Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak takes batting practice at spring training in Peoria, AZ.
Those of you who read my story in this morning’s paper saw plenty of quotes from Justin Smoak’s agent, Hunter Bledsoe, about the work he and the Mariners first baseman did this winter.
Bledsoe was once a top prospect coming out of Vanderbilt in the late-1990s, but his career as a third baseman topped out in Class AA for the Royals back in 2003. Injuries played a big part in that, but Bledsoe told me he remained very frustrated by his inability to find answers to his hitting woes while still playing. He began a quest during the latter stages of his career and then continued it once becoming a player agent. The quest? To find those missing answers about hitting that eluded him during his pro career so he can share them with others. Especially his clients.
For Bledsoe, the mental side of the game is key. And it plays a huge part in the swings taken by hitters.
I wrote today about how Bledsoe and Smoak worked out together at The Citadel in South Carolina, beginning about two weeks after the 2012 season ended. The first thing they did swing-wise was a technique Bledsoe picked up from other sports — during his quest for answers — known as “slow practice.”
In Smoak’s case, he would do “slow practice” by taking between 30 seconds and a full minute to complete a single swing at a ball on a tee. The idea was to perfect every aspect of the swing down to the last minutae. The best way to do that, according to Bledsoe, is slowly. The slowness allows the brain to process the muscle movements required to do a swing properly. Smoak did this for an entire month. It was only after he’d processed the correct swinging technique — one that enabled his hips and hands to function in-tandem — that they moved on to swinging at a faster pace.
Bledsoe wrote an article about this for the Baseball Think Tank website and it included a video demonstrating “slow practice” when it comes to hitting. He first heard of the technique back when learning martial arts, but as he points out in the article, it’s also something the world’s best golfers have used to perfect their swings.
The entire idea behind it is that if you practice too quickly and incorrectly, you will be doing more harm than good. Your muscles are going to “learn” the wrong stuff that will have to be unlearned. Better to teach them the correct stuff slowly and surely.
And in the end, it’s training the muscles to swing perfectly that Bledsoe is after. The way he sees it, a hitter’s brain can only process so much information at once. In Smoak’s case, it would be recognizing what the 95 mph pitch coming his way actually is, where it’s going and whether it’s in his hitting zone. The swing itself has to be instictive, not thought about. And the only way it can be instinctive is to train the muscles ahead of time to react correctly.
Watched Michael Morse in batting practice this morning and let me tell you, I have not seen a guy put a bat to a ball like that for this team since Russell Branyan came to camp four years ago. Jesus Montero used to hit some bombs last spring, but not as consistently as Morse was drilling them today. We’re talking line drives 20 feet over the center field fence.
Michael Morse takes a break between batting practice rounds this morning in Peoria, AZ.
His swing was pure power. Sure, Franklin Gutierrez hit some tape-measure BP shots a year ago. But the difference is, Morse has shown he can consistently do this in a game.