Friday, May 27, 2011

BuggyWhip Bugaboo: Why Coaches Feel Weird About the Domonic Brown Swing and Why They Shouldn't

This photo looks eerily similar to Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam".  Coincidence?  I think not.
Domonic Brown’s return to the majors this week gives fans their first, real, big league look at the young outfielder with some semblance of normalcy.  No longer is his growth encroached upon by injuries, phantom platoon issues, spotty playing time or brainless coaches tinkering with his swing.  He has carte blanche to kick some ass without his development being infringed upon.  Despite the fact that Brown has been smashing balls with extreme prejudice this week (his low BA is the result of bad luck in a small sample.  It’s not his fault he’s crushing balls that Drew Stubbs is intercepting like some sort of government defense missile) baseball pundits are still uncomfortable with his swing and are expressing it in TV broadcasts, post game shows and radio spots.  They’re wrong.  They have Swing Xenophobia.  Let me quell your doubts, if you have any, about the viability of Brownie’s swing at the big league level, by breaking it down piece by piece. 

You should refer to the above video several times while reading through this paragraph to look for the things I’m talking about.  It’s a nice, long at-bat from the Arizona Fall League of 2009, so click play and let it run as you read, taking peeks back to the video when the pitches are about to be thrown.  

Let’s start with Brown’s stance.  A fuss is made about the height of his hands, which start up around his eyes.  Take a second to get into your own batting stance.  Where are your hands?  They’re probably up around your shoulders.  Move them up to your eye level.  Does that feel incredibly uncomfortable?  Probably not, and it certainly doesn’t for me.  Even if his stance was incredibly unorthodox (which it’s not) it’s not as if people with weird stances haven’t succeeded in the past.  Hell, Cal Ripken Jr. had more batting stances than Arnold Schwarzenegger has illegitimate children and he was a no girly-man at the dish.  So we’re over Brown’s stance.

Now let’s look at the beginning of his swing.  It appears Brown starts his swing, at least a little bit, during just about every pitch.  It was a concern for me at first.  I thought maybe he had trouble with pitch recognition and was constantly checking his swing.  Turns out it’s just something he kinda does.  It’s not without its benefits.  It allows him to spoil pitches he’s late to recognize as strikes because his bat is already half way there. 
If Brownie decides he wants to let loose with a full swing, he accelerates his bat at such an impressive rate that it makes up for that slower start.  You can see it in the video.  His bat starts slow and then explodes through the hitting zone.  He is well balanced and rotates his hips, an indication of power potential.
Brown’s swing is a little unorthodox, sure, but he is so freakishly athletic (he had a scholarship to play baseball and football for The U but opted to sign with the Phils) that he makes it work.  So Greg Gross, there’s no reason to try to change something that Brown’s been successful with for the past 5 years just because you can’t wrap your head around it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

MLB Prospect Scouting Report: Austin Hyatt

Austin Hyatt (Philadelphia Phillies Pitcher)

Age: 25
Throws: Right
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 185lbs
From: Alabama (drafted in the 15th round of the 2009 draft)

Hyatt was drafted by the Braves straight out of high school but chose to attend Alabama instead. He’s had success across every pro level he experienced, striking out more than a batter per inning at each stop and earning Florida State League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2010. While his numbers are encouraging, enthusiasm for Hyatt’s future is tempered by his advanced age.


Hyatt’s fastball is fringe average. His velocity sits in the high 80s, touching 92 at its peak. It has some late movement and he commands it exceptionally well to his arm side. Hyatt’s command of the heater is crucial to the pitch’s viability and his success overall. The raw velocity and movement is not enough to get big leaguers out unless it’s well placed.


Hyatt’s best pitch, the low 80s offering garnered several swings and misses on Wednesday night. Hyatt’s arm speed on the change is identical to that of his fastball making them indiscernible from one another out of his hand. He gets terrific fade and run out of it at times, but this movement is a bit inconsistent, it comes and goes. He uses it almost exclusively as a strikeout pitch down beneath the strike zone, so it’s not something he can use early in counts to get ahead of hitter, at least not yet.


Hyatt’s slider is unimpressive. Sitting in the low 80s, it looks more like a cutter than a real wipeout slider. He’ll need to improve this pitch or find something else to get righties out. He really struggled to get right handed hitters out in the outing I saw.


The arm action is nothing to write home about. It’s not ultra-violent (like Max Scherzer’s) nor is it effortlessly smooth (like Neftali Feliz). The delivery as a whole seems very simple, easily repeatable and most of the time allows Hyatt to pitch with good control. However, there were instances when his elbow would pronate late, causing him to leave the ball up in the zone, and he’d get hit hard. He needs to iron that shit out.

Overall, Hyatt’s lacks a third pitch. Oddly, it happens to be a pitch to get right handed hitters out. While typically with two pitch guys, I’d say they’re better off in the bullpen, Hyatt’s stuff is not conducive of that sort of move. His future really depends on him developing elite command, which is possible, but unlikely. If I had to bet on how he ends up, I’d say a AAA depth guy who comes up to make a spot start here and there due to injury.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

MLB Prospect Scouting Report: Adeiny Hechavarria

Adeiny Hechavarria (Toronto Blue Jays SS)

Age: 22
Bats: Right
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 180lbs
From: Cuba

Hechavarria was handed a hefty 4 year, $10 million contract from the Blue Jays which included a $4 million signing bonus that is the largest in team history. Despite struggling to hit in his pro debut at High-A ball last year, the Jays decided to promote him to AA based on his defense. I didn’t get a chance to see him at the Arizona Fall League since Red Sox SS prospect Jose Iglesias started in all the games I attended. I traveled to Reading on Tuesday night to finally get a look at him.


Hechavarria hits lead off for New Hampshire but has no lead off skills. He saw a total of 6 pitches in his first four at-bats last night, all of them strikes. The only pitch he didn’t swing at, that wasn’t a called strike, was a pitch that nearly hit his shin. If it would have been physically possible for him to swing at it while he simultaneously dodged the pitch, I have no doubt he would have. Hechavarria swung at pitches well out of the zone several times, swung at the first pitch in 4 out of his 5 at-bats and failed to hit the ball out of the infield even once. He has no patience, no feel for the strike zone and no power. His body isn’t projectable in any way so I don’t see that power improving.

He’s fast enough that he’ll beat out some infield hits, lay down bunt singles and do some damage on the base paths, but I can’t see a scenario where his offensive output will ever warrant any sort of praise, even from the most liberal-minded analysts


Thankfully for Hechavarria, he’ll only need to hit well enough to bat last in the order to get off the bus and into a major league clubhouse. His skills at short are undeniable, especially his split second reactions. On this night, a ball was hit hard to Hechavarria’s left, which he quickly got in position to field, then took a bad hop a darted up toward his head. He contorted his body in some sort of inhuman position, fielded the ball cleanly and threw out the runner at first. Combine these reactions with his above average speed and he has terrific range. He has soft hands and an above average arm.

My one concern is his arm accuracy. He releases the ball at a weird spot. I can’t really articulate exactly what I saw but I know it didn’t look right and a few balls he threw to first during warmups either sailed on him or landed in the dirt.

Hechavarria’s glove will get him to the majors because he plays a premium defensive position very well. He’s not a future All Star and won’t provide the value you’d expect from someone who signed as big of an amateur contract as he did, but he’ll be a big league shortstop for a decade or so.