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Becoming a professional hitter

The process of becoming a hitter

By: Jeff Young-September 29, 2006

What a year in Billings, Montana with the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League, Rookie Advanced team in the Cincinnati Reds Organization!!! We went 51-25 and led the league in hitting (.288) and were second in pitching.

After the 2006 Draft, it was tough to see what it was going to bring us in Billings during mini-camp in Sarasota, FL. What it brought us was one of the best college drafts in the past few years within the Reds Organization. We were loaded with seven of the first ten picks of the draft. First rounder (8th overall) CF Drew Stubbs from the University of Texas, RHP Sean Watson from the University of Tennessee and SS Chris Valaika from the University of California-Santa Barbara (set Pioneer league record with 32-game hitting streak). These are just a few guys that we may see in the Big Leagues in four or five years down the road in a Reds uniform.

The later rounds brought some much needed help and different tangibles to our ball club. Some of these guys really performed well over the round they were drafted in and a couple were definitely steals in their respective rounds. For example, Chris Heisey from DIII Messiah College in Pennsylvania had a great month of July hitting well over .360 with some unexpected power (six homeruns) and 15 stolen bases. Another steal-type guy was Logan Parker from the University of Cincinnati who led us in homeruns with nine and 32nd rounder Danny Dorn from Cal State Fullerton who won the batting title with a .354 batting average. These great accomplishments did not come without hard work.

These young men, from the first rounder to the 50th round guy, all have to learn another thing about becoming a professional hitter. They all have to realize that this is their job and have to build a routine before batting practice and during batting practice. These young professional hitters have to realize that the biggest adjustment from the aluminum bat to the wooden bat is mostly mental. They have to believe and trust their ability with their hands to get the barrel to the hitting zone as efficiently as they did in college. They have to be able to use their hands more consistently and leave the big muscles out of the swing, i.e. shoulders and chest. When they have gotten this down with some consistency, they may be ready to hit on the professional level.

For me the other adjustment is to get “it” ready!!! Meaning, get the load and stride done early to read the baseball out of the pitchers hand to make a positive pass at the pitch. “HUNT THE FASTBALL” was written on the board everyday for the game with opposing pitchers’ info. Big League hitters can hit and hunt the fastball up, down, in and out. Yes they can hit other pitches also but you have a better chance of seeing more fastballs at the Rookie level because these young pitchers are trying to learn how to command this pitch within the strike zone.

Routines are based on what make you comfortable and what gets you loose before BP. We did some tee work but mostly front toss work. I personally like to do it underhand with some firmness to the pitch. I did this because of accuracy to both sides of the plate and up and down. Remember: we are working to find consistency with our swing. Other drills were done specifically with each individual hitter if requested, or I felt it helped the hitter feel the proper swing.

Again, these guys are learning how to become professional hitters with the WOODEN bat. The first-year player is learning a lot more than what has been taught before throughout the season and not in one day as high school and college level coaches expect. We have to realize these guys are working in stages to get to the ultimate goal of the Big League level and stay there.

About the author: Jeff Young just completed his third season in the Cincinnati Reds organization as the Rookie Level hitting coach in Billings. Previous to coaching at the professional level, Young spent ten years coaching collegiately at Furman, Presbyterian, Kentucky and Emory. As an Ohio native, Young was a high school teammate of Ken Griffey, Jr.