Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jason Hart

SURPRISE, Ariz. - The 2009 AZL Rangers have a group of young and talented, but also very raw hitting prospects. Lone Star Dugout sat down with first-year hitting coach and former Rangers farmhand Jason Hart to discuss the position players.

Jason Cole: I want to talk about you getting into coaching with the Rangers organization. You got to do kind of a player-coach thing with Clinton last season. How was that experience, getting into coaching in a full-season league?

Jason Hart: It was great. I went up there in Clinton and I was with three coaches that were unbelievable to teach me all about what my job and to help the kids. I just learned a ton from Mike Micucci, who is the Double-A manager. And Danny Clark, who is the minor league pitching coordinator for us now. Also Brian Dayett, the hitting coach there. He is tons of fun. We had a ball up there.

Cole: When they brought you on last year, did they let you know that you would have an opportunity to move into more of a full-time gig this year?

Hart: There were no guarantees. For me to come in and see if I liked it, and also to see if I fit into the coaching staff in the minor leagues with the Texas Rangers. I just went out and had fun, enjoyed it, and did my best, and I got a full-time job this year.

Cole: Are you looking to stay in the coaching business now that you've gotten into it?

Hart: Yeah. I'm loving it. I'm down here in AZ with a great crew. The players—I couldn't ask for anything more. They've given me the best every day. We're just having a ball.

Cole: How do you like the atmosphere out here? It does seem like a little more relaxed atmosphere than the non-complex leagues.

Hart: It is relaxed. The kids are young, and we're just trying to teach them to become men and get ready for the next level, which is playing in front of the crowds. So we try to keep it loose down here. It's all about development and getting these guys ready to get out of this complex.

Cole: I also want to talk about some of the hitters you're coaching out here. One of the guys is Ruben Sierra, Jr. How is his development going? It seems like he's starting to hit a little more consistently in games.

Hart: He's getting stronger, and he's adjusting. He went from high school pitching to coming in here and seeing 90 every day. It's a big adjustment for those young kids. Once they see it, they become adjusted to it. He's getting stronger.

His dad came down, actually. He came down for a couple of days and really worked on stuff that they worked on when he was a young kid. It helped us—our coaching staff—out. It gave us things to look for with him. You know, he's got a Hall of Fame dad, and we're going to soak it in.

Cole: He hasn't really been an everyday guy this year, but I guess none of the outfielders have, correct?

Hart: It's one of those things where everybody has got to play down here. You try to even out the at-bats and just get everybody the AB's and hopefully we can develop them and get them enough AB's so they're ready for the next level.

Cole: How much is Sierra's game like his dad's when he was younger?

Hart: His swing is similar. He just has to get his man-strength. He's got to mature and get a little stronger. He can run. He can run like the wind. His defense is improving every day. I think, if he sticks with it and keeps working hard, especially in the weight room, he's going to do fine.

Cole: You mentioned running like the wind. Braxton Lane was a big-time wide receiver recruit, and he signed with the University of Oregon initially. I know for him, I guess the main focus would be getting his bat ready to go to a full-season league. What are the kind of things you guys have worked on with him, and how do you feel his progress is going?

Hart: He has been on the shelf for awhile now. We're working on just getting him to gain a little bat control—a little barrel control. Being able to hit the ball all over the field and run. With that speed, we've just got to shorten that swing up and let him put it in play and make things happen.

Cole: I'm guessing he's not expected to develop into much of a power hitter. More of a guy that kind of sprays the ball to all fields and does whatever he can to get on base?

Hart: Right now in his development, the best thing for him for us is to just keep developing that bat control. I'm not going to say he's not—he's a very strong kid. He may eventually be a 20 home run guy, but right now we just want to get him playing pepper and hitting the ball in the gap and running for days.

Telis is an advanced hitter.
Cole: One of the better prospects here would be Tomas Telis. One thing I've noticed about him is that he doesn't walk, but he also doesn't strike out. Is that a hand-eye coordination deal?

Hart: Yeah. Unbelievable hand-eye coordination. It seems like he doesn't put the same swing on the ball twice. He just puts the barrel on the ball. And how he does it—I've seen him hit balls off the ground up the middle for base hits. He has very, very good hand-eye coordination.

And he's developing as a catcher. That's why he's here right now. He is really working on his catching, because his bat is going to carry to the next level.

Cole: Are you guys working with him on becoming a little more selective? Or, because he can put the bat on the ball and barrel it up, are you okay with him being a free swinger?

Hart: He has got to learn his zone. He is very aggressive. His zone is pretty big right now, but when he gets to the higher levels and they're spinning stuff and mixing their pitches better, he is going to have to tighten the zone up a little bit. But down here, catching is first for him. He has got to be able to catch to play at the next level.

Cole: Guillermo Pimentel is another talented hitter that you're getting to work with out here. He started off slow, then went through a real hot streak for about three weeks. What was the key behind that? What was he doing right during that period?

Hart: That's exactly right. His timing comes and goes. Right now—I'm not sure if he starts thinking a little bit. It's common for a young guy to start worrying about mechanics. He just needs to worry about getting ready.

Like Rudy Jaramillo says, it's rhythm and timing. That is number one. You can't do steps two, three, four, and five without number one. So he just needs to really prepare himself before the first pitch, and be ready to hit when he gets in the box.

Cole: How much power does he have in there? It seems like he's got some fairy well-developed power for a guy who hasn't yet filled out physically.

Hart: He's got two homers, but he hit an opposite field home run in Peoria's big-league stadium that was pretty impressive. It was a big man shot.

Cole: I know you didn't work with Michael Ortiz last year, but from talking to Bill Richardson and other guys, I keep hearing that he has really come a long way both offensively and defensively. I know you were a first baseman. Can you talk about what he has done at here both at the plate and in the field?

Hart: He is just maturing. In his first two years here, he really learned to be a team player and putting the team first. When you put the team first, things happen for yourself. But he's learning how to use the whole field.

I think the first two years here, he was trying to hit home runs and pull it. It was causing him to hook and come around balls and not stay in the zone for a long time with the barrel. He took a couple weeks in extended where every round in BP was oppo-gap. He has really improved his bat path and improved his hitting.

Cole: One last guy is Alex Gonzalez. He stood out to me a couple of nights ago. I think he's been hitting leadoff quite a bit for you guys this season. Can you tell me about his game?

Hart: He is very, very high-energy. The one thing on him that we just want to keep working on is learning how to slow the game down to where he can control himself. But he can run, he can bunt, he can hit the ball all over the field. He's just going to keep playing like his hair is on fire. It's good to have him on the team, to bring that energy.

Cole: In Thursday night's game, I noticed he hit a couple of balls to the opposite field. Is that pretty normal for him?

Hart: He hits it everywhere. He hits it where it is pitched. That switch-hitting thing—he works hard on both sides. Just like Pimentel, when he's ready, he makes things happen. But he has to work on his timing and all the pre-pitch stuff, just like all these other young guys.

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