The “pure hitter” label befits Stephen Piscotty. The St. Louis Cardinals’ outfield prospect hit .341 in his three seasons at Stanford, and won a Cape Cod League batting title in 2011. He’s continued to produce line drives since being taken 36th overall in the 2012 draft.
Piscotty is coming off a productive first full professional season. Swinging from the right side, the 22-year-old hit .295/.355/.464 between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield. Helping dispel questions about his power, the former engineering major hit 15 home runs in 427 at bats. On the defensive side, he split time between center field and right field.
Piscotty talked about his hitting approach — including his improved power numbers — late in this past minor-league season.
Piscotty on his 2013 performance: “I’ve been very satisfied. I think my numbers have been fair. I started out at Palm Beach and got off to a decent start there. I had enough success to get promoted to Double-A, where I had to adjust a little bit. I’d say my production was in line with the new challenge. As the season has gone on, I’ve become more comfortable. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape, as far as my development.
“When I made the jump to Double-A, the biggest thing I noticed was how much more mentally involved the game is at this level. As far as our team, we’d take out what we call the yellow pad and talk about previous games. We’d go into some pretty deep detail. It struck me just how much thought goes into everything that happens on the field, and it helped me grow a lot. It had me thinking and understanding more about what was going on.”
On his hitting approach: “I try to hit the ball hard, and low. I don’t try to hit home runs. I try to hit line drives and hard ground balls. If I end up getting under one, that’s when they go out. I pride myself in having good at bats with two strikes, trying to put the ball in play however I can. It doesn’t matter if I get jammed and break a bat, as long as I make contact. My mentality changes with two strikes. I become a little more competitive and just try to put the ball in play.
“You hear the term ‘hitting down through the ball,’ and that’s something I try to do. I’m not trying to chop at the ball, I’m trying to keep my bat on kind of a flat plane, and contact the ball square. If you hit the ball low and hard, you’re going to have a lot better chance than if you hit it up in the air. Hitting down through the ball, and hitting line drives, is my approach.”
On creating backspin; “I think backspin is more a result of having a flat bat and staying down, as opposed to having a loop in your swing. I don’t try to backspin balls, but if you hit a ball perfectly, it often times has backspin. If you‘re going [opposite-field], the ball isn‘t necessarily going to have backspin — it will have some tail to it — and if you hook a ball, it’s not going to have a ton of backspin. But if you hit one perfectly, it’s going to come naturally.
“It’s not something I focus on. If you try to focus on back-spinning balls, you really chop at it. You end up hitting choppers and really high back-spun fly balls that don’t really go a long way.”
On The Stanford Swing: “Their approach, honestly, is what my approach is. Hitting with two strikes is part of that. At Stanford, we had a saying where, when you get to two strikes, you tap your helmet and tell yourself — tell your team — you’re going to battle and shorten up, put it in play, no matter what. I still do that, just as a reminder. But in general, the coaches there may see things and have different ideas, but they don’t try to mold you into anything. There’s no real ‘Stanford swing.’”
On learning in the Cardinals’ system: “I’ve been really impressed with the organization. I feel I’ve learned a ton. It’s been a perfect balance [of hands-on and hands-off]. It hasn’t been that they’re forcing stuff upon me, but rather if they see something that will help me, they speak up. I’ve listened and have been able to build up my game.
“When I got to Double-A, my hitting coach said, ‘I’m not going to talk to you for two weeks, I’m just going to watch you do what you do.’ When the two weeks were over — I wasn’t doing too well at that point — I immediately asked, ‘It’s been two weeks, what do you have for me?’ He had a couple of things that got me on the right track.”
On his improved power numbers: “It’s been organic. The biggest thing has been my strength-and-conditioning program in the off-season. I think that’s where a lot of my power has come from. I focused on that and kept the same approach, and for the most part, it worked out. I’ll be back at it this off-season. It’s been good to know I don’t have to worry about hitting home runs, they’ll just come when they do. That takes a lot of pressure off. I guess I just have more juice behind the ball.”
On if he’s a pure hitter: “I’m not sure what the definition of a pure hitter is, but I’ve heard it said about me. I’ll hit balls all over the field, so in that sense, maybe I am. I haven’t really hit any home runs to the opposite field yet, although I have driven some doubles the opposite way. A number of my hits go the opposite way.
“I do feel I can hit any pitch, anywhere, any time. That said, I need to control that at times. I’ll chase pitches in good hitter’s counts and get myself out, because I get the bat on the ball. That’s something I’ve really been working on this year. I need to become more patient and make sure I’m swinging at the right pitches. A few games ago, I had the bases loaded and chased a pitch I ended up rolling over. Sometimes it would be nice if I would swing through those pitches and hit the next pitch. Sometimes I’m trying too hard to put it into play. I need to do a better job of being more disciplined.”
On his defensive game: “I’ve moved positions, so I’ve got a lot to learn. And I think I can get a lot better. I’ve been fairly satisfied with my first year out in right field, having moved from third, but I’m nowhere near what I could be. Defense is definitely going to be a focus for me going forward.
“Instincts are one component of defense — knowing where the ball is going to go — and some players have better instincts.”
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