Royals' Robinson Benefits From Tweaking Stance
Genius may be a combination of equal parts inspiration and perspiration. But for Royals center-field prospect Derrick Robinson
, innovation resulted from equal parts perspiration and desperation.
Stuck in high Class A for two full seasons, the 22-year-old Robinson was in danger of being written off as yet another speedy outfielder who could defend but couldn't hit. Despite some of the best tools in the organization, he didn't hit for power, he didn't get on base, and he couldn't get comfortable at the plate.
In those two years with Wilmington, covering 1,141 plate appearances, Robinson batted just .244/.305/.325 with five home runs and 42 doubles. Even his best asset, his speed, wasn't being fully utilized because he was getting on base just 30 percent of the time.
And in the rare cases that he got on base, Robinson's eagerness to steal meant that he didn't always wait for the right pitch to run—which explains why he went just 132-for-172 in stolen base attempts (77 percent). Last season, he was picked off an astounding 15 times.
But desperation gave Robinson the impetus to fix his problems. A natural righthanded hitter, Robinson was proving to be helpless from the left side. There was talk in the organization of having him give up switch-hitting.
"Last year I wasn't so happy with the numbers I was putting up from my left side," Robinson said. "I talked with my hitting coach and I was telling him that I wanted to go back to my old stance. He was cool with it. I was doing it in BP for a couple of days and I started doing it in games."
The Royals had spread Robinson's stance out to help him slap the ball to the opposite field. He was extremely open at the plate, which led to timing issues.
|Previous 4 years
Robinson moved his feet closer together to improve his base and started standing more upright. The results couldn't have been much more impressive—he hit .311/.362/.513 in the final month of the 2009 season. He showed power (five home runs in August) that he'd never shown before (three home runs in his pro career before that month) to go with the speed he'd always had.
It was a promising finish to a rough season, but there understandably was some skepticism that Robinson's improvement was more than a fluky month.
That skepticism is starting to disappear. Promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas to start the 2010 season, Robinson has been even better than he was last August. He has continued to tweak his stance—he has a shorter stride that has helped with his timing—which has paid off. It also hasn't hurt that the more balanced approach has helped Robinson get out of the box quicker than he has in quite a while—he's capable of sub-4.0 seconds times from home to first.
The results have been impressive. Even with an early-May slump Robinson is hitting .305/.411/.438 for the Naturals with a minor league-leading 19 steals (in 22 attempts). He's proving to be the perfect table-setter with speed and an ability to get on base.
"More than anything, I just think what he's doing with his setup, that has created everything. He has the ability to drive the ball to right field or left field," Northwest Arkansas hitting coach Terry Bradshaw said. "It's given him the ability to do those things. He's a line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter."
The difference in his lefthanded swing has been apparent. Robinson is hitting .320/.420/.480 from the left side this year. Coming into this season he had hit .230 against righthanders.
To go with his newfound hitting ability, Robinson continues to play the excellent center-field defense that has always been his calling card.
"He's doing everything you can ask for from a leadoff hitter," Bradshaw said.
Robinson isn't too excited, but that makes sense. He didn't get too down on himself when he was hitting .239 in a second year in the Carolina League, so it doesn't make sense to get too excited now that times are good.
"The way I carry myself, I never get too high or too low," he said. "I know in baseball you can kill the ball and be 0-for-20 or be blooping the ball and go 10-for-20."
That approach has paid off for Robinson, a top football recruit from Gainesville, Fla., who was headed to Florida on a scholarship before the Royals convinced him to play baseball exclusively with a $850,000 signing bonus. The Royals knew that their 2006 fourth-round pick was relatively raw and would require plenty of patience, but it wasn't clear at the time just how much patience they would need.
With his speed, Robinson can turn a ground ball in the hole into an infield single. But his struggles to hit righthanders meant that he didn't hit better than .245 in any of his first four pro seasons, and he hasn't posted an on-base percentage above .335.
Robinson's development has not been limited to the batter's box. His speed has ensured that he's always had some success at base stealing, but he's relied too much on speed and too little on technique in the past. This year he's shown some ability to read pitchers.
"Now, I'm working on trying to be more patient," Robinson said. "I used to get on base and I'd take off on first moves even with righthanders. I'd get picked off and get into rundowns."
Robinson still needs to work on reading pickoff moves—he's been picked off four times this season.
Stealing bases has always been Robinson's main offensive weapon—he stole more than 60 in each of the past two seasons, but now that he's getting on base more than 40 percent of the time, he's been getting many more opportunities to steal. He's currently on pace to steal 90 bags this season.
Robinson has now shown that he can string together two good months. But after four seasons of struggles, that's not enough to convince everyone that he's turned the corner. That will take sustained success.
"Now you just want to see him continue to do this and hope in September we're having the same conversation we're having now," Bradshaw said.