ALTOONA – When Erich Weiss was first promoted to Altoona last season, he had the look of a tall, lanky middle infield with good hand eye contact, but little power. After a few weeks with the Curve, he was profiling as a player that could hit a lot of singles but wasn’t really going to drive many balls at the level.
He was originally drafted as a third baseman out of the University of Texas, but the Pirates moved him to second base because he was an athletic player and his bat provided more value at the position rather than a corner infielder with little power. At second base, Weiss could provide a strong defensive glove, hit for average, and hope to develop some more pop while developing at the position.
I recalled one hit from last season in particular when talking with Weiss. The Curve were home against Reading late in the season when he hit a hard liner off of the center field wall that went as a triple. That was the swing and type of hit that made me look more at Erich Weiss as a developing player rather than someone topping out against Double-A pitching. Weiss recalled the same at-bat last season and said that he used it as motivation to get better this year.
Weiss said he was rigorous in the weight room over the off-season, and results are beginning to show from all of his hard work. He gained 15 pounds of muscle weight with the hope to “be more powerful at the plate”.
Weiss definitely looks bigger and stronger than last year. Not only upper body strength, Weiss said that he worked with Hitting Coordinator to utilize his new leg strength into his swing.
“He helped me get in my legs more against just my upper body through the swing,” Weiss said. “I have really good hands and upper body strength where I can manipulate the ball and foul a lot of stuff off with two strikes. [Using my legs more] has helped me get the inside pitch a lot better, which is something that I’ve always struggled with. It has helped me be able to pull the ball, and that has changed my game a good bit.”
Weiss has hit the ball to the right side of the field 51.5% of the time this season. Comparatively, he only pulled the ball 38.2% of the time last year. Weiss’s ability to get through the strike zone quicker with his swing this year has led to three home runs, two triples, and two doubles towards right field. In 398 less at-bats than last season, Weiss has the same number of home runs and only one less triple this year.
Being quicker and stronger with his swing has helped Weiss become more aggressive at the plate this season. Early aggression in the pitch count has been a goal for him going into this year.
“If they start me out with a fastball, and I know it’s coming, I try to be more ready for it,” Weiss said, “especially in fastball and hitter counts.”
Other than the new muscle mass, Weiss told me that he has a new mental approach at the plate this season.
“I’m trying to tell myself to just stay in the moment this year,” Weiss said. “Don’t be result oriented. Let’s say I hit a hard ball at somebody, yet they still catch it; I consider that a successful at-bat. It’s easier to stay more consistent when you stay in the moment. It kind of keeps me a little more into the game, and a little more on the positive side.”
“Staying in the moment”, being more aggressive at the plate, and added muscle mass has led to immediate results for Weiss. Between Bradenton and Altoona last season, Weiss hit .277 but only had a .697 OPS. This year, he is currently hitting .291 with an .884 OPS in 86 at-bats.
Not only have I been impressed with Weiss at the plate this year, he has the look and feel of the sergeant of the infield for the Curve. He ranges well and has a very solid glove. For a taller infielder, he has shown a very quick first step, which is something that he wanted to improve this season. Minor League Infield Coordinator Gary Green helped Weiss improve his first step in the off-season.
That was the one thing that [Gary] Green and I worked on last year – the first step quickness,” Weiss said. “Right when the ball is hit, you’re always ready and expecting the ball. Having that fast first step can cover a lot of ground, and it can help you get to deep balls. In the past, I wouldn’t have as quick of a first step, and I wouldn’t have as much range.”
Overall, Erich Weiss is getting closer to becoming “that guy” in Altoona this year, as he strives to “be the guy that everyone can count on”.
The more I watch Weiss this season, the more he reminds me of another tall, quick middle infielder that currently plays on the Pirates.
“I’ve looked at Jordy Mercer as a role model to me,” Weiss told me. “I backed up a lot of big league games this spring, and I got to see him play and how he goes about his day. It’s no wonder he is up there doing what he is doing, because he is so good at having routine and staying prepared.”
Weiss went on to recall manning the middle infield with Mercer in spring two years ago, saying “that was a pretty cool moment”. The hope for Weiss would be that he can continue to replicate the game that Jordy Mercer plays. He’s not going to ever be a shortstop like Mercer, but could provide value from a middle infield position, and could have some decent offensive value to go along with that defense.