Ari Adut - 6/16/22
Phillies’ High-A Hitting Coach Ari Adut Talks Hitting
Ari Adut began his coaching career at Los Angeles Valley College, where he played for several years before a short stint in the Pecos league. In 2019, after creating recruiting videos and posting some of the hitting work he was doing on social media, he caught the attention of Yankees’ minor league hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson. Adut would eventually be hired as a full-time hitting instructor for the Yankees, handling both the Dominican Summer League and Florida Complex League. Adut’s time working in the Yankees’ lower levels was interrupted by the pandemic, but he gained enough experience to eventually land another position in professional baseball working for the Phillies. After spending the 2021 season working as a hitting instructor in the Florida Complex League, Adut was promoted to hitting coach for the Jersey Shore Blue Claws, the High-A affiliate for the Phillies.
Down on the Farm: Can you talk a little bit about how you got involved in coaching and professional baseball?
Ari Adut: I coached at a junior college in Los Angeles California called Los Angeles Valley College under Dave Mallas where I had also played. I coached under him for five years. My fifth year I was in the midst of doing everything basically in a sense of recruiting, strength and conditioning, all the tech that people weren't applying at the JuCO level at that time per se. And then with the combination of social media and video to create recruiting videos that got me involved in professional baseball without me even knowing. It just kind of happened. Then that led to me interviewing with teams and ultimately Dillon Lawson, who is currently the big league hitting coach for the New York Yankees, hired me to go work for him. I did my first year with the Yankees and then Covid hit. I was helping employ and build out the DR infrastructures for the Yankees at the time and me being fluent in Spanish helped that. A new group of us that had been hired and we were pushing the new initiatives in the DR at the time. We had a lot of support from the Yankees. Then COVID hit. It was just crazy at the time, everything shut down and we were furloughed and were just kind of waiting because no one really knew what was going to happen. I just had a baby and my family, and I were trying to figure out what was going to happen and there was no end in sight at the time, so I asked if I could seek other opportunities and thankfully the Yankees approved it, understanding my situation with the family. So Dillon Lawson ended up reaching out to teams for me – he reached out and there was some interest from a few teams. The Phillies had some interest thankfully, and I ended up with the Phillies. The Phillies brought me in and told me I was going to be staying in Florida the whole time, so I got to be home. I did the complex league in year one. After that year was done the Phillies asked if I wanted to do High-A. I was down for the challenge and I was ready to move up a level and now I'm in Jersey in High-A (Jersey Shore Blue Claws).
Down on the Farm: That’s great, congratulations. It sounds like, despite the COVID season being lost, everything worked out well.
Down on the Farm: When a hitter is struggling what's the first thing you do to try to help them?
Ari Adut: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think defining what struggling actually is for the player. Struggling for a player can be different from player to player and could be different of how we view it from a coaching perspective or as an organization. One of the best parts about working in professional baseball is you have everything at your disposal – metrics, video, data, so you can dive in to see if a guy is actually struggling or maybe it's just that he’s having bad luck at the plate. It can be challenging because some of the players don't understand what you're trying to explain to them, so sometimes the first step is trying to educate them on advanced information. Or if they're actually struggling sometimes you want to try to dive in to give them the best odds of getting better.
Down in the Farm: So once you figure out what's going on and you evaluate his performance, what does your process look like after that?
Ari Adut: So I just weigh in all the things I addressed – look at the whole picture and try to find the lowest hanging fruit. Typically it depends what time of year it is too, early in the year it might be different from later in the year. It might depend on knowing a player and the player’s personality. Does he like a lot of information, does he not like a lot of information? I often times try to leave little breadcrumbs and not give the answer to the player right away, but question them to see if they’re able to figure it out. Some guys might just need to be challenged competitively. It just kind of depends on the player and what motivates them and finding out what the best possible way is to get them to respond. You also want to understand what type of information can be adapted in a short period of time, especially during the year when they're in the middle of competition. Players tend to be results-oriented, so being tactical & prepared is important– you don't want to give them something that you think is the fix or something that you say you think is going to help, because if it doesn't work that first game the player might scrap it or lose trust in me. Especially when it's a mechanical adjustment. The thing I learned very early on in professional baseball is that player’s hold their swings very dear to their heart and being aware of that in how I approach them when it's something swing-wise. That's why the swing is not typically the first thing I look for.
Down on the Farm: When you're watching a hitter either live or on video, what's the first thing you're looking at?
Ari Adut: Are they swinging at balls or strikes? That's the first thing I look at and then I work from there. Then I cut it down more – if they’re swinging at balls, then that's the first thing to address because it doesn't matter how beautiful your swing is if you are swinging at balls it's not gonna work. Swinging at strikes on a consistent basis is important. If they are swinging at strikes, are they swinging at good strikes? Or are they borderline strikes? Where in the count are, they swinging at those? Not all strikes are created equal. That's kind of the way I go about it.
At the same time, I'm also looking at the swing from different angles, maybe using high speed video to see as many angles as possible. To see if anything stands out that's glaring. Something I always tell these guys, hitting isn’t all about mechanics and in this industry it feels as if everything is so mechanically driven that it blurs the fact that swinging at strikes is just so valuable.
Down on the Farm: For sure, all strikes are not created equal. The location of strikes in the zone is also important.
Ari Adult: Yes. And that's another fine line too. Some guys will hit a home run on a ball that has a 1% probability of being a home run all season long – how do you teach them at that moment? Obviously, you want them to have success, but you also don't want them to swing at pitches that aren't likely to be pitches they can have good results on. Maybe not in that moment, but later explaining that to them.
Down on the Farm: How do you talk about that topic to a hitter? What's your approach?
Ari Adut: I'll try to ask them the question and see what they thought about the pitch so they can give me the answer first if they don't understand, then I try to ease into it. Most of the time if done correctly they understand for the most part.
Down on the Farm: Do you feel like plate discipline and making better swing decisions can be taught or trained?
Ari Adut: Yes. The reason I say that is because I've been a part of two organizations in the lowest levels, with the youngest athletes, and I've been a part of it being developed. Without getting into the weeds too much, we just made it important. We made it a focus. It's not as sexy as exit velocity, which of course matters, but if you create the environment where it matters just as much every single day, that's the key in my opinion, make it matter, make it just as cool as exit velocity and hitting the ball hard. That has worked well in my experience, and the reason I believe in it.
Down on the Farm: It sounds like it's something you talk about every single day and you emphasize. How do you measure whether they're improving in terms of swing decisions?
Ari Adut: Everyone (organizations) has their own scales, I'm sure. Just having a scale internally as a coach and for the players to evaluate whether they're swinging at good pitches. Just making sure that we have some method of giving them feedback. It’s just like bat speed or getting stronger in the weight room. It’s the same concept, you want to give them feedback to show them whether they're making progress or regressing. Tracking and feedback.
Down on the Farm: How do you think the change in pitching the last few years has altered the way hitting is taught and developed?
Ari Adut: It's for sure changed. The pitching is just absurd in the major leagues. Look at our pitching staff right now in Jersey — our staff is loaded with guys that throw 98+. Painter, Abel, Baker, Brown, McGarry. These guys are so good. The pitching is just different, I don't wanna discredit anything, it's just this era, the style, the stuff is just incredible. To think that some of the same strategies that worked years ago will work now is doing a disservice to the player development of these kids.
Down on the Farm: One of the things that become more popular is hitting off of high velocity pitching machines or pitching machines like the iPitch that can mimic different pitch types. Can you talk about the balance between training for the game and training in practice to work on something mechanically?
Ari Adut: I'm a fan of them. We use them for sure, everyone sees the way these guys are throwing now. The goal is to develop robust athletes with the skills to a withstand the pitching at the major league level. The machines can help that. It's in the best interest of the players to prepare accordingly for what they're actually going to face in their futures. It doesn't have to be in that moment, they may not be facing a guy throwing 100mph in rookie ball, but we’re still preparing them for their futures. It's the closest way you can train to face that in the game. Like you said, they're coming out with new machines, although not everyone likes machines. We’re still trying to manipulate the environment to encourage guys to compete against it to work on stuff. I'm looking forward to seeing how they can make these machines even better and more game-like in the future.
Down on the Farm: One of things that I've heard is the biggest difference between taking live batting practice and the machine is – obviously a big part of hitting is timing – hitting off a machine doesn't simulate the timing and the release point of the pitcher the way live BP does - any thoughts?
Ari Adut: To me, it's a training tool. The best training tool is live, that's what they're going to be facing, that's ideal. The next best thing though is the machine. Even if I gas up and throw from a distance that is equivalent to a certain speed, I'm still not going to be as good. You still need to be aware of what's training them to get ready to make sure they're prepared for the future. That can be the hardest part to understand sometimes. To me, the machine is more ball-flight based, not really about timing, it's working on understanding different ball flights.
Down on the Farm: How important is bat speed and how do you train for bat speed?
Ari Adut: It's part of the pie. It’s different for each person. The best way to improve bat speed, in my opinion, is the weight room. That’s the way to get stronger. There are bat speed programs that work for sure, but the first thing that needs to be checked off is the weight room. You have to get stronger in the weight room. That's the first way to gain bat speed for the big gains.
Down on the Farm: Something you hear from coaches and organizations is having a two-strike approach, are there other count specific approaches?
Ari Adut: I love this question. That’s a good one. They say two strikes happen about half the time, but the count that happens 100% of the time is 0-0. So that's just as important to me as any other approach because that's happening 100% of the time. Understanding that as well and making sure you value other count specific approaches as much as two-strike approaches. But also it's important to understand 2-0, 3-1, 3-0 counts based on what the pitchers are giving you. Everything matters, but sometimes it's a hot topic to talk about 2K, but it's important to know and have approaches in all counts situations.
Down on the Farm: Something you also hear is that some hitters have an A-swing and a B-swing, do you feel like that’s something important to develop?
Ari Adut: Alex Bregman has talked about it a bit. Describing it as having an A-swing for different pitch types. Instead of having a B-swing for this pitch or that pitch. He has an A-swing for each pitch type or location. I think what it goes back to is, is there a quantifiable measure that if you do this – are you having “success”? So to me it depends on if the hitter is doing something different, are they having “success” doing it?
Down on the Farm: What do you think the most difficult adjustment a hitter has to make when they enter pro ball or when they move up a level?
Ari Adut: Understanding that all strikes are not created equal. Just because it's a strike doesn't mean it's something you should swing at and just put in-play. Swing at strikes that you can do damage on. Understanding what and how to hit a breaking ball or offspeed pitches – knowing what offspeed pitches the pitcher is trying to land for a strike and what the approach would be. Especially at the upper levels, knowing how the pitcher might try and get them out and learning how to stick to the game plan. Worry about the things that can be controlled and sticking to game plan, so at least if they’re getting out it's on their terms and not the pitcher’s terms.
Down on the Farm: What's an aspect of the hitting coach job that most people don't understand?
Ari Adut: For me, I think how much that goes into it, the time. The individual player development, the practice design, the game planning, the video watching, all the elements that go into it. The relationship building, developing trust. All the conversations. It's trying to cover all things possible.
Down on the Farm: Something I think people don't understand is how the pieces work together in the player development process. Can you talk about how you work together with the other hitting coaches, hitting coordinators, and player development staff?
Ari Adut: I work relatively close with Jason Ochart, our hitting coordinator, and Kevin Mahala our hitting analyst. I try and lean on analysts often. I have an analytical mind, but not as good as theirs. I can come up with things I think might be a good idea, but having their perspective narrows the focus even more. I use our R&D analyst Sam Bornstein & Ryan Plunkett. I like to use the resources I have. I don't like to go for adjustments unless I have a complete picture of everything. I am looking for the highest percentage bet for improvement. If I'm going to go with one, I want to make sure that it's the highest percentage move.