Scott Heineman has become increasingly interested in the mechanics of his swing. That said, the 27-year-old Texas Rangers outfielder isn’t married to the technical aspects of his craft. Nor is his approach what one could call cookie-cutter. That was crystal clear when I asked him the ‘art or science?’ question.
“I’d say hitting is more of an art,” Heineman expressed last Sunday. “I’m going to do what’s most comfortable for me. For instance, I’m not going to go out there and imitate Paul Goldschmidt. That’s what works for him — that stance — but I’ve tried it in the cage and it doesn’t work for me. That said, he does things I really like. I guess I could say I’m an artist painting my own picture, and at the same time looking at all the other pieces in the gallery. I’m seeing how they use colors, and whatnot, and putting parts of that into my own art. That’s what I’m doing with hitting.”
Heineman’s portfolio is somewhat spotty. Pointedly bland in last year’s cup of coffee — a .679 OPS in 85 big-league PAs — he’s otherwise made a good impression down on the farm. Heineman’s right-handed stroke has produced a snappy .303/.378/.475 slash line over four minor-league seasons. Ever the realist, he recognizes that those numbers aren’t going to translate to the big-league level if he doesn’t study the masters. Moreover, Goldschmidt isn’t the only bopper whose palette he’s perused.
“I’m not Mike Trout, even though I’ve tried to be Mike Trout,” Heineman told me. “But it doesn’t work. Again, I’ve got be myself. Even so, guys like Trout, Ryan Braun, J.D. Martinez… I take bits and pieces from them.”
Heineman absorbed a valuable chunk of information last September when the Red Sox played in Texas. It came via a player who revamped his swing and has gone on to craft multiple monster seasons.
“Before the game, J.D. Martinez and I were both running out to center field,” said Heineman. “I said, ‘Hey J.D., do you have a second? I don’t want to take you away from your pregame routine, but I’d love to ask you a couple of questions about hitting.’ He was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve always got time to talk hitting.’ So we talked for a couple of minutes, and as we were breaking off he said, ‘Why don’t you tell your clubbie a time that’s good for you tomorrow, and we’ll meet in the tunnel and talk a little bit more.’”
The next day, the two got together in the bowels of Globe Life Park and talked shop for approximately 10 minutes. Some of Martinez’s words pushed Heineman in the direction of science and technology.
“That’s where the all video I like to watch came into play,” Heineman explained. “He half-jokingly told me that it’s not worth taking a swing if you don’t video it. For instance, your body can fool you. You need to be consistent with everything — how you go about loading and triggering into the ball — and that can change without you really noticing. A big thing for me is my elbow. While I might line up a pitch with a high elbow, I know that in the future that probably won’t be a good road for me.
“Another thing [Martinez] said that was cool is, ‘I’m rarely perfect in this game.’ This is a guy who is usually hitting .330 with 30 home runs. He said his perfect swing, his perfect timing, is a line drive home run to dead center.”
Which brings us back to art. Much like an Andy Warhol could never be a Claude Monet, Heineman will never be J.D. Martinez. The former Oregon Duck doesn’t possess that type of raw talent. At the same time, he can be a better version of himself.
“From my experience, no one knows hitting better than Luis Ortiz, our major-league hitting coach, or Howard Johnson, who I had in Triple-A,” said Heineman. “Both are educated on how they need to work with different guys. And that’s crazy, because we’re all different artists. A good art teacher knows how to show each individual how to be their own best artist. From there you can hopefully create a masterpiece.”
The Ogden Raptors are reportedly one of the roughly 40 minor-league teams slated for contraction. Count Kyle Farmer among those who doesn’t want to see that happen. The Cincinnati Reds jack-of-all-trades broke into pro ball with the rookie-level Raptors, and his memories of that experience are endearing. Despite the grind.
“I’ve read that they’re in danger, and I’m hoping they’re not,” Farmer told me earlier this week. “It was the perfect transition from [the University of] Georgia to the minor leagues. It was a great atmosphere, a great town, and I stayed with a great host family. It was your prototypical minor-league setting. It taught me a lot. It taught me how to love baseball.
“In college, you have it so easy. Then you go to the minor leagues — especially the Pioneer League with the all the long travel — and you have to adapt. If you don’t love baseball, the minor leagues aren’t for you. It’s a grind. It’s a mental grind. If you don’t learn to sleep on a bus, learn how to go without a meal, then you’re not going to make it. The big leagues aren’t going to happen.”
And then there is the Ogden atmosphere. The Raptors have led the Pioneer League in attendance for each of the last 15 seasons.
“The town supports them so well,” said Farmer “The Raptors are a great landmark for Ogden, so losing them would be awful. Part of me understands why [MLB] would do it, but at the same time, they’d be taking away baseball for so many people. This pandemic is showing how important baseball is to the world. People miss it, and if you take away a small-town team, forever… I’d be sad to see that happen.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
The news that the Baltimore Orioles have released 37 minor-league players has been met with indignation on social media. That’s understandable. The budget cuts, the furloughs, and the ill-advised move toward contraction have combined to leave a sour taste. Even so, some context is in order. Were it not for the pandemic, a good many of the 37 would have been let go more than a month ago.
The number of players each organization releases in spring training varies. Per player-development personnel I checked with (none of whom work for the Orioles) it can range from as few as 15 to as many as 35. One of the estimates I got was “roughly 20-30 each spring.”
Organizations differ in approach. Some prefer to release players at the end of the minor-league season rather than bring them to camp the following spring. Other teams will invite a larger number of players to camp, necessitating more cuts. And the releases don’t always come all at once; they often happen in waves throughout the month of March. Of course, this year’s spring training didn’t progress as usual; it ended abruptly. Exactly how that altered the fortunes of 37 Baltimore Orioles hopefuls is hard to say.
Which 1970s-1980s infielder followed in his father’s footsteps by playing for Alabama in the Orange Bowl? Both were quarterbacks.
The answer can be found below.
Japan’s national high school championship, which was to begin on August 10, has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Founded in 1915 and held annually at Koshien Stadium, the two-week tournament was last on hiatus during World War II.
The Hiroshima Carp opened up part of their stadium to a limited number of fans on Thursday, allowing them to watch the club’s first practice since spring training was shut down. NPB is hoping to start its season as early as mid-June.
Ken Retzer, who caught for the Washington Senators from 1961-1964, died last week at age 86. Retzer was behind the plate on September 12, 1962 when Tom Cheney fanned 21 batters in a 16-inning complete-game win over the Baltimore Orioles.
Jonathan Becker and Daniel R. Epstein are the new co-directors of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. The duo replaces Howard Cole, who founded the IBWAA in 2009.
The SABR Games Project reached a milestone this past week with the publication of its 2,000th article. The project was launched in 2014.
The answer to the quiz is Butch Hobson. The power-hitting third baseman ran the wishbone for Alabama in the 1972 Orange Bowl. His father, Clell Hobson, threw a touchdown pass in the 1953 Orange Bowl.
Jacob Cruz didn’t hit a lot of home runs. The outfielder-turned-hitting-coach went deep just 19 times in parts of nine seasons. But he does share a rare distinction: Cruz is one of just a handful of players whose first and last big-league hits left the yard. The final one, which came in a Cincinnati Reds uniform in 2005, doesn’t have much of a story. The initial one, which came in 1996 with the San Francisco Giants, evokes memories that will last a a lifetime.
A knuckleballer was on the hill.
“It was off [Tom] Candiotti, and it’s crazy,” recalled Cruz, who is currently the assistant hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. “I remember that in the pregame meeting, they talked about how every once in awhile he was going to flip you a curveball when he fell behind. Sure enough, he did.
“My second at bat, Candiotti went 1-0 on me. I remember stepping out and thinking, ‘All right, there’s a chance he’s going to flip a breaking ball here.’ That’s what happened. The ball popped up out his of hand, and my eyes lit up. I hit it out to right-center field.”
His trip around the bases was a mixture of exaltation and anxiety.
“Rounding first base and heading toward second, I couldn’t feel my feet on the ground,” Cruz explained. “I also recall thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, did I even touch first base? Do I go back? Will anybody even notice?’ But you don’t forget that. You never forget that first hit.”
It came in Cruz’s second game. A day earlier, flummoxed by Hideo Nomo’s splitter, he’d gone 0 for 4 with three punch outs. Butterflies were in abundance.
“It’s such a blur,” admitted Cruz. “You’re so nervous. You’re this kid, and we’re playing the Dodgers in front of 30,000 fans at Candlestick. Before the game, my heart was coming through my chest. I’m thinking, ‘Slow down, Cruz.’ And it just never did. Eighth inning, and my heart is still racing. I called my dad afterwards and told him, ‘Pops, it’s tough up here.’ He said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, “My heart never slowed down; I don’t think I can take this every day.’ Of course, it eventually does slow down.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
NPB teams aren’t cutting pay or furloughing employees during the COVID-19 shutdown. Jim Allen explained why at jballallen.com.
At Baseball America, JJ Cooper looked at how minor-league teams on the chopping block are scrambling to find MLB partners.
Will the pandemic set back the Kansas City Royals’ rebuild? Max Rieper explored that question at Royals Review.
At Words Above Replacement, Bill Thompson wrote about how Chiang Chih-Hsien is still packing a wallop in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
In 1963, Pittsburgh’s Bob Bailey had three 3Bs, 12 HRs, and 10 steals.
In 1964, Pittsburgh’s Bob Bailey had three 3Bs, 11 HRs, and 10 steals.
In 1965, Pittsburgh’s Bob Bailey had three 3Bs, 11 HRs, and 10 steals.
The 1965 Chicago White Sox, a 95-win team, had eight players with between 10 and 18 home runs. No one had more than 18. They had five pitchers with between 10 and 15 wins. No one had more than 15.
Players born on this date include Dave Machemer, whose only big-league home run came in the first inning of his first game. On June 21, 1978, Machemer led off for the California Angels and promptly went deep against Minnesota’s Geoff Zahn. As Machemer would later tell me, “It was all downhill after that.” He finished his career with 11 hits in 48 at bats.
On May 23, 2002, Shawn Green went 6 for 6 with four home runs to help lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 16-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Babe Ruth hit his final three home runs on May 25, 1935 as a member of the Boston Braves. It was the fourth three-homer game of his career. Ruth played his last game on May 30, 1935.
Bill Sharman, a Boston Celtics legend and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was a third baseman/outfielder in the Brooklyn Dodgers system from 1950-1955. Sharman received a big-league call-up in 1951 but never appeared in a game.
Roger Clemens’s given name is William Roger Clemens.