Many of you will remember Jeff’s excellent columns at the Baseball Analysts, where he was a regular contributor. He provided fascinating analysis using slo-mo video analysis to break down the hitting (and sometimes pitching) mechanics of several all stars and prospects, and it got a lot of people talking. He also owned and operated swingtraning.net. Jeff has worked with high school, college and minor league baseball players doing training and video analysis before getting hired by the St. Louis Cardinals to be the Muckdog’s hitting instructor. He is doing a good job so far, the ‘dogs are third in the league in OPS and are a half game back from 1st place in their division.
A couple years back, Jeff was nice enough to help me understand Jon Jay’s hitting mechanics back when I was contributing at Viva El Birdos. Naturally, I was thrilled to hear the Cardinals had hired him this off-season. Recently I had the chance to catch up with Jeff to see how the new gig is going and ask about some of his students.
Q and A after the jump.
How has your experience gone so far in your first season as a minor league hitting instructor?
I don’t think I could have asked for this year to turn out any better. I’ve been impressed with our entire staff and the progressiveness of the Cardinals’ organization. From the first meeting with all the hitting coaches in Spring Training, I felt like I was in the right spot. Plus I’m back near my hometown, Rochester, NY and we’re pushing for the playoffs. The way everything worked out is really a blessing.
Did your writing experience at Baseball Analysts and your own site in any way help open the door for you in getting a job with the Cardinals?
I believe Brent Strom is the one who really put my name out there as a candidate for my current position, but I think my writing and site served almost like an extended resume for me. When I was being interviewed, I was asked about some of the articles, so there was at least some recognition there.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Trying to keep everyone going at their best. All of our guys get at-bats and different players hit extra every day. Sometimes one guy might require more attention than another, but I want to make sure I put quality time in with each guy.
I know this question is pretty broad, but what are some of the things you are looking for in a player’s swing?
Looking on video and in person are different things. With video, I generally look for how a player moves, angles of the upper body, swing path and sequence. In person, I want to see first if a player makes consistent barrel contact, then flight and direction of the ball, as well as rhythm and timing. From there it’s connecting the dots between what I see on video and live.
What are some of the things you teach players get the most out of their ability?
I like to explain the overall concept, verbally and visually, and give them the initial opportunity to adjust in their own way. I try to take the player’s strengths and build from there, mostly focusing on body position and swing path from a mechanics perspective, and being ready to hit the fastball from an approach perspective. There are a lot of ways to complicate things, but I try to boil it down to one or two simple points of focus for each guy.
What are some of the most common things you see wrong from a player coming out of college?
General misconceptions about the swing or just lack of awareness of what they are actually doing. This is where showing them their own video and clips of MLB players is helpful. Once they have a clear picture of what they are doing and what they would like to do, the players start making their adjustments.
How much are you able to utilize video when coaching the players?
Quite a bit, but I try not to go overboard with it. Illustrating concepts and tracking progress are the basic goals. We’ll record video periodically to see if a player is or isn’t moving in the right direction.
Switching gears a little bit, tell me about some of your players. I thought Shane Peterson was an interesting draft pick due to his great college career at Long Beach St., but seeing him on video, he does have that odd two-step swing. Is that at all a concern of yours?
With Shane’s line-drive ability and strike zone judgment, I can see where he had success. The pre-swing move from his draft video is more exaggerated than what he showed up here with, so I wouldn’t say he has a two-step swing that causes concern. Everyone here is striving for a more efficient swing, and Shane is no different. He shows up every day to do his work and sometimes I literally have to kick him out of the cage.
What can you tell me about Jon Edwards? Many of us have seen his draft video and he looks like a behemoth.
Jon certainly is a big guy, but he still moves well in RF to go with his good arm strength. I haven’t seen anyone in the league hit a ball as hard as Jon. He got a bit shorter and more consistent with his stroke coming out of extended spring and I think that led to his success while he was here – when he got his pitch, he did more damage with it.
Curtis is a gamer – he’s made all the plays at 3rd base and swung well from the 3-hole. Hand and foot injuries have kept him out of more games than any of us would like. Parejo had a good showing at the all-star game, having hit the only home run. For him to put together an all-star year after jumping from the GCL last year is impressive, especially when you factor in that he was 17 when the season started.
Sedbrook has been our most consistent hitter to this point, and his swing and approach are a good match – he drives the ball the other way and plays to his strengths in the box. Cutler has settled in and is driving the ball with more authority, which is a good sign considering that he has one of the lowest swing-and-miss percentages within the entire organization. Castellanos just got here and came out swinging – the ball really jumps off his bat towards right-center field. Scruggs has some power and deserves a lot of credit for his diligence. He has probably made the biggest improvement of all the hitters here since day one.
I know you’re the hitting coach, not the pitching coach, but are their any of the Muckdog pitchers that have caught your eye?
There are positive things to say about everyone on the staff. The ball jumps out of Reifer’s hand and Nieto has been consistent all year. Cardenas is a guy taking advantage of a starting spot that opened up. When you look at opponent’s averages, Eager and Gorgen have also been tough to hit.
Finally, what is the most fun part of your job?
Seeing a guy realize the results of his hard work. We have a great group and of course I want to see them do well. It’s a good feeling when a guy gets called up and is able to take the next step in his career – that’s what we’re here for as coaches.
Anything else you’d like to say that maybe I haven’t asked?
I was on my high school’s last sectional championship team which we won in 1997 while playing in Dwyer Stadium, Batavia…here’s to hoping that things come full circle.