When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale got together to write the greatest movie ever made, “Back To The Future”, I wonder if one of them had a glance into 2015’s baseball season. If you are unfamiliar with the story, allow me to catch you up.
In the fall of 1985 Marty McFly travels forward in time, to the year 2015, in order to create a better future for himself and his family. After hopping in the newly refurbished DeLorean, Marty and Doc arrive in the year 2015. By now you might be asking yourself, what this has to do with baseball right? Well, upon his arrival to Hill Valley in the future, this is what Marty sees.
Any other year, this would be just another funny play on the fact that the Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. However, From an offensive standpoint, the Cubs seemed poised to break out at any time this year. From a young hitter’s perspective, they have a loaded roster, but weather they can come together as a team, and with a new manager, to win a world series is a bit of a long shot. Although it is impressive that the Cub’s have so many young guys with athletic and explosive swings. This young group is really fun to watch, and hopefully will continue to show even younger players how to be athletic in the box.
On purpose or not, the Cubs seem to have invested in hitter’s with solid movement patterns, that we at Baseball Rebellion enjoy to watch, and use as the foundation of our training and methodology.
Now let’s take a look and see if Doc and Marty are right and that we should put our money on the Cubbies future…
Miguel Montero – Age, 31
Miguel Montero is by far the oldest one in the group at 31, but I could not leave his swing out. For a 31 year old catcher, Miguel has some very explosive attributes about his swing.
You can see from the clip above that Montero does a really nice job of moving forward and violently turning his hips, which in turn pulls his back foot forward. You see a lot of his teammates do this, which is why he fits right in with this group of young stars.
On top of a great hip thrust, Montero also rotates on a negative spine angle, which creates a very nice upward rotation of the bat. This rotation allows for maximum barrel depth and speed in his swing.
Montero has a great release of the barrel’s energy, largely because of the two points of his swing previously mentioned. His extension/release keeps his barrel in the way of the ball, even when he is caught a little early and has to make an adjustment.
Kyle Schwarber – Age, 22
Our first young buck on the Cubs roster is the AA catcher for the Cubs, Kyle Schwarber. It is really great to see another athletic swing pattern from a catcher. Kyle is tearing it up right now in AA with 9 HRs and a .645 slugging percentage. There is no reason why he wouldnt be in the big leagues soon, except for the guys right above him. Although there could be a position change for this guy if he continues to handle the bat like he has been so far the season.
Schwarber has a really nice rock back and forward move, coming out of a wider stance. Sometimes that can be tricky, but he shows how a wide stance and small leg kick can still be athletic if used right. Kyle has almost the same move as Yasiel Puig, in that he doesn’t have a huge leg kick but still generates momentum and explosive hip turn, as you can clearly see his back foot move in the video above.
In the same breath you would also say that Kyle has a nice tempo and rhythm about him. He stays in constant motion and allows his body weight to do almost all of the work.
Kyle shows a great back shoulder rowing action that really compliments his hip action. His back shoulder/elbow/hand/bat work away from his front hip to create great separation, and therefor more snap in his swing.
Anthony Rizzo – Age, 25
Anthony Rizzo has been absolutely lighting it up this year. Hitting in the third spot, Rizzo is supporting a .344 average with 8 HRs and a 1.073 OPS, setting him up to have a dynamite year if he keeps those numbers up.
In this particular swing, I would like to highlight Rizzo’s vision and barrel depth at contact. His ability to square up a pitch at this depth with full hip and shoulder rotation is a clear sign that Rizzo’s sequencing is spot on. At contact, Rizzo turns his head back and down, at the same time, to see the ball into the hitting zone. Lack of vision mechanics in a hitter’s swing can be a major road block for hitters at any level. Rizzo displays phenomenal head movement back, as his body violently rotates outwardly. A much harder skills than meets the eye.
Rizzo also demonstrates a simple, yet super effective leg kick. While he moves less than some of his teammates, and a little more than Montero, Rizzo still has all of the components of a well sequenced swing. This is a great example of another style that can be adopted by any player, at any age group, as long as the same principle movements are present.
Javier Baez – Age, 22
Javier Baez has had a roller coaster ride this last calendar year. We saw last year that he has the ability to drive the ball at the big league level as he burst into the league with his violent hacks. After suffering some setbacks during the off season, it will be interesting to see what happens with Javier and where he fits into the Cubs big picture. His bat plays really well at second base, but with Addison Russell already there and showing promise, the Cubs might be looking to move him to another spot or potentially trade him.
The first thing that jumps out about Baez is the overall explosiveness of his swings. Baez has an unbelievable ability to hammer any pitch in or out of the zone. His super athletic leg kick and movement forward is really fun to watch, as well as his crazy fast hip thrust and full shoulder rotation.
However, the same reasons we love this Baez’s swing, are also his biggest flaws. In 70 at bats right now in Triple A Iowa, Javier has 20 strike outs, while maintaining a .296 batting average. His upper body movement is super impressive as he has what we call a “double tip”, which allows him to have tremendous bat speed but it also gets him out of sequence too often. For his future success, I hope that he learns how to control some aspects of his swing in order to build his consistency at the plate. Regardless, he is a fun player to watch.
Addison Russell – Age, 21
There is no doubt that Addison Russell is a talented young player. Having said that, his swing is far less impressive than the rest of the hitters on this list. Right now, Russell is hitting .253 with only 2 HRs. The season and his career are too young to jump to any conclusions, but the way he is moving in the swing above could be the reason. He has a great glove which is no doubt why the Cubs love him, but in my opinion, Baez has a much higher ceiling than Russell at second base.
There really is not a lot to write home about in Russell’s swing here. He is very “typical”, in that he looks like he has been coached up a lot with modern techniques. In a previous article I mentioned that Russell’s biggest improvement has to be in his lower half if he wanted to put up better numbers. This is still the concern I have with his swing. He may not be going out trying to hit HRs like Baez but he needs to bring more athleticism into his swing and show a little more ability to drive the ball. This will also help keep down his strikeouts, as a more athletic lower half leads to better adjustments.
Starlin Castro – Age, 25
Starlin Castro has been having a so-so year thus far numbers wise, but he has been pretty steady throughout his short career. Yet his swing pattern suggest that he could hit for more power and perhaps be a 20 HR a year guy. He reminds me a lot of Javier Baez, as they both have a nice rhythmic move back and then forward with a pretty high leg kick. Castro has a more simplified upper body movement which makes sequencing his whole swing together much easier, and therefore less of a risk.
I really like Castro’s upper body pattern, as he does a great job of keeping constant motion without allowing it to get out of hand. His hands, back elbow, shoulder, and bat all move in unison and stay very close to his body. This ensures that there is very little loss of power from his lower half movement. Starlin also shows that you can have a two handed finish in the big leagues and still be successful, however this is not always recommended because it can reduce the amount of shoulder turn and be dangerous for young bodies.
Like Baez, Castro has a really athletic movement with his lower half. In the video above, you can see how he uses what I call the “rock and lock” method to keep his back knee inside his foot and then sets the angle to fall forward.
Like most guys, he needs to do a better job of allowing his front foot to turn open as you can see it spin out pretty violently. We learned from Gabe Dimock that this can lead to injuries down the road, especially for guys who really turn fast.
Kris Bryant – Age, 23
Not much to be said about this potential Hall of Famer. Kris Bryant has burst onto the Major League scene just the way most of us thought he would. In 107 at bats this year, Bryant is hitting .290 with 4 HRs and a .888 OPS. These number fall right in line with how he has swung that bat his whole career so far. The ceiling for this kid is super high and I fully expect him to reach his full potential very quickly. There is no reason why Kris Bryant can’t be a .300 and 30 plus HR guy at the big league level.
After watching countless swings from Kris Bryant, the things that really impress me are his timing and vision. When he gets the pitch he is looking for, the kid DOES NOT MISS. In this particular swing, you can see how the explosiveness of his core and his head movement following the ball happen in perfect sequence. Of all the guys on this list, Bryant shows the highest level of vision and precision timing.
Even with such a wide stance, you can clearly see Bryant still creates some back foot movement with the thrust of his hips. This is just another example of how a player who may have a wider stance, can still be explosive. Bryant is 6’5 and 215 pounds so is a little easier for him, But for any young players out there looking to add power, the “Kris Bryant” stance may not be the one for you, especially if your not going to be that big.
One thing that Kris needs to add to his armory of talents is the ability to adjust. A little work with his front leg and perhaps not being so so wide, could help him decrease his strikeouts which seems to be the only real flaw in this future superstars swing.
Jorge Soler – Age, 23
Jorge Soler is another young talent that can really show signs of greatness. His numbers right now are decent with .265 batting average and an OPS of .725. At only 23 years old, he still has some things to figure out as a hitter but I really enjoy watching his swing. He has a mix between a wide stance and a very little leg kick, like Bryant, yet he still has a really good lean back in his turn like Montero. As a Right Fielder he will be asked to keep up those power numbers, but he moves well enough to do so.
I really like how Soler keeps his hands high in this particular swing. We know how difficult to the low pitch is to hit well but the higher strikes can also offer up some challenges for certain guys. In the swing above, Soler does a great job of not letting his hands drop too far below his back shoulder height which also stays high. This allows him to quickly get behind this pitch and drive it. If his hands had dropped prematurely, it would have been a fight to get back to the middle of the ball, which usually does not happen.
Soler also has tremendous back foot movement for a player with such a wide stance and minimal movement forward. Like Bryant, his ability to use his core and fully pull his back foot forward really allows a lot of great things to happen. Such things include maximum force output and an optimal spine angle to help lift the ball.
Albert Almora – 2012 – Age, 21
Albert Almora only made this list because of how he swung the bat before this year. It is clear to see that he has made some pretty significant changes in the past year or so. Maybe with the success of Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler, the hitting coaches wanted him to change it up and focus more on keeping this simple. He does play a premium defensive position which allows him some wiggle room with the bat but in my opinion this swing change is not for the better.
There is no doubt that this kid can find the barrel and his strike out numbers are not bad at all but to go from such a more explosive more to a simplified version could be trouble. We know Almora is super coordinated and gifted but this swing change may have just lowered his potential output ceiling. We will see how the swing adjustment pays off long term this year.
In his first swing, you can see how much more like Baez he was but was still effective with his upper body. There was not really a lot to be scared of if your the guys hitting coordinator. I hope that he is able to still adjust to off speed pitches with such limited movement. At only 21 he has some years to figure it out offensively and his glove will keep him around for sure but I think this move only lowers his chance of being a star at the next level. Right now the Cubs may be looking at his a fourth outfielder coming off the bench in the future.
If Marty McFly really is a time traveling scout for the Cubs, it seems as though he has an eye for quality movements. Not all of these hitters look the same at the start, although they all have the same principle movements that translate to the next level. In the swings above you have seen high level tempo, hip thrust and back foot movement, full and complete shoulder rotation, and phenomenal violence in their swings. A great example of hitters to watch if you looking to increase the your chances of standing out in a crowd. It is not an accident that this group of mostly young, Latin American hitters are rising up to the big leagues. With Kris Bryant being another outlier, who openly defies common hitting ideas and says that he has “been trying to hit the ball in the air his whole life”. The future is definitely bright for many of these guys. Especially, Bryant whose road to being a superstar is certainly clear, although where he’s going…