At that time four years ago, Benson said that the team stressed staying as quiet as possible and getting your foot down early. That alone had the feel of something from a bygone era -- sort of like finding out that team doctors would slap leeches on a pitcher’s arm if he felt something snap -- and it was obvious why the Twins take heat in comparison to the forward-thinking and -preaching organizations. Over the years people have decried Minnesota’s outdated practice of trying to get hitters to fit into a certain swing mold rather than allow their natural athleticism shine through. Those who have had power potential, like David Ortiz or Carlos Gomez, left the system feeling as if their development was suppressed by the outmoded philosophy when they couldn’t conform.
While it may not be noticeable on the surface, this philosophy has been changing within the system and the five hitters below are prime examples of the shift in direction.
It may not be overwhelmingly apparent but the team has gone to lengths to embrace the louder, more athletic mechanics in their players. Evidence exists up and down the organizational ladder of hitters eschewing the old patterns for their natural swing. What follows is by no means selected from a comprehensive list as the amount of footage available for the players in the system is limited. There could be hitters in Elizabethton, the GCL or the Dominican Summer League with beautiful hacks that are not captured on the Internet. Based on their swings, these are five players within the Twins system that deserve your attention over the next few years to see if the new methods pay dividends.
LaMonte Wade // 21 years old // Elizabethton (Rk) & Cedar Rapids (Low-A)
The Twins drafted Wade out of the University of Maryland this past year and he immediately exceeded expectations. Projected to be a top of the lineup-type bat, Wade hit .302 but popped nine home runs in 64 games with the Elizabethton Twins. It was strange considering he had hit all of seven over three collegiate seasons while playing with metal bats.
The above clip is a bad angle but it highlights Wade’s hands. Watch the load process and how he gets his barrel on plane with the pitch quickly (unlike Adam Walker’s swing which you will see below). That type of barrel movement should result in plenty of contact. Wade’s lower half work is where he generates power. The below clip is a take but watch his front leg and the hip start to rotate as he watches the pitch go by.
In all, there are a lot of good movements from Wade in his swing and an indication that he is able to generate some power. In recent Twins history, as a leadoff-type and center fielder, Wade would have been the prime candidate to receive an overhaul to quiet his mechanics. He still has plenty to prove as he faces better competition and the organization may tone down his swing yet, so keep an eye on him as he advances up the ladder.
Oswaldo Arcia // 24 years old // Minnesota (MLB) & Rochester (AAA)
I love to hate to love Oswaldo Arcia’s swing. There’s so much to love -- from the leg kick to the gather process -- but there is also just enough hesitation in his decision-making that it seems one miscue can throw the entire system all kattywompus. There are times when I think he could benefit from calming everything down but that seems to defeat the purpose.
His swing is one of the rare loud movement swings that somehow slipped into commission at some point in 2013 after years in the minors of using the toe-tap. It almost felt defiant. When he times a pitch properly and finds a pitch below his belt, he can hammer it a long way but when Arcia started to struggle as opponents adjusted to him in 2014, I fully expected the Twins to revamp his swing. Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky said that was not his style. “You can't come and change,” Brunansky said in regards to Arcia’s approach. “The hardest thing to do is tell a young hitter who has had success in the minor leagues who needs to to change it at the major league level because they are going to say 'I hit like this'...how are we to say it doesn’t work?”
There’s no question that Arcia’s swing has flaws. After all, it seems that only Rush Limbaugh has had more issues with lefties in his career than Arcia. That is a significant flaw that the front office was hoping the outfielder could correct in his stint in Rochester this past year. Despite an insane stretch in July in which he hit eight home runs, Arcia failed to show any progress against southpaws and his performance tanked in AAA. Out of options, Arcia still has the basis of what could be a fundamentally potent swing and the Twins could certainly benefit from having home run power from the left side of the plate.
Adam Brett Walker // 24 years old // Chattanooga (AA)
When you watch that swing, you don’t fully appreciate how far Adam Brett Walker’s swing has come until you compare it to where it was at while playing in college.
In 2015 Walker did what he had been doing for most of his career -- socked a bunch of extra base hits and then struck out a ton in the other at-bats. His 31 home runs for the Lookouts finished second only to Miguel Sano for home runs in the organization but his 195 punchouts topped Sano for the dubious honor of most K’s in the system. While the jump in the competition was partially responsible for the increase of an already elevated strikeout rate, Walker also unveiled a refined swing which showed much more emphasis on his lower half. The leg kick certainly generated power but his inability to recognize pitches also led to a ton of silly swings where Walker was well out in front at the point of contact and turned over or missed a lot of pitches.
Even with the struggles, it is a good direction for Walker and for the Twins. There is no doubting that Walker was a raw power talent coming out of Jacksonville University but his swing was basic, almost something the Twins would have instructed just a few years ago (hands still, get that foot down early). Now they have outfitted him with a superior swing that should give him a better opportunity for success.
Walker has obvious pitch selection issues and his barrel doesn’t stay on plane long so he will never likely hit for average and always strikeout at a high clip but the light tower power is unquestionable.
Lewin Diaz // 19 years old // GCL Twins (Rk) & Elizabethton (Rk)
MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported that some unidentified scouts said that Lewin Diaz reminded them of the Phillies’ Ryan Howard when the Twins signed him in 2013 for a cool $1.4 million. While the body type comp may hold true, upon inspection you can see from the GIF above that Diaz is much more athletic in his swing that the small stride, foot-down-early Howard displayed. Not to detract from Howard’s approach -- as a career 357 home runs speaks for itself -- but Diaz is clearly a different style of hitter. Diaz’s mechanics have a mid-level leg kick and barrel tip toward the pitcher before bringing the bat through the zone. While he may share a shape similar to Howard's, his swing structure actually has more in common with someone like David Ortiz.
The Twins were famously derided by Papi for tinkering too much with his swing. Hopefully the lesson learned is that they will allow a prospect like Diaz to continue to work with this swing model rather than revamp it for an antiquated approach.
Max Kepler // 22 years old // Chattanooga (AA) & Minnesota (MLB)
Of all the swings that I’ve watch this season, Max Kepler’s is my favorite. It is even more impressive when you consider what he swing looked like as a high school kid in Germany. After entering the Twins system, the organization seemed to outfit him with the standard low movement swing that was a staple of all their outfielders over the last decade. However, in 2015, the Twins went the other direction and got him to get more athletic with his swing. Lookouts hitting coach and former Twin Chad Allen said the staff worked hard to get Kepler to become more aggressive -- partly with his mechanics and partly with his mentality at the plate. At six-foot-four, Kepler has the stature to provide power. So why try to reduce that potential by toning everything down?
Now that he has reached the point where he has caught up to the game, it will be fun to watch what he does with the proper swing.