do you feel he'll always be a guy that strikes out quite a bit or do you think he can get over that?

Boulanger: That's a good question. I wish I really had a real good answer. I'm sure he's going to be a guy that is going to punch out some. He has some length; probably always will with his swing. He gets a little bit uphill at times. But it also allows him to hit a lot of balls out of the ballpark too. He'll probably strike out a little more than we as an organization would like, but at the same time I know his strikeouts can go down even more. Later in the year, the better he got, he knows his walks went up and his strikeouts went down. I think there's still room for improvement there. I think he will strike out some, especially at the major league level to start off with because guys are going to find a hole or two on him. He's just going to have to make some adjustments.

Cole: One guy who doesn't get a lot of prospect recognition is Nate Gold. Do you feel he will be able to play in the major leagues?

Boulanger: In my opinion – this is just me speaking now – he'll play in the big leagues for somebody. Whether that's as an extra bat, I'm not sure what his role will be. Earlier in the year – probably the first half – personally I couldn't recommend him to go up to the big leagues because he had the outer part of the plate – especially the slider – he was too easy to pitch to. There was just too much of the outer third he couldn't cover because he was working off the ball with his front hip and his front shoulder. To make it even simpler, there are some times that he would have been way better off just taking that pitch because his swing is not geared to handle that. We could talk about using the whole field or hitting the ball the other way, but if you can't keep your front hip and front shoulder pretty square, even fastballs away you're going to have a little bit of trouble with. I think he got better in the second half – in my opinion – of laying off that pitch. Sometimes it's a strike, sometimes it's not. But knowing you can't chase that pitch because balls look like they're going to be in the strike zone 10 or 12 feet from home plate can be a ball. He got better at recognizing a slider early out of the hand by staying square and he did a much better job of strike zone management. It may not show up in the walks necessarily, but it put him in hitter's counts way more than he was earlier. In the month of August, he was unconscious.

Gold had 26 home runs with Triple-A Oklahoma.
Cole: Yeah, in that August he had 12 of his 26 home runs on the season.

Boulanger: Yeah. He just laid off that pitch. Sometimes they called strike one on him, but he laid off and any kind of mistakes they made, he hammered. Gold can hit a fastball. That won't be a problem. It's just a matter of shrinking your zone a little bit. That's the biggest adjustment guys who can play at the major league level have when they go to the big leagues. Those guys can throw the ball where they want to. Big league pitchers are amazing. So you better have that think shrunk down to about three baseballs that you're trying to cover and that's it. You can't compromise; you can't lose your guts. You've just got to stick with it. You're going to get rung up a few times, but over the long course of things you'll be hitting 2-0 and 3-1 probably more than the average hitter.

Cole: I've heard quite a few people – including Astros reliever Brad Lidge – say they were impressed with the quickness of German Duran's hands. Is that something you would agree with?

Boulanger: He's got tremendous bat speed and he generates it from barely outside his back shoulder. That lets you know how strong he is from the elbows down – his forearms and hands. He doesn't need to muscle up to get his bat through the zone. Guys that can do that can wait longer and their accuracy improves so much with the barrel. I think his barrel is probably traveling two feet to contact. I think some guys that are pretty good hitters, their barrels are traveling three feet because of the length of their swing. Common sense tells you that over the course of a long season, if your bat head is traveling two feet and the other guy's is traveling three feet, you ought to be more accurate with your control of the barrel and the bat head and he is.

Cole: Being listed at just 5-foot-10, a lot of people seem to doubt whether or not Duran's power will carry over to the majors. Do you feel he will be much of a home run hitter in the majors?

Boulanger: He's going to hit some home runs, but I wouldn't categorize him that way. I think he's a good hitter that has some power. He's going to be a gap guy, an average guy, but at the big league level if he plays every day he's going to hit you 12, 13, 14 home runs.

Cole: Now that he's becoming more of a utility player, it seems like Duran could be in the big leagues at some point next season. How close do you think he is to being ready for the majors at the plate?

Boulanger: There's always a learning curve, but I think he would hold his own while he's making those adjustments. Just like Kinsler, Blalock, and Teixeira did, they had a big learning curve for the first 200 at-bats. But I think he would do ok. Him playing positions other than second base will probably increase his value because we've got Kinsler, we've got Young, and we've got Blalock. For him to make that club, it would make him more attractive if he could play three infield positions.

Cole: Because of his Tommy John surgery, this was basically Taylor Teagarden's first full season of pro ball. How did you feel he did this year?

Boulanger: He did an outstanding job. He had a little adjustment we made with his separation. He bought into it and he has done a good job. Part of his success – obviously he's got a nice swing – but he can control the strike zone. And he can hit the ball the other way. If you can not chase too many balls and you have the ability to drive balls the other way then you've got a much better chance to hit at the big league level. I think he's going to hit quite well. You're talking about a guy that is going to hit .260, maybe .265. I can't really put a number on it. But that first year, whenever it comes, I think he'll hold his own.

Cole: Teagarden struck out quite a bit this year. What do you feel was causing that and are you guys doing anything to try and fix it?

Boulanger: He has a tendency to over-rotate his upper half. When he does, he gets that back elbow up pretty high. When he gets in that situation, your elbow has got to go back in the slot to swing. There's a little bit of a length and a little bit uphill. You've got to work above the ball with your hands above the ball. I think that happens to him a lot of times when he tries to get a little bit extra. You're going along ok, you've had a pretty good week and maybe you're not satisfied with what you're doing, so maybe you want to hit the ball harder. Now I'm not saying he consciously thinks that – we've all been there where we want to juice a ball a little more – but I think sometimes that works against him.

Cole: Another guy who had a breakthrough season at the plate was Brandon Boggs. What did you see out of him?

Boulanger: I'm kind of like you on that. Boggsy I've seen and always liked. But after watching him in Double-A and playing centerfield – I was really impressed with the way he played centerfield – and switch-hitting, he put himself on the map. He's on the radar and people are talking about him, so that's a good thing. He's got a chance to hit from both sides. I don't know how the front office views him, but he has the ability to play all three outfield positions. And he's a switch-hitter.

Cole: It seems that Boggs was able to command the strike zone fairly well this year.

Boulanger: Yeah. Everybody has got something they're trying to get better at. Until the day you quit playing there's something you're trying to get better at. He has a little trouble sometimes getting in and out. A lot of that has got to do with timing where he cuts his swing off from the left side a little bit. He's working on it and I thought he did a good job of making progress there. It's just staying through the ball a little longer. Usually timing has something to do with it. If he's late, he can really get in and out. But he controls the strike zone very well.

Mayberry combined for 30 home runs in '07.
Cole: John Mayberry got off to a fast start after he was promoted to Double-A, but he really slowed down late. What did you feel caused the slump?

Boulanger: It would be hard for me to just come out and say because I wasn't there all the time. I was there when they moved him up and I met him. I went and spent almost ten days with him and put together a program along with Scott Coolbaugh. He had to make some adjustments from what he was doing in Bakersfield. There was a learning curve there. But looking at the tape – they send it to me every morning – looking at it towards the end of the season, for whatever reason he was trying to pull the ball. His front hip was quick, his front shoulder was quick. You'll run into a few home runs that way, but anything moving away – especially sliders and curveballs – you're going to be working yourself right off the ball. For whatever reason he wasn't staying square long enough and he was pulling it.

Cole: It has been well documented that the organization has been working on Mayberry's swing since he was drafted in 2005. What exactly are you guys doing with him?

Boulanger: Really his swing part is pretty good. He has to work on staying inside the ball and he has done real good with that the last few years. But I think more of what was causing problems for him was what he was doing before he actually swung the bat. His separation wasn't right; he was landing at the same time. All his pre-pitch routine – all the stuff you do right before you swing – that wasn't quite like big leaguers do it. It wasn't quite right. That's what he worked on when he got from Bakersfield. That was his main focus, to put himself in a hitting position consistently night after night. I was real happy with the way he made that adjustment and I'd look for him to have a good year.

Cole: Mayberry currently has nine walks in 15 Arizona Fall League games. Is the increase in walks more coincidence or are you guys trying to get him to be a little more patient?

Boulanger: It's probably a little bit of coincidence, but it's something we've mentioned. All those guys -- even Duran, Teagarden and Boggs – we've wanted them to shrink their strike zone. There is a whole teaching set we do with that. It started with Metcalf and those guys at Frisco saw that and bought into it. Of course after Metcalf got called up, the one thing I thought that let him survive was that he did start commanding the strike zone a little better at the major league level. But that's something we're trying to preach and teach and hopefully guys buy into it.

Cole: When we talked to Steve Murphy a few weeks ago, he mentioned that he wanted to shrink his strike zone and become less of a free-swinger. I guess you guys have mentioned something to him as well?

Boulanger: Yeah. You don't want him to lose his aggressiveness. You want him to still turn it loose and have a good bat path – and he can. You watch him on some nights and his swing is really pretty. But commanding the strike zone – if he can do that, if he can just hit 2-0 and 3-1 more than the average guy – his swing is good enough. But he chases too many balls and gets himself in some poor hitting counts. If you do that night after night – you're hitting 1-2 and 2-2 – I don't care who you are, your odds of being real successful are not going to be very good.

Cole: Murphy had been a pretty good power guy in his first two seasons but it fell off a bit this past year. Did you feel that was more because of his approach or was it a technical issue?

Boulanger: Approach some, plan some, and then actual mechanics some. It was kind of a combination. If Murphy is chasing balls then the first thing you've got to think of is why. It's easy to go back to mechanics, and that's why. But he's very capable of getting that more consistent and I look for him to do that. I like Murph.


Subscribe to LoneStarDugout.com today! Only $79.95 brings you one full year of Total Access Pass and all premium content on LoneStarDugout.com, Scout™ Player and Roster Database (including the 'Hot News' at the top of the site), Breaking News and Information, Total Access to all Scout.com Websites, and Player Pages, detailing the progress and careers of players from high school, the minors, and the pro ranks.

Sample the LoneStarDugout.com Total Access Pass™ at no risk for 7 days, then pay only $7.95 or $21.95. If you want to save 2 months off the monthly subscription price, simply choose the annual LoneStarDugout.com Total Access Pass™ at $79.95.

Future Rangers Top Stories