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

Lone Star Dugout brings you part two 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 Low- and High-A.

Jason Cole: Elvis Andrus is the youngest player in the Arizona Fall League at 19-years-old. Is he playing there so the organization can get a gauge on whether or not he can play at the Double-A level?

Mike Boulanger: We want to give him some reps against Double-A-type players. It can do nothing but help him get ready for Frisco. His defense is obviously very good and his hitting just needed a few tweaks here and there. He picks up so quick. In four or five minutes he can pick up exactly what you're talking about. I've been really, really impressed with Elvis and he looks like a big leaguer to me and he's on a short, short journey.

Cole: Will he be starting at Double-A next year?

Boulanger: I would think he has a real good chance.

Cole: What are your impressions on his Fall League performance thus far?

Boulanger: I love it. He's a baseball player.

Cole: I know John Whittleman was sent home early from instructs. Is he hurt right now?

Boulanger: He got sick the first week in instructional league. He had an enlarged spleen. He saw the doctors there and they sent him home. Normally when you see that in a player, it's usually mono. That's what does that. But that wasn't the case. He had some viral infection and he's ok now, but he fought it for a few weeks. He had to take some antibiotics and everything, but he's doing ok. He had to miss the first three weeks and there was no use bringing him back for the last 10 days or so.

Cole: What were you working on with Max Ramirez while he was at instructs?

Boulanger: Max has just toned down his leg kick for me because he's got a good eye, good strike zone awareness, and a nice swing. Sometimes he gets a little big with his kick and it's just too hard to time day in and day out. He toned it down – he's still got it, just not quite as high. It's not my area, but I think he was there mainly to work on his catching.

Tracy is having an outstanding winter.
Cole: You mentioned that you felt Chad Tracy had lost his legs as the season wore on in Clinton. Now that he's performing extremely well in Hawaii Winter Baseball, what do you feel he has done to correct the issue?

Boulanger: I haven't seen him, but I've talked with Scott Coolbaugh every two or three days. Scott thought he has done a better job of staying into his back side. That might have had something to do with when I said he lost his legs and he's tired. You try to generate some more and if you do, you're getting off your back leg too early and you almost feel like you're jumping at the ball. Cooly has been working with him and he said he's really staying into his back leg. It allows him to pivot rather than push when he starts his swing. That allows you to back the ball up. He's been real happy with his lower half.

Cole: Another guy performing well in Hawaii is Ian Gac. Can you tell me a little about him as a hitter?

Boulanger: Gac is one of those guys with big time power. That's his tool. Like I said with Duran – Duran is a good hitter that has got some power. Well we all know that Gac has got power, but we're trying to get him to be a better hitter. Now will he be the type of hitter Duran is? No. But you can't just be punching out too many times. You've got to have some quality at bats. He did better in Spokane and really for him – mechanically some – but it's mostly approach. He's just got to think right-center field. He doesn't need to try to pull the ball. He can hit it out of anywhere. I think that right-center approach, he's bought into it. He's trying to hit every fastball back up the middle or to right-center. In turn, he's still pulling balls out of the ballpark. But I think that approach has helped him more than anything.

Cole: K.C. Herren told us that he switched to a lighter bat late in the season in Clinton. Did you see him late in the year and did you feel that helped him out?

Boulanger: Yeah, I saw him. I'm not sure what he switched to or anything. I don't know about that. But I saw him the last series of the year. They pitched him a little bit tougher. They had some guys in that lineup during the first half that made it tough on the other team. K.C. is one of those guys that still swung the bat pretty well. They pitched him a little bit different. They stayed a lot hard in on him. K.C. made a little adjustment and maybe going to a lighter bat might have helped him get to that ball a little better – especially a cutter from a right-handed pitcher.

Cole: What were your impressions of Tim Smith from watching him at instructs?

Boulanger: I didn't see much of him in Spokane because he was hurt. He took BP for me a few times in the cage, but he had a bad hand and everything. I'll tell you what, Smitty is a lot better player than I thought he was. I don't mean that in a flippant way; I just didn't know. I hadn't seen him, but I did see him at instructs. He runs well for a guy his size, he throws well, he's got power, and he's a pretty good player. He's got a pretty high ceiling. I haven't seen him play enough to really jump out there and make any predictions, but he's a pretty good player.

Cole: He didn't play in any of the three games I saw there. Did Smith participate in any instructionals games?

Boulanger: Yeah, he played in quite a few. He was nicked up on that that hip and everything. But as a matter of fact, he won the point system for hitters down there as far as situational hitting, two-strike hits, and all that stuff.

Cole: How do you feel Jose Vallejo was able to progress in his small-ball game this year?

Boulanger: Good. He's got tremendous tools – he's got all the tools you need to play at the big league level. But you're right; bunting has got to be part of his game. He's a tremendous runner and he has to understand that if you can get one bunt hit per week, over the course of five months that's 20 hits. That does a lot for your average right there. It may open up some holes on the infield for you too. But he's still working on getting his hands first when he separates so it doesn't land at the same time. That was a big adjustment for him. We couldn't do too much during the season, but down at instructs we bared down on it and said ‘I don't care if you get any hits or not, we're going to do this until we get it right.' He bought into it. It took him a little while to get the timing part of it at first, but he did it and I thought he finished up really good. I think he had a really good instructs.

Cole: At this point, do you notice much of a difference between him from the left and right sides?

Boulanger: Yeah, you can still tell a little bit. He's a good left-handed hitter, but right-handed he's a little more natural. Probably the biggest difference is that he's got a little more power right-handed. He can hit the ball a long ways right-handed.

Cole: Do you feel Vallejo is getting stronger from the left side of the plate?

Boulanger: He's getting much better. Mechanically he's getting much better and he can juice the ball from the left side, but he's got more power from the right. Obviously he's going to have to get a lot more at bats from the left side and that's the way it is. He's going to have to see a lot more right-handed pitchers. He's getting better and better and his bunting game got better. Vallejo has got all the tools; it's just a matter of putting it together.

Gomez has no shortage of power.
Cole: Mauro Gomez had a couple of great months in 2007. Can you talk about him as a hitter?

Boulanger: He's got tremendous power. He has power to all fields, too, when he stays square. His biggest enemy sometimes is Mauro because he wants to try to pull the ball and he thinks that's power. He knows that. He'll get in drills and BP going just the way you think he should. And then he'll get in a game and sometimes it's his worst enemy if he hits a home run. Then he can get pretty long and wild with some of his swings. Of course, when he does that he's not commanding the strike zone and he'll chase some balls. He's going to have to stay with his plan and approach. He's got enough power to where he doesn't have to try to do that. But I think he made a lot of progress this year.

Cole: Manuel Pina struck out just eight times in 142 at-bats during the season's second half. What allows him to make so much contact and – considering the fact that he hit just .228 this year – do you feel he was a little unlucky?

Boulanger: That and also there are some times I wish he wouldn't have made contact. Like kind of a tough pitch early in the count and he hits a ground ball to short. I wish he would have just taken it even if they called strike two on him because it would be a tough pitch to do anything with. He made some mechanical changes in instructional league. Manny is still a young guy – really young for that league. He made some adjustments and he's got good hand-eye coordination. But I think – once again going back to that shrinking the strike zone – he has such good hand-eye that he can hit some balls that I wish he wouldn't have. With two strikes, that's a different deal. But earlier in the count you don't need to be putting that ball in play when there's nothing you can do with it. That comes back to commanding the strike zone.

Cole: You mentioned that you hadn't gotten a chance to work with Engel Beltre the last time I spoke with you. Now that you saw him in instructs, what were your impressions?

Boulanger: Very, very, very talented. Very talented. He still makes mistakes – he's 17-years-old. He'll swing at a ball over his head or a breaking ball in the dirt sometimes. Then you talk to him and you realize he didn't really have a plan. He was probably going to swing on that pitch anyway. They were mistakes, but the more he plays, that stuff will go away. He's got power. I know this – if he were in the States, he'd be a senior in high school. I've got to believe if he were coming out in the draft this year – they might take a pitcher or two real high – but he'd have to be one of the first five, six, or seven guys picked.

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