Means turned from fringe pitching prospect to staff ace and runner-up in American League Rookie of the Year voting after a winter spent at P3 (Premier Pitching & Performance) in St. Louis - a center that offers personalized baseball training to athletes across the Midwest with the goal of providing instruction and individualized strength training.
Seeing how his friend and teammate was transformed gave Hess the idea of trying it.
Hess, who was 1-10 with a 7.09 ERA and 1.550 WHIP and 28 home runs allowed in 23 games over 80 innings, went through an evaluation process during a visit early in the offseason and was given a remote program to take back home in South Carolina.
“Just kind of getting the ball rolling with that,” he said.
Hess, 26, took a short break last week with wife Devin to celebrate their third wedding anniversary in Jamaica, but the work will resume after Christmas. He’s trying to hold onto his roster spot and get in position to break camp as one of the starters in a rotation that’s grown thinner following the Dylan Bundy trade.
Director of pitching Chris Holt is a big supporter and will keep working in tandem with pitching coach Doug Brocail in an attempt to allow Hess to reach his goal.
I recently spoke to Hess about his new workout routine, as inspired by Means, and here’s a sampling of our conversation:
What circumstances brought you to P3?
“Me and John are really good friends. We’ve come up together through the organization, so just seeing how well he did, I just asked him like, ‘Hey, what did you do in the offseason? What helped you get here?’ So he referred me to this place and I ended up going out there. I’ve really enjoyed doing everything with them so far.”
Are you working with anyone or mainly on your own?
“It’s more so on your own. They kind of sent over the program and I’ve been doing it on my own. But I also kind of have, like, a reference to them a lot. I’ll send a video to them a couple times a week, like, ‘Hey, how is this looking? Any critiques? Is this looking the way you want it, the way it’s supposed to with this drill?’ So it’s very hands-on or hands-off, just as much as you want it to be.”
How long have you been doing it?
“I flew out there the first week I was back. I think I was home for maybe, like, five days and then I went out there. The program pretty much started, I’d say, a week after that. I pretty much got two weeks off and then it’s been a slow buildup. It hasn’t just been jumping right into long tossing or anything like that. It was a lot of working on some of the little muscles and then building up to where now I’m long tossing and pretty soon I’ll be getting off a mound. So it’s been a really good process just in the way they’ve handled the workload and prepared for it along the way.”
What are some specific examples of what you’re doing?
“There’s a little bit of incorporation with the weighted balls, but probably not in a way that a lot of people think. I’m not going max-effort crow-hopping into a net or anything like that. We do some of the reverse throws and some of the basic plyo (plyometrics, a type of muscle training) ball work, just to kind of strengthen and train my arm path a little bit and basically keep that tuned up the way we want it to. And then there’s a few drills that have been incorporated based on my mechanics and kind of what we broke down, really trying to make sure that everything’s in sync. So there’s a list of probably, I’d say, six or eight different things using med balls to kind of isolate certain areas of my delivery to just doing specific movements with even a bar, just to kind of resist in certain areas.
“It’s a big variety of things. I don’t want to give too much away just for their sake, but it’s been a really good mix of plyo balls to med ball work to just body-weight-delivery movements.”
How does this compare to your past workouts?
“Previous offseasons I’ve really just gone in the weight room, and that’s something that I’ve always felt good about, my preparation in terms of that. But this is really the first offseason where I’ve had baseball-specific work outside of just playing catch. Really trying to work on delivery-based stuff. Working on, not necessarily arm strength - I’ve always worked on that - but really cleaning up my arm path. So it’s similar in a lot of ways, but it’s also different. I guess the best way to say it is it’s very hyper focused.”
What’s your ultimate goal with this program - increased velocity, improving command, sharpness of pitches?
“I think it’s a mixture of all of the above. In talking with them and talking with the Orioles, Holt and Broc last season, we all kind of agreed that there’s more left in the tank, and that’s something we couldn’t really figure out a way to tap into it during the season so much because it’s hard to change things in the middle of the season. And so I’ve really used this time to, hopefully ... it would be awesome if it increased velocity a little bit, get a couple extra miles per hour. But helping in terms of tightening up breaking balls, utilizing my stuff a little bit better.
“Also, some of the evaluation stuff is used with Rapsodo (electronic training aid), so you can get the data behind everything. Truly understand like, ‘OK, we want this pitch to look this way. How do we make that happen?’ Kind of the repetition to make that a little bit more natural.”
Is part of the motivation based on you thinking this is an especially important season for you?
“Yeah, I think in a lot of ways it is. I think every season is important, but I think, really, this is a year where you see a lot of guys coming in and we’re going to have a lot of competition going into the year, which is great. Putting all the guys into place to make that healthy competition. So I’m really excited about that, but also I want to put myself in the best position possible to go out and have success and show what I can do and ultimately help us win some games.”
Do you see a couple openings in the rotation, especially with Dylan being traded?
“Yeah, and I think I’m not alone. I think anybody that is in our organization, they’re seeing the exact same things and they’re going to work twice as hard as they were before to earn that. So I think that’s really my main focus, is going in and putting my best foot forward in spring training and leading into the season. And regardless of what happens, just knowing that I did everything I could to prepare and at the end of the day just going out there and putting myself in a place where I can compete and, again, help the team win.
“That’s always the ultimate goal. Last year was difficult in that sense because I felt like in a lot of ways I didn’t perform the way everybody knows I’m capable, and so I think this year I feel like I want to prove what’s really there.”