INDIANAPOLIS — One is a Canadian and the other would quickly be accepted as a son-in-law.
They’re two players both new to the Triple-A level this season, with each one getting off to a slow start offensively. But both are getting hot and have hit higher than .300 since June.
Meet, Eric and Erich. Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar has his own, unique way of describing the hitters.
Eric Wood is the Canadian with a hockey mentality.
“So, it’s a grunt and grind kind of thing,” Wynegar said. “Number one, we’re trying to get him to understand slowing down, which will help him see the ball.”
Erich Weiss is the nice guy on and off the field.
“I would take him as my son-in-law right now,” Wynegar said. “He’s that good of a kid. I told him, ‘I think sometimes the problem is you’re too nice of a kid.’”
They both adjusted slowly to the Triple-A level, which is filled with pitchers about to break through to the majors; and others who have spent time in the major leagues but aren’t quite good enough to remain, but savvy enough to get out young hitters. Weiss hit .154 in April, and Wood was not much better at .179. But they’ve made adjustments to a new level of pitching and their own approaches, with marked dividends.
Wood hit .323 with a .903 OPS in June, earning the team’s player of the month award. Weiss is hitting .308 since June and has raised his batting average 37 points.
And their personalities can provide the other with a unique introspective.
“You could say we could both learn from each other,” Wood said. “I could use maybe a little more relaxed attitude and he could use maybe a little more aggressive, so to speak, attitude. I’m very aggressive when I’m competing. It’s just who I am. I have to be able to control it so a little bit of calmness would be good for me.”
The biggest adjustment for any hitter to the Triple-A level is the quality of pitching. A lot are guys that have been in the major leagues, and while they’re on the back end of their careers, they still have good enough pitches — and more importantly — the knowledge to get young hitters out.
For Wood, that means one thing: seeing a lot of sliders.
“I think he’s being pitched to a little differently than he ever has before,” Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said. “Your weaknesses will really get exposed at this level, so I think he’s having to adjust to the league and is working hard at doing so.”
Wood came to Indianapolis as a pull hitter, which is OK at times, but not what Wynegar wants as his permanent approach. Opposing pitchers are throwing sliders in abundance, and Wood admits he has never seen so many in his career.
“And he’s seeing sliders from guys throwing 97 MPH,” Wynegar said.
With an aggressive, pull approach, Wood struggled but he has consistently improved every month. Wood hit .179 with a .642 OPS in April; .246 with an .815 OPS in May; and .323 with a .903 in June.
The production increase isn’t due to any drastic mechanical adjustments to his swing. Simply, a change in mentality. Wood previously looked to pull as his first and second option.
“There’s a big difference for me – you pull if you have to, you don’t pull because you want to,” Wynegar said. “Right now, it’s more of a bat the ball right back up the middle, slightly right-centerfield mindset. And then off of that, whatever happens happens.”
That mindset has been discussed all season, but took full grip on a bus ride when Wynegar and Wood started talking.
A simple, fictional scenario was given to Wood: He’s working a 9-to-5 job and walking the same route home every night, but gets mugged every day.
“I asked him, ‘Don’t you think at some time it would cross your mind to take a different path home’” Wynegar said. “He said, ‘Yeah, the definition of insanity, right?’ It’s not that I don’t want him to pull, I just don’t want him thinking pull. For Woody, it’s not so much his swing – yeah, I want to calm him down a little bit – but it’s more his mindset at the plate and where he’s letting that ball get to.”
The attitude Wood brought to the plate in June worked. He hit .323 which was only the third time in his professional career that Wood hit higher than .300 in a month with more than five games. Wood last eclipsed the .300 mark when he hit .330 with Class-A Bradenton in August 2014, and previously doing so in the Rookie League.
The Perfect Son-in-Law
Weiss tries to live life the way he was raised: as a gentleman. Now, the fact he uses the phrase “gentleman” tells you Weiss is probably a good person.
And Wynegar has proclaimed Weiss to be son-in-law material but wants to bring a different attitude out of the Triple-A rookie. Weiss is a “diamond in the rough” type of prospect, Wynegar said.
“There’s something in this kid,” Wynegar said. “Now, it’s not going to show up until we can find a way for him to dial it up mentally. I’ve been on him since Spring Training about finding that chip on your shoulder. He’s a passive kid. He’ll get mad. He’ll get frustrated.
“But it’s not a get in the box and ‘let’s f–ing go, you and me.’ There’s still a little passiveness in him, but I love the kid. I think his swing can play in the big leagues. It’s now just dialing up the mental aspect.”
Weiss also struggled early this season, hitting .154 with a .406 OPS in April. But those numbers have increased every month, hitting .277 with a .698 OPS in May; and he hit .284 with .819 OPS in June. He’s also hitting .400 with a 1.150 OPS in six games this month.
“Whenever you cross the lines it has to be a selfish kind of attitude toward the pitcher and the other team,” Weiss said. “You have to be aggressive. That’s one part of my game I could work on a little bit. Certain guys have that switch where they’re always like that or it’s easy for them to do that. But for other guys it’s hard. I’ve know guys as nice as me that can do it real quick. It’s just one of those things that everybody has to work on — it’s just an attitude toward the game.”
One player that began the season in Triple-A and is now with the Pirates — Max Moroff — made some adjustments mentally that would help Weiss.
Moroff started to take some risks with getting quality, aggressive swings off. He led the International League with 13 home runs before being promoted to the Pirates.
The message Wynegar gave to Moroff, is one he’s giving to Weiss.
“Start taking some risks, start understanding it’s okay to swing and miss, but let me get my A-swing off,” Wynegar said. “And right now there’s a little bit of tentativeness in (Weiss’) swing, but you watch him in BP and you watch him in certain games — wow that’s what I can envision. Keep your eye on him.”
Wood and Weiss have each shown they have potential at the plate this season. After slow starts to the Triple-A level, they’ve shown consistent improvements every month. They could both increase their value as prospects with continued improvements as they better learn the Triple-A level.