LONG BEACH, Calif. — On Aug. 8 at Blair Field, Baseball America sat down with hitting gurus Don Slaught and Craig Wallenbrock to examine the top hitting prospects in the 2010 Area Code games.
Slaught is President of Right View Pro, a video analysis company considered the premier hitting-instruction system in the baseball industry. A veteran of 16 major league seasons, Slaught’s RVP techniques are implemented by the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants organizations. Wallenbrock is a private hitting coach, widely respected as one of the most knowledgeable hitting tutors in baseball.
Assisted by an advanced video display that can slow down a swing into 1/60th of a second intervals, Slaught and Wallenbrock dissected several top prospects. Both men assert that all great hitters share several common traits in their swing mechanics, including proper force, swing plane, and efficiency.
Slaught begins to diagnose a swing once the batter’s front toe touches the ground. At that point, the bat should be angled diagonally above the helmet. Next, as the hitter begins his swing, his lower body compresses downward, gradually driving the weight in his lower half into the inner potion of his front thigh. This prevents a hitter from flying open or spinning his hips and upper body out.
Wallenbrock insists that as the hitter begins his cut, his hands must be even or slightly inside his elbow, and that the back shoulder must come underneath, not above or around the body. For years, young players have been told to “stay back” and “hit down on the ball," which in reality is a massive falsehood. Professional hitters gradually shift their weight forward as they read a pitch, and their swing follows an upward path, which must be aligned with the downward plane of the incoming delivery—providing the hitter a larger zone in which to make contact.
Both Slaught and Wallenbrock explain that watching tee work or batting practice can deceive baseball observers—from casual fans to seasoned scouts. A hitter can have an impressive BP, but will often struggle to hit advanced pitching with a wood bat in game situations on a consistent basis. The reason is simple: almost anyone can clobber a baseball that is either not moving or moving slowly.
On the other hand, a successful professional hitter during a ballgame has to hit a variety of pitches in different locations, with the ball often moving at terrific rates of speed or with severe movement. Slaught and Wallenbrock maintain a hitter must employ efficiency– proper hitting fundamentals combined with no unnecessary or superfluous moves that interfere or restrict his ability to connect with the ball. Those precise, exact mechanics don’t necessarily have to exist for a hitter to crush a slow moving BP offering.
Slaught and Wallenbrock identified two youngsters at this year's ACG as having outstanding swing fundamentals. They are. . .
Alex Blandino, ss, St. Francis HS, Sacramento
Both Slaught and Wallenbrock were stunned when they examined Blandino’s swing mechanics. “His swing fundamentals are nearly perfect,” said Slaught. Wallenbrock added, “That’s the best we’ve seen out here."
Blandino get his bat into the proper angle, then compresses downward to drive his weight into his front thigh, without standing up or spinning out. Blandino’s head remains still and his cut is admirably “on plane” with the incoming pitch.
At the completion of Sunday’s play, Blandino had the highest batting average (.833) of all Area Code players.
Kavin Keyes, IF, Alta HS, Sandy, Utah
Relatively short in stature, Keyes is a player without a distinct defensive position—he may wind up as a catcher. His swing immediately caught Slaught’s attention. “He’s a switch hitter, and his swing mechanics are ideal,” said Slaught. Wallenbrock added, “I like his mechanics but for me his swing is better from the right side.”
Many hitters employ fundamentals that are excellent in some facets, but poor in others. Included in that group are. . .
Travis Harrison, 3b, Tustin (Calif.) HS
“He’s very, very strong,” Slaught said. “I like his lower half, but his hands are in a bad position.”
Billy Flamion, of, Central Catholic HS, Modesto, Calif.
Possessor of perhaps the quickest bat in Long Beach, Wallenbrock is anxious to work with Flamion. “The lower half is really bad,” Wallenbrock said. "The legs straighten out and the hips spin out. But with work he has a chance to hit.”
Michael Conforto, of, Redmond (Wash.) HS
Conforto recorded the fastest exit speed of any hitter in the 2010 ACG—105 mph on one drive. Obviously, he is gifted with excellent bat speed. “I don’t like the starting position of his hands,” Slaught said. “He comes around the ball. The lower half is much better than the upper half.” Wallenbrock added, “His lower half is awesome.”
Aaron Brown, of, Chatsworth (Calif.) HS
Brown is extremely strong and an outstanding athlete. He has posted impressive stats so far, but both Slaught and Wallenbrock have concerns with his swing. “Watch his hips,” Slaught said. “They spin out way too early and he can’t use his lower half. His hips are gone.”
Unfortunately, at least one prominent player has regressed as a hitter, according to Slaught and Wallenbrock. That would be:
Christian Lopes, ss, Edison HS, Huntington Beach, Calif
Closely followed by scouts since his freshman year in High School, Lopes’ hitting mechanics aren't as good as they've been in the past. “He was better last year,” Slaught said. Now, Slaught says, Lopes “has his weight way too far back. Also, his elbow sticks out and he can’t do anything with his hands.”
Don Slaught’s entire hitting program can be viewed at www.rightviewpro.com.