Extreme Swing Makeover





DENVER—Kent Matthes is a righthanded hitter with power, which among Rockies prospects is a rare combination. He's also on the steep portion of the learning curve.

Roving hitting coordinator Jim Johnson said Matthes, a 23-year-old right fielder, "has got some extreme power, but he was a guy who came in with absolutely no movement whatsoever. No load. No separation. Just a step and fire. That's typically the residue of a straight aluminum (bat) swing."

Matthes hit .289/.364/.456 last year at short-season Tri-City in 239 at-bats. He was a 2009 Golden Spikes Award finalist as a senior at Alabama, where he graduated with a degree in consumer sciences before the Rockies drafted him in the fourth round.

Matthes helped Tri-City win its Northwest League division by 10 games. But as the season went on, the approach at the plate that worked in college became less of an asset.

He became susceptible to breaking balls and changeups because he would commit for the ball and had trouble holding up. Matthes finished with 77 strikeouts, tied for the most in the Northwest League, and 21 walks.

Matthes wasn't comfortable moving his hands back at the start of his swing, one of the easiest ways to create a load. A leg lift and toe tap also weren't comfortable. He used a knee cock briefly in instructional league, but that, too, didn't feel right.

In instructional league, Matthes employed a wider base and positioned his hands farther back initially, an approach that was comfortable and brought success. Matthes is expected to begin 2010 at low Class A Asheville, where cutting his strikeouts will be a priority.

By continuing the approach he worked on in instructional league with Johnson and over the winter, Matthes said, "I'll be able to see the ball better, see the ball longer. I won't chase as much, which will lead to less strikeouts, more walks."

ROCKY ROADS

• Thirty-one-year-old first baseman Josh Phelps, who signed a minor league contract, should add power to Triple-A Colorado Springs, which despite playing half its games at altitude was next to last in the Pacific Coast League last year with 87 homers.

• Minor league pitchers, catchers and visa players report to spring training on March 5, followed by remaining position players on March 12.