Ben Revere and Anthony Rizzo are distinctly different hitters, but they have a few things in common. Most notable is the fact that they are rising stars: Revere with the Minnesota Twins; Rizzo with the Chicago Cubs. Another is that they each credit a minor-league hitting coach for helping them turn the corner.
Revere, a 24-year-old outfielder, is following up a so-so rookie campaign (.267/.310/.309) with a breakout season. His slashing left-handed swing has produced a .325/.356/.382 line, as well as a 21-game hit streak that came to end Wednesday night.
Rizzo, a 23-year-old first baseman, is emerging as a big-time power threat in his first year with the Cubs. He hit just .141/.281/.242 in his rookie season with the Padres, but in 154 plate appearances with his new team, he’s hitting .301/.344/.524, with nine home runs.
Ben Revere: “When I first got up here, I was doing alright, but then I kind of dropped off. Going into the off-season, I wasn’t satisfied. I batted .260 and, really, that’s not the kind of player I am. Usually, I’m a .300 hitter. I needed to focus on trying to find the swing I had when I was driving balls up the gaps for doubles and triples.
“Last year, I was rounding up a bunch of balls. I was coming around them and getting jammed. I watched film of myself, and coming up through the minors, I had my hands higher. When I went back down to Triple-A [this year], I told my hitting coach, Tom Brunansky, what was wrong, and we did some drills. Now I’m keeping my hands higher, so that I can go down and stay through the ball — instead of having them low where I come around and get jammed on fastballs right down the middle and a little bit inside.
“The drills we did included some sock toss. It was about having my hands in position for when I’m about to make contact with the ball — keeping my hands inside. When I start, I usually have my hands behind my head, for my trigger. He brought them out. For some reason, I kept bringing them down behind my head. Keeping my hands out a little bit let me get some freedom, instead of trapping myself. It’s a better trigger because I can stay through the ball, and inside the ball.
“[Brunansky] is the type of coach who will ask how you feel, like, ’What’s wrong with you?’ and stuff. We sat down, one-on-one, in the dugout and I told him, ’I know this is the problem.’ He said, ’OK, I think I have some drills to work you out.’ He’d flip me the ball, but only if he could see my hands out beside me, instead of behind my head. He also made sure I was using my hips to clear myself out.
“I only moved my hands an inch — a couple of inches, maybe. It was a little, small detail that has helped out a lot. I was talking to [Brunansky] and he said that with some guys, you change a whole bunch about them. With me, it was just a couple of inches on my hands. That was it. I did that and feel like I’m back to my old self. I’m happy, because I’ve found my swing again. Opponents have been pitching me the same way they did last year, but now I’m driving the gaps and getting on base.
“I like to get deep into the count if I can. I never really swing at first pitches a lot. And I’m an opposite-field hitter, so I’ll let the ball travel a little bit. The main thing is, the only time I’m going to kill myself is when I’m getting around the ball and jamming myself, and rolling over to second base. If I can keep my hands inside — and drive the ball up the middle of the field — I can be a good hitter.”
Anthony Rizzo: “I’d say that my mechanics are a little different from when I first signed. My hands are lower, but I’m still relaxed. I’ve always been a relaxed hitter. I’ve been taught to always put a good swing on the ball and be in a ready position. That’s the main thing I try to do.
“A lot of credit goes to Dave Joppie, who was my hitting coach in Double-A [in 2010, with the Red Sox]. He taught me how to hit for power. I had never hit for a lot, and in Portland that year I hit 20 home runs. I give him a lot of credit for that. He helped me with my legs and my hands.
“He told me that my swing then, in Double-A, is not going to be anything like it will in the big leagues. He was completely right. It’s just evolved. If you look at anybody’s swing from four years ago, it’s probably going to be different than it is now. Even two years ago. That’s just baseball.
“Joppie is so individual with everyone, and he knows how to talk to the players. He really gives them confidence and that’s the main thing with hitting. You have to have the confidence.
“I’ve learned how to pull more balls that are inside, but I primarily try to stay to left-center and into the gaps. Occasionally I’ll run into one. Turning on a ball is all reaction. If you’re in a ready position and have confidence, you can pretty much hit anything.
“When I got called up last year, I felt that I was ready as can be. It just didn’t work out. Fortunately, I got traded here and things are going well. I want to keep building off of this success.
“What I learned [last year] is that it’s the same game. Pitchers aren’t throwing any pitches I haven’t seen before, so I have to just keep it simple.
“I don’t think I necessarily tried to hit any differently [in Petco Park]. Maybe subconsciously I started to, but mostly I wasn’t keeping it simple. I was thinking too much and was trying too hard. It was like I wanted to get four hits in one at bat, and that’s obviously impossible.
“Petco is tough. I don’t think guys do it on purpose, but when a ball doesn’t go out in batting practice that normally should, maybe you’ll try to swing a little harder. If you try to do that, it’s usually not going to go well.
“[Starting this season in Triple-A] was frustrating, because I worked hard in Spring Training. But it was also the best thing for me. I needed to go down there and hit, and hit fastballs, and hit them hard. That’s exactly what I did, and I feel good about where I am now.
“I’ve been on a mission all year to prove wrong the people who had kind of written me off. It feels good to be having success, but I also know that I need to go one day at a time and one at bat at a time.”