White Sox's Gavin Sheets Finds Success Through Adjustments
PEORIA, Ariz. — Although he played 126 games, Gavin Sheets essentially played two seasons in 2019. His first season lasted 64 games and resulted in a pedestrian .246/.313/.352 line with just 11 extra-base hits in 236 at-bats.
In the second half, Sheets’ performance started to match his pre-draft scouting report, which described a player with power as a carrying tool. He’d hit 17 homers in his previous two and a half seasons, but he exploded for nine over his final 62 games with Double-A Birmingham.
So, what changed?
"One of the main things was confidence,” he said. "I started to hit some home runs and got that feeling again to where I knew I could do it and knew I could do it on a consistent basis. I think that was the biggest thing for me.
"The year before, home runs were very sporadic. I started getting the ball in the air and started having quality at-bats and just started rolling with it.”
Confidence is one element, but there’s more to it than that. To get the ball in the air more often, Sheets made some changes to his mechanics and approach that allowed him to rediscover the player who socked 21 homers in his junior season at Wake Forest.
"I think the main thing was getting in my legs more, driving down more, just trying to catch the ball a little bit more out front and getting the ball a little bit more in the air to right field,” Sheets explained. "That was the biggest thing for me, going to the plate with the mentality of trying to do damage and I was able to put it all together this year.”
FanGraphs showed that Sheets dropped his ground ball rate by 3.4 percent and increased his fly ball rate by 5.7 percent from 2018 to 2019. Once he started getting the ball in the air more often, good things started happening.
Sheets finished the second half with a line of .289/.377/.478 with 14 doubles, a triple and those nine home runs in 62 games.
Now that he’s found an approach that will help him supply the offense required for first base, the key is to not get too locked in to hitting home runs and only home runs. Instead, he’d like to find a balance between hitting and hitting for power.
The changes Sheets made came at the behest of White Sox hitting coordinator Mike Gellinger and Birmingham coaches Charles Poe and Wes Helms.
"The biggest thing for me was trying to find my pitch in every at-bat and trying not to miss it and trying to pull the ball a little bit more this year than last year,” Sheets said. "I think really being aggressive and trying to do damage on my pitch was the biggest thing.”
Putting the plan together took lots of time in the cage and watching video, and working to continue to change his mentality more toward looking to do as much damage as possible as often as possible.
Coming out of college, Sheets hit for average but not for power. That’s fine for most positions on the diamond, but playing first base all but requires a player to mash, mash and mash some more. So while his .293 average in his first full season with the White Sox—played just minutes from his alma mater, at high Class A Winston-Salem—six home runs in 437 at-bats made him somewhat of a profile problem.
The silver lining of that season, however, was that it provided a building block for this season. He’d learned to adjust to the better pitching of pro ball and got acquainted with wood bats, and in the second full season he figured out how to turn on the power.
"It was definitely frustrating for me at first, not hitting home runs, but I think the biggest key was I learned how to hit,” Sheets said. "I hit .293, and in pro ball you’ve got to learn how to hit first and then power will come. I kept telling myself that and tried to build off a good year in Winston.”
It took him a half-season, but Sheets finished the year looking like the complete hitter he’d envisioned himself becoming.
2019 Arizona Fall League Roster Analysis: Glendale Desert Dogs
This year's roster is headlined by Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson and Reds infielder Jonathan India.
— Astros righthander Forrest Whitley got the start for Peoria on Friday afternoon and struck out five batters in 1.2 innings. His command was inconsistent, however, and he walked three before exiting. His delivery wasn't particularly fluid and his arm slot wandered at times, but the quality of his pitches was strong. His fastball got into the upper 90s, and he complemented it with a nasty array of offspeed pitches, including a low-90s cutter and a dastardly changeup in the low 80s with separation and late fade.
— Dodgers righthander Gerardo Carrillo worked primarily with an upper-90s fastball that touched 100 mph and an upper-70s curveball with three-quarter break. His command was a bit scattershot as well—he walked 59 hitters in 86 regular-season innings with high Class A Rancho Cucamonga—but his outing was intriguing nonetheless.
— Red Sox outfielder Jarren Duran continues to show off a sweet swing from the left side. The 2018 seventh-rounder notched three hits against Glendale, including his first triple of the fall, and is hitting .283/.356/.434 through 14 games.