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Ibandel Isabel Flashes 'Punishing' Power

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(Photo by Bill Mitchell)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — When Daytona first baseman Ibandel Isabel came out to speak with a reporter after Tuesday’s game, he was wearing a shirt that bore a logo from the Marvel comic book series "The Punisher.”

Given what Isabel does to baseballs on a nightly basis, that fashion choice seems almost too perfect. Here’s an example: The top two average exit velocities in all of baseball last season belonged to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, otherwise known as the only two players to hit more than 50 home runs.

Isabel was next on that list, and his body makes it easy to see how he accomplished that feat. At 23 years old, he stands 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds with a physique that would stand out in an NFL locker room

His body and the corresponding power has come from years of hard work. One of his favorite strength-building exercises, which he says he’s done for a decade, is simple: He swings a baseball bat into a tire over and over again until he can’t anymore.

"I’ve been doing that for eight or nine years,” Isabel said, noting that the drill was taught to him by one of his coaches growing up. "When I was 15 (I felt it start working). I started getting bigger when I was 17 years old.”

Isabel was signed by the Dodgers in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic for just $80,000. He spent the first five seasons of his career with the organization before being flipped to the Reds this April in a deal that sent righthander Ariel Hernandez to Los Angeles.

After moving to a new organization and into the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Isabel has quickly proved that his power was not a creation of the California League. His 19 home runs lead the FSL by one over Tampa’s Brandon Wagner.

Isabel’s power has also come with a heaping dose of swing-and-miss. His 36.2 percent strikeout rate with Daytona is something that he and the Reds’ coaching staff have worked hard together to correct. A .273 isolated slugging percentage is excellent, but it might not translate to the higher levels without an improved sense of plate discipline.

"We’re just making him understand how to get in a position to hit. That’s basically it,” Daytona hitting coach Alex Pelaez said. "We’re trying. He’s been (hitting a different way) for years, and now we’re just trying to get him more direct to the ball. That’s about it, improving his pitch selection and slowing things down at the plate.”

And just like many hitters with his kind of scale-busting raw power, there are stories about Isabel hitting balls to places few players can dream of reaching in batting practice, let alone in games.

When asked for their favorite home runs Isabel had hit this year, both player and coach came back with the same answer.

"He hit a couple in Lakeland,” Pelaez said. "He hit one off the scoreboard (in deep left-center field) and he hit two over the bullpens. In Jupiter he hit over the concourse and onto the building.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for Isabel to reach his potential, but he’s already made it clear to his new organization that he comes equipped with some of the most enticing raw power in the sport. And that’s a pretty good place to start.

NOTES: Speaking of big, powerful hitters, two of them were on display in an early-morning tilt between the Yankees and Phillies squads in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League game at the Carpenter Complex.

The Yankees’ Anthony Garcia, a hulking switch-hitter who hits third in a line of impressive 17-year-olds atop the his team’s batting order, went 4-for-5 and a came a home shy of the cycle. There’s a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, but he’s got special raw power to all fields and moves well on the bases.

The Phillies’ Carlos De La Cruz, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound outfielder went 1-for-4 with a run scored and has already become notorious around the complex for his massive power. One of his two home runs, people around the complex on a daily basis noted, not only cleared the left-field wall, but hit the side of the neighboring stadium on the fly.

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