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This is the perfect time of year to sit down with your son/daughter and take in a ball game. What better way to start than the NCAA College World Series. The eight best teams in college baseball all gather in Omaha to crown the National Champion. Not only is this a great time to sit down with your youngster and point out the intricacies of the game, but it's also perfect to see what some of the best hitters in the country do.
My love for this game and the understanding of it came from my dad. I can't stress enough how sitting and watching the game intently, helped me in my career. You can learn something as a youth player from every single game you watch.
This article is designed to highlight one player from each team for you and the youth player in your life to sit down and admire. You will see many different styles from each of these players yet all seem to get the job done. Find out not only who to watch, but what makes them one of if not the best hitters on their team.
What better place to start than the All-time SEC hit king. Mangum doesn't possess the same power as the rest of the group (Five career HR's) but has collected more hits than anyone to ever play in the SEC. It may not always look great, but you don't luck your way into 378 hits. Mainly relying on low, line drives and hard contact, Mangum sometimes limits his ability to drive the ball and use his plus speed for extra base-hits. So what exactly makes Mangum so good?
While he may seem like a guy that swings "downward", the video shows us different. You can see in the still shot above, Mangum begins his turn by turning his barrel back and down towards the catcher. This allows him to get on plane on the pitch and work up through contact despite being a guy with limited power. Swinging "up" isn't just for power hitters. This is just one skill that makes Jake such a great player. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how Mangum plays the game. The passion and intensity he plays with are probably his two best attributes. Do yourself a favor and make sure you and your son/daughter watch one Mississippi State game this week.
Drew Mendoza seems like FSU's version of the college basketball player that never graduates (think Grayson Allen, Duke Basketball). Seemingly being there for the past ten years Mendoza has been a steady hand for the Seminoles since his Freshman year. Mendoza profiles much differently than Mangum, yet both seem to get the job done (Mangum drafted in the 4th Round, Mendoza in the 3rd). Let's take a look at the video and see what the 6'5" 225lb Mendoza does well.
As you see from the video above, Mendoza does a great job getting to a side bend position. This allows him to rotate the bat up through contact while still keeping his hands high above his back elbow. This is a very tough move for such a tall hitter however, this is one reason Mendoza hits for so much power (.620 slugging percentage). When people argue about the importance of swinging "up", their argument often includes "my hitters will drop their hands and swing straight up". This is unless you teach them how to correctly. If you teach the hitter to get into proper side bend to keep their hands up in the swing, this is never the issue. Check out the Rack Bat for more details on how to train side bend in the swing.
By far the most athletic of this group, Jordan Brewer was once a Michigan football recruit. Brewer has since used that athleticism to turn himself into a third-round pick, as well as Big Ten Conference Player of the Year. After showing limited power in two junior college seasons (12 total Home Runs), Brewer found his stroke this season posting a .612 slugging percentage with 12 home runs.
The swing is only as good as the stride. We say this continually throughout lessons here at BRHQ, meaning the turn (swing) can only be as good as you prepare it to be. And when it comes to preparing to swing, nobody on this list does it better than Brewer. From the hip/shoulder separation (blue arrows) at landing to maintaining a good head position over the back hip, Brewer is as close to perfect as it gets. This position at landing allows him to use his natural athleticism to drive the ball in the air. As you can see in the still frame above his hips are starting to rotate open as his shoulders stay closed. This not only creates separation but also the direction to be able to cover the entire plate. I love that Brewer lands with his front foot open allowing his knee to straighten in a safer, more natural movement. This is a move many are scared to try however when done correctly can be extremely beneficial.
We use the Rebels Rack as well as a strict movement progression to teach hitters here at BR to move like the best hitters in the world. Want to stride like Brewer? Try one of our online lesson packages or come see us in person at BRHQ in Durham. This is the first step every single hitter we work with goes through.
Since the moment Heston Kjerstad arrived on campus in Fayetteville, the power was real. Following an SEC Freshman of the Year season, Kjerstad continued his onslaught on SEC pitching was 15 more home runs as a Sophmore. There is no doubt the big lefty is considered one of the best power hitters in all of college baseball. Every Kjerstad at-bat in this years CWS should be appointment television.
The thing I like most about Kjerstad's swing is how well he maintains his head positioning in the swing. You can see from the still shots above, his head and spine are in the same position after contact as it is when the stride lands. This allows Heston to rotate the bat up and on plane through contact. He also does a great job getting his back knee in front of his head in the finish to allow him to support his weight staying back through his thigh instead of his back like you see with young hitters who push their heads forward.
Possibly the best college hitter in the country this season, J.J. Bleday, destroyed the opposing pitching all year long. After hitting a combined six home runs his first two years at Vandy, Bleday mashed a whopping 26 round-trippers in 2019. Bleday's power display caught the eye of the Miami Marlins making him the fourth overall pick in this year's draft. So what exactly does Bleday do to generate so much power?
The biggest thing that stood out to me after watching Bleday on film was how well he turned the bat. You can see above that at contact, the barrel of the bat is well in front of his hands. This allows the barrel to accelerate around his hands using the knob as a pivot point. Most people when attempting to pull the ball think about hitting the ball more out in front. This is correct however we must remember, the barrel is what hits the ball, not our hands. Meaning the farther a hitter's hands go forward, the later the bat is accelerated to the point of contact. This move allows J.J. to make later decisions on whether to swing or not because he can move the bat faster. This probably has something to do with his unbelievable K/BB ratio (102K/119BB).
Josh is someone we have kept a close eye on for a few years here at BR. When you have a career 1.031 OPS in over 700 at-bats, we tend to take notice. Another top-10 pick in this years draft, Jung has been one of college baseball's elite hitter for 3 years now. Josh is one of the more, if not the, most complete hitter on this list. A career .348 hitter with more walks than strikeouts isn't that difficult to find in college baseball. However, they don't usually come with 32 home runs and 53 doubles. Josh has proven over the past three years that he hit for both power and average.
Obviously, Josh does a lot of things well in the swing. However, the most impressive thing to me is how well he separates his shoulders and hips in the stride. It is very rare to see a hitter with as much mass as Jung (215lbs) have the flexibility to separate this much and create so much torque in the stride. With many hitters as big and physical as Josh injuries are a concern. However, with how well he lands with his front knee (Kneecap facing the pitcher at landing), there won't be much stress on the front knee and lower back. And we all know "the best ability is availability".
The Auburn Sophmore struggled throughout the 2019 season after bursting onto the scene after an All-American Freshman year. However, without a red-hot Williams, the Tigers would not be in Omaha. Williams has caught fire in the postseason and looks more like the power threat we saw in 2018. With three home runs in his last six games, look for Auburn to rely on Williams sweet left-handed stroke to make some noise in Omaha.
Williams does a great job within the swing on keeping his head and chest back over his back hip. This allows him to rotate the bat upwards and on plane as you see above. The stillness of his head and deepness of the turn allows him to accelerate the bat on plane as well as gives him more time to make good decisions. The more time a hitter has, the better.
The Cards are coming off a red-hot Super Regional in which 1-9 in the lineup were scary to face. Yet throughout the entire regional one guy in the lineup stood out a little more than the rest. It's not like the 51st overall draft pick put the team on his back and carried them to Omaha. But his presence in the box stood out. He always looked as if he was going to do damage. It's that amazing calmness/confidence that has made Wyatt an on-base machine the past two seasons for the Cards (131 BB's/84 K's).
So we know Wyatt has power from the left side (Career: 15 HR's, 45 doubles) and a great eye (back-to-back seasons of 60+ walks), but how does he do it? The picture above shows how well Wyatt creates space in his swing. What I mean by creating space is he allows the bat to travel up and through contact while seemingly pushing his head and chest away from the ball to give himself more time. This gives him exceptional depth within the swing creating allowing him to make late, quick decisions while still working on plane.
And just like that, you have something to watch on TV every night for the next two weeks. These guys all have things in common that make them such great hitters. Posture, head positioning and bat path all seem to be similar. Which is usually the case for most great hitters. But what makes baseball fun is the different styles you will see from each guy. Jake Mangum is completely different than Josh Jung. Yet both get the job done for their team and will be relied on at the pinnacle of college baseball. These next two weeks include some of the most intense, exciting games of baseball you will see all year. So take the time to not only watch it but learn from what you're watching. These are the best 18-22-year-old baseball players in the country playing in their sport's biggest stage, Omaha.