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If you had not noticed, Rochester Red Wings hitting coach Tom Brunansky has been a Mr. Fix-It when it comes to the system’s hitters. He has worked well with the young players in the organization, helping get the most out of middling prospects as well as putting the finishing touches on fast-risers in the system.
Brian Dozier, Darin Mastroianni and Ben Revere, among others, are all members of the Twins who have credited Brunansky with tinkering with their swings to favorable results over the past two years.
When Dozier encountered Brunansky for the first time in New Britain, the former Twin helped the current Twins shortstop add a bit more power to his stroke. Thanks in part to Brunansky’s tutelage the middle infielder went from a high ground-ball hitter to one who hit a high percentage of line drives and more fly balls. This led to a few more extra base hits, including a career-high 22 doubles in 351 plate appearances with the Rock Cats, and put him on Ron Gardenhire’s radar.
LaVelle Neal reported that Brunansky had approached Mastroianni about changing his swing in spring training. The speedy outfielder tried it out at that time but it did not take. Sent to New Britain out of the chute, when Mastroianni was promoted to Rochester he worked with Brunansky on incorporating the previous changes into his swing. Mastroianni’s production went off the charts in the International League as in 84 plate appearances the 27-year-old hit .346/.393/.423 and was called to Minnesota. Most notably was the change in the trajectory of his batted balls. Previously a hitter whose ground ball rate was upper 40%/lower 50%, Mastroianni was able to generate more lift and posted a ground ball rate below 40% for the first time in his career.
Meanwhile, in Revere’s case, Brunansky attempted to reduce his hand movement. As Brunansky told Sloane Martin of the Rochester Baseball Observer:
“My job was trying to find a way for him to not have so much movement in his hands. So we kind of messed around a little bit and got him to the point where he felt the barrel in his hands a little bit more. Once the hitter feels something, it’s easy to repeat. And it goes from there.”
After performing well with the Twins’ AAA affiliate, Revere was recalled in mid-May. Since his return to Minnesota, he has gone 22-for-70 (.314) with a very impressive .429 slugging percentage thanks, in part, to being able to drive the ball a bit further – perhaps a direct result of him reducing his hand movement.
Interestingly enough, Revere recently told the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman that his success as of last was due to a video revelation which involved another aspect of his hands:
"I saw when I came back up to Minnesota the second time, I watched film, and I saw my hand was behind my head, and every time I triggered, I'd be [late] on a fastball right down the middle because I was wrapping myself around too much.
''I told [the coaches] that and now I have my hands out and everything went uphill from there. It was just the relocation of my hands, that was it."
So Revere’s success could be attributed to Brunansky, Revere’s own findings or maybe a little bit of both.
Another one of Brunansky’s scholars, Chris Parmelee, will have the opportunity to show that, like Revere, the Red Wings hitting coach’s methods can reap dividends at the major league level.
Following a month-and-a-half of offensive ineptitude with the Twins, Parmelee was returned to Brunansky with a simple task: Fix it.
Opponents attacked Parmelee’s weak spots, exploiting a long swing by blowing him apart with fastballs on the outer-half of the plate and getting him to chase curveballs out of the zone. Having worked with Parmelee in 2011 while the hitting coach for New Britain, upon arrival to Rochester, Brunansky appeared confident that he could correct what was ailing Parmelee. According to Martin:
Although Brunansky didn’t work with Parmelee much in spring training this year and has missed, as he estimates, 300-400 at-bats since their time together in New Britain, Brunansky says that having an existing relationship with him is “huge.”
Placed back under Brunansky’s guidance, Parmelee raked with Rochester. In 58 plate appearances, he hit .370/.500/.717 with four doubles and four home runs. What’s more is that after showing poor zone judgment with the Twins at the beginning of the year, Parmelee coaxed 12 walks (21% walk rate), a positive sign that not only is he stinging the ball well but also has the wherewithal to lay off those off the plate.
As mentioned above, Parmelee’s swing elongated with the Twins this year. During one broadcast FSN analyst and former Twin Roy Smalley pointed out that Parmelee’s tendency to open up quickly caused his bat speed to drag thus giving him fits when being pitched away. Clearly, this needed some attention.
One adjustment that we can see Parmelee and Brunansky feature was a reduction in Parmelee’s open stance. By bringing his front leg closer to the plate, Parmelee’s first movement towards the plate with his weight does not have to be as significant as it once was and, in theory, he will not have to open up his hips as quickly to attempt to “catch up” during his swing – the part of his swing which Smalley pointed out was actually slowing his bat down. In short, the new stance should improve his coverage by keeping him from needing to commit early.
It is hard to argue against Parmelee’s results but if there is one thing to be cautious over it is that his line drive rate evaporated while in Rochester. At the major league level, Parmelee had a line drive rate close to 20% but he exchanged those ropes for flies in Rochester, lining only 13% of his total balls put into play. It seems that fly balls have an easier time sneaking out of single-tiered stadiums over ones like Target Field.
Admittedly, for every Brunansky success story like Dozier, Revere and potentially Parmelee, there are guys like Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni and Danny Valencia who seem to head in the opposite direction. This reminds us of the baseball truism: you will have many more misses than you do hits.
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