Down on the Farm - 6/30/22
Talking hitting with the Twins Triple-A hitting coach Ryan Smith, Reid Detmers (LAA) punches out 14, Edouard Julien (MIN) homers twice, Joe Boyle (CIN) strikes out 12, Francisco Álvarez hits his 18th
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A Conversation with Twins Triple-A Hitting Coach Ryan Smith
Ryan Smith has been with the Twins organization since 2019, starting out as the hitting coach for the Cedar Rapids Kernels and eventually working his way up to his current role as the hitting coach for St. Paul Saints (AAA). After his playing days were over, Ryan knew he wanted to get into coaching. There wasn’t a better place to start than working along side his father, Marty Smith, who is a Hall of Fame coach at the College of Central Florida. We sat down with Ryan to discuss his role as hitting coach and get his thoughts on various player development topics.
Down on the Farm: You’ve been a hitting coach at several different levels now, can you talk about the biggest differences between working in the lower levels of the minor leagues and the upper levels?
Ryan Smith: It’s always development focused, getting the player better. It’s really the only thing that matters but there is definitely a different dynamic in Triple-A, these guys need to be ready to perform for the big league club at any moment. Whereas in Low-A you’re playing that long-game and trying to develop these guys and be a little bit more experimental. You learn a lot from some of the older guys in Triple-A who have been around for a while and have that experience. They have so many different opinions and thoughts, so I’d say at that level it’s a lot more collaborative. It’s collaborative in the lower levels too, but there is a lot more back and forth and bouncing ideas around in Triple-A. In Low-A, there’s a clearer focus on what you’re working on, what you are trying to do — we are going to track it and see if it works.
Down on the Farm: What do you think is the most difficult adjustment a hitter has to make when they advance from the lower levels to the upper levels?
Ryan Smith: The pitchers are just really good. Once they get that ability to command pitches, land off-speed pitches in the zone for strikes — that’s one thing I’ve heard guys say when they come up. I’ll typically ask them and that’s a pretty common answer. The lower levels are still pretty fastball heavy and pitchers are still figuring out off-speed pitches and getting a feel for landing them in the zone. But up here in Triple-A, they can usually land those pitches. There’s also just more information on you as a hitter, as you move up your weaknesses are now available to the opposition and they know how to find it. Being able to balance what you do well with your holes is a much bigger factor in the upper levels.
Down on the Farm: How does the amount of information that players are getting compare between levels?
Ryan Smith: For us it’s pretty much the same. Guys may want different pieces depending on the individual, but obviously we want all the hitters to have a full buffet of information available to them so they can take what they want.
Down on the Farm: What is a way you identify a hitters strengths and weaknesses and how does that inform your approach when working with those hitters?
Ryan Smith: For me, the numbers tell me everything. So just doing a deep dive on each hitter to find out what they do well and find out the things they don’t do well, and then figuring out the way to attack their weaknesses to improve while maintaining their strengths. Using things like heat maps, maybe addressing something in their swing mechanics. Trying to see what they may be leaving on the table.
Down on the Farm: Is there a particular stat you like to look at to evaluate a hitter?
Ryan Smith: I start with wRC+ and work my way down from there. Look at how they’re creating value, whether it’s through damage or controlling the strike zone, what their swing and miss looks like, things like that. I like to also look at what kind of pitches they’re swinging at, are they swinging at strikes and taking balls? Are they putting balls-in-play that are in the strike zone? And then from there, looking at ball-flight. Not only quality of contact, but ground balls vs. line drives and fly balls.
Down on the Farm: You mentioned looking at what type of pitches they’re swinging at, do you feel like plate discipline and improving swing decisions is something that can be taught and trained?
Ryan Smith: Yes. It starts with feedback, just making the player aware of what they are swinging at in the game. In the practice setting, it’s just working on it. Practicing taking pitches. I don’t think we work on taking pitches in practice nearly enough. You look historically in baseball, it used to be frowned upon to take pitches in batting practice. But the goal should be in practice — if you can’t absolutely kill the ball, you should take it. Especially players who have swing decision issues, they should be taking more in practice, which will hopefully help them improve their approach in-game.
Down on the Farm: What does the training environment look like in-season as far as batting practice?
Ryan Smith: It can change, but a lot of it is built around the opposing pitcher. I won’t get too deep into that, but we try to mix it up between traditional BP and machines. Sometimes we’ll setup some other competitive type environments. It’s usually cage work early in the day to work on individual oriented training and then BP to get ready for the opposing pitcher. We use some pretty cool machines that help you see what you’re going to see in the game.
Down on the Farm: It seems likely that the Automated Ball/Strike System (ABS) will be adopted in the rest of the minor leagues sooner than later. How do you think it will affect hitters and how they are trained?
Ryan Smith: I actually got to experience the ABS during the fall league last year. I’m a fan of it. I know initiatively it got some flack, but the newer zone has been expanded a bit east and west, and is adjusted for the hitter’s height. I really think it’s going to work well. I think it benefits both sides equally and I don’t think there’s going to be as big of an adjustment as people think. They expanded it east and west because there’s more contact made that way and less contact north and south. Overall, I think it will be good for hitters. Obviously, it’s going to change the catching position quite a bit.
Down on the Farm: You had Alex Kirilloff for a stretch here in June, what did you see from him when watching him?
Ryan Smith: He’s coming back from his injury, so just seeing him get that confidence back as he’s gotten healthy. He’s always been just a really good hitter. Over the past couple years he’s been battling that injury, so just seeing him look healthy again was great. Once he got healthy, his swing looked like it used to look. The same intensity and effort and he just slowly started getting confidence back. After that he was killing it.
Down on the Farm: Spencer Steer — what stands out to you when you watch him swing the bat?
Ryan Smith: Spence is a really well-rounded hitter. He controls the strike zone really well. His bat stays in the zone a long time, he really has a great ability to square the ball up and barrel it. He’s been fun to watch the last few years.
Down on the Farm: He’s changed his swing a bit since his playing days at Oregon — he now has a more exaggerated leg kick. Can you talk about what goes into the decision to make that change?
Ryan Smith: He was a hitter who came in with a really strong contact ability and walked a ton, but the missing piece was doing damage. It was something that, as a group, we were going to try to find a way to add some power to this guy. Nobody expected it to have the impact that it’s had — what did he hit 25 homer last year? And he’s already approaching 20 this year. The goal was to get him in his legs more, and the leg kick was one way to do that and use the ground more effectively.
Down on the Farm: When that decision is made — that you want to develop more power and get him in his legs more, how does that change get implemented?
Ryan Smith: There are some things we look for that guide the process, things that you can look for in the lower half that we are trying to make happen. As for the how, it’s really collaborative. Trial and error. Feeling things out that are comfortable for him and that he likes. Trying to work on those moves to train them so they are ready for the game. With anybody, it’s collaborative. There are certain things we are looking for, but the player is guiding the process as we experiment with different changes.
Down on the Farm: Who’s a player in the Twins organization that has made the most progress as a hitter?
Ryan Smith: We talked about Steer already, but I don’t think there is anybody who’s made more progress than him. Watching Jose Miranda last year was pretty impressive. He’s always been a really talented hitter, but to watch him put it together was fun. He made some impressive progress.
Down on the Farm: What is the process like for coaches at the affiliates for working with the front office and player development staff?
Ryan Smith: With the front office and the coordinator group, they are setting the tone of what we are tracking and what we are shooting for, while giving us the freedom to make that happen. The hitting coordinator is great to have, it’s an extra set of eyes. When you’re with these players everyday, you’re going to miss things. So having those extra eyes is one part of the role — catching things that I may miss. Working with the strength and conditioning department is important to learn more about how the player is moving and whether the player is physically capable of making the adjustments that we are trying to get them to make. Then helping them to make those movement adjustments — whether it’s creating more force production or getting more stability. Finding ways outside of the cage to attack those issues.
It’s also having continuity with the player’s previous hitting coach. When a player comes up to your level, making sure you have that conversation with their previous coach. Trying to figure out what cues he was using and if there is anything else I need to know about what he’s been working on.
R&D does an incredible job creating visuals for us and the players. Trying to make easily digestible visuals. Whether it’s heat maps or plots or charts. Using that information to track the player progress over time. They are a huge help in that area. We give them feedback for the systems they are using so that it’s constantly evolving for what we need and use.
Notable Performances - 6/29
CSW% = percentage of pitches that are called strikes and swinging strikes — (SwStr + CalledStr) / Pitches
BF = Batters Faced; BIP = Balls in Play; GB = Ground Balls
Daily Prospect Report - 6/29
Quick Hits ⚡️
Rangers prospect and former Vanderbilt standout, Jack Leiter RHP, has been put on the Development List and will miss his next start for Frisco (AA) with mild arm fatigue. It's been a rough start for Leiter, who holds a 5.36 ERA (4.27 FIP) through his first 48 2/3 professional innings. Rangers will give him a rest and then try get him back on track.
Edouard Julien (23) - MIN (AA) went 4-5 yesterday with two home runs and a double. He’s hit .324/.395/.618 over the last 10 days and is slashing .287/.425/.463 on the season.
Yorberto Mejicano (21) - BOS (A) went 4-4 with three doubles yesterday. Over the last 10 days he’s hit .533/.588/.733 and is slashing .291/.331/.464 across 118 plate appearances this season.
Blue Jays prospect Dasan Brown (20) - TOR (A) went 2-4 today with a walk yesterday. Coming into the day he was hitting .278/.369/.444 (137 wRC+). Brown was a 3rd round pick back in 2019.
Ricky Vanasco (23) - TEX (A+) had a strong start yesterday — 5 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 10 Ks. That was his best start of the season. Vanasco had a 5.18 ERA across 11 starts coming into the day.
News, Notes, Transactions 📰 🗒🚨
Astros sent RHP Jake Odorizzi on a rehab assignment to Corpus Christi Hooks.
Frisco RoughRiders transferred RHP Jack Leiter to the Development List
Giants optioned C Yermin Mercedes to Sacramento River Cats
OF Jordyn Adams assigned to Rocket City Trash Pandas from Tri-City Dust Devils
Marlins sent C Willians Astudillo outright to Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
Marlins Fire VP of Player Development Gary Denbo
The Marlins have fired vice president of player development and scouting Gary Denbo. Denbo was formerly with the Yankees and has always been connected to Derek Jeter. Jeter leaving the Marlins likely played a role in Denbo’s eventual departure, but obviously that's just speculation.
Phillies Call-up Darrick Hall
The Phillies called-up 26-year-old first baseman Darick Hall yesterday. He’s slashed .269/.346/.548 (132 wRC+) with 20 home runs across 315 plate appearances this season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Hall was originally drafted by the Phillies in the 14th round of the 2016 draft.
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