Breaking Down Starling, Swihart and Bell

Baseball America recently posted YouTube videos of three of the top high school hitters in the 2011 class. In this post, Baseball America bird dog scout Dave Perkin breaks down the hitting mechanics of those hitters, outfielder Bubba Starling from Gardner-Edgerton High in Gardner, Kan., catcher Blake Swihart from Cleveland High in Rio Rancho, N.M. and outfielder Josh Bell from Dallas Jesuit High . . .

To obtain a clear picture of proper major league hitting mechanics, view the YouTube video entitled “Manny Ramirez BIG SWING” posted by gdaBASEBALL. It has a running time of 1:45. Pause the clip at 0:21.

As his front toe touches the dirt, Ramirez has reached a pre-swing launch posture. Note that his chin is touching his front shoulder, his back elbow is pointed and he holds the bat in an angled position with his wrists cocked. Manny’s arms have achieved “separation” from his body, allowing them to work independently of his body and clear freely as he swings.

As Ramirez’s front foot lands, it is angled open slightly—to about 45 degrees. His knees are positioned inside of his feet. In his lower half, Manny’s weight is distributed equally on the inside of his thighs, not the outside. All of these fundamentals enable Ramirez to drive the force of his body at the ball (not back or away from it) and generate bat speed. This also keeps his swing on the same plane as the incoming pitch, giving him a much larger area to make contact with the ball.

None of these concepts are new or revolutionary. For proof, enter “Mickey Mantle batting” on YouTube and click on the 24 second clip posted by mrbaseball7. Pause the clip at 0:11 seconds.

Mantle is not as straight up and down in his posture as Ramirez, but all of the other important basics are identical. Note the angled front foot, chin touching shoulder, and, most importantly, Mantle’s cocked wrists, angled bat position and separation. The latter permits Mantle the ability to use a rubber band or slingshot effect in his swing—drawing back and then releasing stored energy.
 
Now, let’s take a look at the swings of Blake Swihart, Bubba Starling and Josh Bell, three of the most prominent high school prospects in the nation for the 2011 draft. We’ll compare their hitting mechanics to the big league model.

BLAKE SWIHART,C, CLEVELAND HS, RIO RANCHO, NEW MEXICO

The first thing that strikes me when viewing the Swihart video is his outstanding natural bat speed. When he takes a cut, his bat is truly whipping through the strike zone. But, his hitting mechanics need some work.

Go to the Swihart YouTube video posted by Baseball America. Freeze the action at 0:26 seconds as Swihart is batting left handed. As his front toe touches the ground, Swihart reaches a launch position. At this point, his back elbow has collapsed, his hips are already opening and the bat is held at a weak angle. Contrast that with the Ramirez and Mantle videos.

Next, stop Swihart’s video at 0:59 as he hits right handed. His hips have pulled out and open, his hands and bat are again in a weak position, and he has “reversed” himself with his weight shift. This means that the weight in his lower half has gone backward, not forward. This is illustrated by the reverse C formed by his right leg.

As a switch-hitting catcher with a strong frame, fine bat speed and a strong arm, Swihart is no doubt a top prospect for the June 2011 draft, but will need to make adjustments to his swing to sustain success at the next level.

BUBBA STARLING, OF, EDGERTON HS, GARDNER, KANSAS

It is remarkable how similar Starling is to Dale Murphy, not just in height, body type and tools, but in his physical actions and movements. There’s no doubt Starling has the ability to be a star as a big league outfielder.

From my standpoint he needs to make two critical adjustments in his mechanics.

On YouTube, view the Bubba Starling video posted by Baseball America.

Pause the video at 1:35 and 1:49. Starling’s front foot is straight and not angled open to 45%. That causes a whipsaw effect in which his front leg nearly buckles, preventing Starling from driving the weight in his lower half into the inside of his front thigh.

Next, notice his hands and arms. Starling’s bat is laid off in a weak starting position, his back elbow is almost flat against his side, his hands are pinned to his body, and he achieves little separation in his arms.

While camera angles and positions can deceive a viewer, it also appears that Starling may benefit from moving off the plate somewhat. The poor starting position of his hands combined with his closeness to the plate causes Starling to push many balls off to the right side in this clip.

Similar to Swihart, Starling has all the physical requisites for major league stardom. Perhaps the most important goal of any organization’s player development system is transforming raw talents into polished players via experience and the teaching of proper fundamentals.

Next summer, both players may take the first steps on that often long and difficult path.


JOSH BELL, OF, DALLAS JESUIT HIGH

 
When viewing the Baseball America video of Josh Bell, it is easy to imagine Dominic Brown. Bell is an unusually gifted player, blessed with an ideal projectable frame, athleticism and admirable baseball tools.
 
From the standpoint of hitting mechanics, Bell is advanced for a high school hitter and has been taught well. Of course, to be taught well a player has to be a good student.
 
I have a few quibbles with Bell's fundamentals. Pause the BA video of Bell at 1:56. Everything looks fine, with the exception of his bat position. It is laid off a bit too much and should be in a more angled position behind his helmet.
 
There are a couple things about Bell's swing that concern me. His cut from both sides is a "pinata" swing. Bell's hands and arms don't work independently of his body, robbing him of both ease, extension and bat speed. This swinging gate effect causes a push in the swing and negates his ability to accelerate the bat head at the moment of contact.
 
Pause the clip at 2:10 to view Bell's righthanded swing. His posture at this stage is very sound fundamentally.  Again, he may want to alter his bat position. The only red flag I see here concerns his front foot. It is angled open to the preferred 45 degrees, but Bell appears to landing awkwardly, with his weight on the inside ridge of his left foot. That may cause his left knee and ankle to collapse inward, ruining his weight shift and possibly causing injury.
 
Of the three hitters we have spotlighted, Bell is obviously the most advanced mechanically. If he makes the necessary adjustments, Bell has the natural gifts of an extraordinary player.

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