Third baseman Drew Mendoza (Twitter: @MendozaDrew22) knew from his first few weeks with the Nationals organization that he wanted to make some adjustments to his swing. The 2019 Baseball America second team All-American was a standout third baseman at Florida State, but was ready from his first few days in pro camp to add power to his approach.
It is the Nationals' policy with drafted players in their initiation to professional baseball to allow them a full month to get acclimated and pitch and hit the way they knew how to before they arrived. But Nationals minor league hitting instructor Troy Gingrich got a unique request from Mendoza, a 2019 third-round selection.
"It is interesting because usually when we get guys who we draft we usually give them 30 days before we do anything with their swings," said Gingrich. "We just let them go out and show us why they got drafted. I met Mr. Mendoza last year down in Florida. As soon as he signed, he came down and we were talking and he said, 'I know my swing is messed up. I know you guys have 30 days but I don't want to wait 30 days. I want to get going now.' I made a couple of calls and everyone was fine with that ,so with him we started basically from the first day.
From their initial meetings, Gingrich wanted Mendoza to not wait on the best pitch to hit or be too conservative in his at-bats.
"He had some decent numbers at Florida State. Couple things: he was not very aggressive at the plate. Mendoza (was taught he) had to take a strike. That was something that was ingrained into them at school," Gingrich said. "So we are in the process of getting that better. It's a hard thing for a kid who is not aggressive to get him to become more aggressive, especially when he has done it (one way) for three and a half years. We are trying to break him of that habit."
The other point was adding power to his big frame. At 6-foot-5 and 230 lbs., the 22-year-old Mendoza has the strength and quickness to be able to drive the ball in the air. In watching Mendoza's swing, Gingrich saw where adjustments could be made.
"He knew he was a bigger guy and needed to show some more power so he did that on his own," Gingrich said. "He changed his swing to try to create more lift in his swing to create more power (while at FSU). The swing that got him to Florida State is the swing that we are trying to get back. The other one was long, slow and more uphill and velocity would eat him up a lot. So, we worked diligently while he was in Florida, while he went to Hagerstown."
Mendoza hit .264 with 12 doubles, four homers and 25 RBIs in 55 games for low Single-A Hagerstown. Gingrich said the Nats implemented the changes in Mendoza's swing after the 2019 campaign wrapped up at their October instructional league workouts.
"Instructs was a very big month with him," Gingrich said. "He made a lot of good adjustments with his swing. He got the idea of being able to repeat it over and over, but that was the hard thing. So he did it the whole offseason. Everything we gave him in instructs, he took it to the offseason and got it better. And then when we got spring training, we got to where his lower half was now working, his path was much shorter. He was in a better position."
Then Gingrich added one final adjustment to unleash the full potency available to Mendoza's approach. The lefty hitting Mendoza had pushed the ball to left-center with success in the past, but Gingrich saw something else while watching the third baseman swing in spring training.
"The last part of adjustments was being able to - we use the term snap the bat head at contact - that is the ending piece that we are getting to," Gingrich said. "Sounds kind of funny, but we focus on trying to get him to pull the ball correctly, to get that feeling. It worked out really well because his strong suit was driving the ball to left-center, but it was always kind of a push to drive it to left-center. We had to play two intrasquad games when we were down there in the spring, and he actually drove two balls to left-center that were very impressive. So finally, the mechanics of the swing on those swings I am starting to like a lot. With these improvements he has made just in the mechanics of his swing, getting his lower half to be more direct with his upper half is awesome."
The next step in taking advantage of Mendoza's power is not letting the ball get too deep to the plate and finding a way to get to the pitch earlier.
"Now he is going to learn his contact points and that's is going to help him be able to pull the ball and get the ball more in the air a little bit more because his contact points are going to be a little bit more out in front of the plate," Gingrich said. "With how his legs are working now and his swing path is working, catching the ball out in front of the plate the ball is go in the air without him have to create the power to hit the ball in the air."
Gingrich said these complete adjustments allows Mendoza to take advantage of his body type and overall strength.
"He doesn't have to try to create the loft anymore," Gingrich said. "It actually allows him to see the ball longer because he knows the strike zone very well. So if he is shorter to the ball and quicker, he can actually see the ball deeper, make better decisions. Now he can just let it happen naturally."
Of course Gingrich and his hitters did not want to stop playing. But he believes with Mendoza repeating these good habits in his swing during the current coronavirus delay, the former Seminoles star will be able to have it come to him naturally when the real games start up again, whenever that occurs.
"He has made some very good adjustments over the course of six months and we are just now tapping into it," Gingrich said. "It is unfortunate we had to stop, but I think the good thing is he has the idea of it now and he knows what he is trying to do. That's what I am excited about."
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