It’s no secret that Major League Baseball has gone through a culture shift. Hitters are more inclined to hit home runs and strike out rather than just choke up and slap a two-strike pitch the other way for a simple single.
In Danville, the young players in the Atlanta Braves organization aren’t following that philosophy, which is how the organization wants it to be at that level. In rookie ball, the main focus is just learning how to be comfortable in the batter’s box.
Danville Braves hitting coach Barbaro Garbey, who won the 1984 World Series with the Detroit Tigers, said before Sunday’s game that he’s not trying to change a player’s approach until the organization has a chance to see their skills at work.
“To these kids right here, I don’t try to preach anything because they are first-year professionals,” Garbey said. “The philosophy of the organization is to let them play, see what they can do. Don’t try to change anything until they show that they need some type of adjustment.”
So Garbey isn’t going to players telling them to hit with a higher launch angle, but instead find the pitch that fits their swings and pitches they can put in play.
“The only thing we preach to them right now is approach,” he said. “Get a good pitch to hit. Stay aggressive in the strike zone.”
That philosophy is the exact type of approach that some players in Danville want, and what fits to them. Bryce Ball, Atlanta’s 24th round draft pick, leads the Appalachian League with five home runs and .732 slugging percentage, is tied for second with 18 RBIs, and third with a .357 batting average and a .456 on-base percentage. For Ball, it’s all about keeping things simple.
“I think launch angle is important. I think it has a time and place, but when I’m hitting I really don’t try to think about launch angle and trying to hit home runs,” Ball said. “It’s mostly just trying to square it up and hit a line drive.”
Willie Carter, Atlanta’s 34th round draft pick, is hitting .308 with two home runs and 14 RBIs this season. He said there are times he works on his launch angle and things of that nature, but when he steps to the plate it’s the furthest thing from his mind.
“I don’t really think about it when I’m at the plate. Your work on it more in the cage,” Carter said. “If you’re thinking about anything while you’re hitting, you’re not going to be successful. It’s already hard enough to hit a baseball as it is.”
The other side of the launch angle talk in MLB is the rise in strikeouts, and the acceptance of that among the organizations. In Danville, Garbey doesn’t want to see strikeouts, and neither do the players.
“We don’t want to strike out. We want you to be a good hitter with power,” Garbey said. “When you’re a good hitter with power… your home runs will come, but you’re going to be a little bit more productive.”
“I hate striking out,” Ball said. “Obviously strikeouts are going to happen, but put the ball in play. Let’s not try to hit a home run in a two-strike count. Let’s try to put some pressure on the defense, try to make them make a play.
“When it comes to strikeouts, I don’t like them. I like hitters. I really admire hitters that have a lot of walks, more walks than strikeouts.”
“I’m not a big strikeout guy,” Carter said. “I’d rather put the ball in play with two strikes.”
The one metric that players do like to focus on is exit velocity. It’s not about the angle of the swing, but how solid the contact is.
“I feel like the harder I hit the ball the more likely I am to get a hit,” Ball said. “I don’t try to hit it at a certain launch angle, at a certain exit velocity to see if I can put it out of here. It’s really just to try to hit it as hard as possible.”
And the best way to do that is to hit strikes, and that’s what Garbey preaches to his hitters – how to understand how a pitcher is attacking hitters and find the strikes to hit hard.
“Watch the pitcher. What is he doing in different situations of the game?” Garbey said. “That to me is more important.”
“When it comes to approach, it’s really just look for something in the strike zone to hit hard,” Ball said.
“The main thing is pitch selection. I look for something I can drive and put it in the gap,” Carter said. “You just have to wait for their mistake and drive it.”
The team’s hitting philosophy seems to be working in Danville, as the Braves are second in the league with 99 RBIs and 108 runs scored, fourth with 157 hits, are first in the league with 36 doubles, and have struck out just 150 times which is second fewest in the league.
The Braves were at home on Monday night for the second game of a 2-game set against the Burlington Royals. Results were too late for publication. Danville will return home on Wednesday to begin a 3-game series against the Greeneville Reds.
Chris Doherty is a sports reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach him at (276)638-8801 ext. 215.