If you’re looking for a sign of hope that things will eventually get better in Pittsburgh, the area I’m looking at is the hitting development in Double-A.
In Tuesday’s article drop, I wrote about the Altoona Curve hitters, and the strategies being taught to them by hitting coach Jon Nunnally.
In my 14 seasons covering this organization, I’ve always understood pitching better than hitting. Some of that might be due to playing tennis when I was younger and understanding the transfer of energy from the legs to the arms. I’ve also been in a position to talk with some of the best pitchers in the game, learning how they developed into some of the best pitchers.
I can say that in my time covering the Pirates, I’ve yet to cover many “best hitters in the game.” The best one in Pittsburgh was Andrew McCutchen, who was graduating prospect status when this site began. It’s not that I haven’t had conversations about hitting. It’s also not like I haven’t seen top rated hitting prospects.
What I can say is that I’ve never had hitting explained to me so clearly as during my conversation with Nunnally.
My thought is that if I can understand his concepts as a non-baseball player, then he’s going to be a massive help to the actual baseball players he coaches.
I talked with Ke’Bryan Hayes on Wednesday, who brought up working with Nunnally when I explained the strategy I was seeing in the minors.
If you’ve followed the launch angle approach, you’ve probably heard about hitting the ball out in front, creating lift, or just getting under the ball. A lot of these terms put images in your head of swinging up on the ball.
One thing that Nunnally stressed was that you get home runs by swinging down on the ball. That doesn’t necessarily mean chopping down like Mike Trout. Hayes described it very well, showing the process might have more to do with timing the start of your swing to the contact point.
“Whenever you say swing down on the ball, it’s really your first few inches of your swing,” said Hayes. “Once you get to the zone, your swing is going to naturally work up.”
Last year around this time, I broke down some of the changes that I saw from the swing of Nick Gonzales. Here was a side-by-side comparison of Gonzales from 2020 to 2021.
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsP2) August 12, 2021
The biggest thing here that stands out to me today is how Gonzales gets some separation with his hands from his body in 2021. The 2020 video sees him keep his hands close to his body, creating more of that chopping down action.
The 2021 video sees him drop his hands back, which allows for something that Nunnally stressed specifically for Gonzales — keeping his bat path through the zone longer.
I also was able to get a side view in my recent trip. This one is a swing and miss, demonstrating his current tendency to swing over some breaking pitches. It’s not going to look as impressive as the contact swings above, but I’m focusing on the mechanics below.
Today on @pirateprospects I'm writing about Nick Gonzales and an issue he's had with an uppercut at the end of his swing, impacting his ability to hit low breaking pitches. Here's a look at the swing from the side. pic.twitter.com/T3CENtCT0Q
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsP2) August 23, 2022
Gonzales keeps the crouched approach he had in 2021, continuing the departure from his more upright swing in 2020. Nunnally also stressed a hitter getting into his legs for power, and the crouch would accomplish that.
The hands seem closer to the body in 2022. At the start of his swing in 2020 and 2021, the hands would drag behind, almost behind the elbow. He keeps his hands tighter to his chest in the 2022 swing, which has shortened the swing.
As I broke down in the Hayes article, the approach with Nunnally is about anticipating what the pitcher might throw. In a hitter’s count, you’re more likely to see a fastball, and hitters are being trained to pull the ball more to be early on those fastballs. The catch is that they also need to anticipate the possibility of a breaking pitch. If they are early on the fastball, they would still have a chance to adjust and be on time for the breaking pitch.
It seems like Gonzales is still struggling a bit in the adjustment regard. By keeping his hands closer to his body in 2022, he shortens the swing. As you see in the video above, that doesn’t work well for him, as he swings quickly ahead of the low breaking pitch.
There has been a clear progression with Gonzales, making subtle adjustments with his body and swing. Most of this approach happens in the mind, and it seems like it takes a bit of time for the habit to form.
For example, Ke’Bryan Hayes is currently hitting the ball among the hardest in the majors, but isn’t getting a lot of lift. I haven’t looked at video yet, but my guess is his swing drop might be coming too early, and that seems like an offseason adjustment.
In the case of Gonzales, he hasn’t had a lot of time to develop and work on his swing, due to injuries the last two years.
The encouraging sign is that he started making adjustments with Nunnally before his injury this year, and those started to click at the time. Since returning, he’s hitting for a .286/.434/.500 line, with a 17% walk rate and a 26.4% strikeout rate.
The only concern might be the strikeout rate, considering the original expectations of Gonzales as a contact hitter. I can’t see another number there which would make me even think about the strikeout rate twice.
Gonzales has some of the quickest hands in the system, and he does an outstanding job at making contact. He’s still dipping his bat in and out of the zone too quickly, as seen in the 2022 video above. I’ll note that in the second game that day, he picked up four hits, including three doubles.
The optimistic view here is that something is starting to click with Gonzales, turning him into a well-rounded hitter. He’s still working through this issue, and still showing some bad swings. I think that what we’re starting to see in the stat line is a progression of his good swing decisions starting to outweigh the bad ones.
Even if you are skeptical about the small sample size, it’s hard to ignore that Gonzales seems to be heading in the right direction.
If you want to know what’s going on with the hitters in Altoona, I wrote about them in Tuesday’s article drop, which is linked below.
Later today, Anthony Murphy will tackle the pitching development, with looks at Quinn Priester, Kyle Nicolas, Luis Ortiz, Tahnaj Thomas, and J.C. Flowers.
Ethan Hullihen will also have his weekly payroll and roster update.
Get your work done early, because we’re all quiet quitting on this Friday once those articles drop.
Pirates Prospects Spotlight
Daily Video Rundown
Today: Cross State Trip
Yesterday: Much Needed Break
Pirates Prospects Daily Articles
- Ke’Bryan Hayes Reflects on His Work With Hitting Coach Jon Nunnally
- Prospect Roundtable: Who was the best Pirates prospect in Altoona this year?
- P2Daily: Sammy Siani Hits The Ground Running In Greensboro Return
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