David Molyneaux NeauxBrainers

David Molyneaux
joined Patton & Co. Sun Jan 25 '15.

Twitter: The Travel Maven ‏ @DavidMolyneaux
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NeauxBrainers has, so far, written 349 comments and this was the latest, on D.J. LeMahieu:

Fascinating LeMahieu story at Fangraphs by David Laurila. Never before heard the explanation that some northern high school players spend so much time in the inside batting cage that they tend to hit toward center and right fields, like Jeter. Here it is:

Tim Wilken was the club’s scouting director when the Chicago Cubs drafted DJ LeMahieu out of LSU in 2009. Wilken was still ensconced in that position two years later when he had a memorable exchange with the second-rounder. It took place in Knoxville, where LeMahieu — a product of Brother Rice High School in metro Detroit —was playing with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies.

“I said, ‘Hey, DJ, you stay inside the ball extremely well [but] you’re six-foot-five and don’t really let your swing out,” Wilken related to me recently. “You’re from Michigan; were you a fan of Derek Jeter? Do you stay inside the ball because he does that?’ He said, ‘No, I like Derek Jeter, but when you live in a northern state you have a tendency to stay with your swing because 95% of your BP is inside, in a cage. Had I lived in a sunbelt state, I might have started to let my swing out.’”

I asked the longtime scout — now a special assistant with the Arizona Diamondbacks — why a lack of outdoor reps might have that result.

“If you’re in a cage — and I’ve seen many cage batting practices — hitters kind of stay within their swing,” responded Wilken, who in 2016 was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame. “LeMahieu hits a lot of balls up the middle and to the right side — every once in awhile he’ll pull a ball — but as he was describing to me, it’s a lot different inside. You don’t get to see the results of letting your swing out, so you don’t really turn on balls. Outside, you can see some of that power. Hitting a ball to left field and seeing it go a pretty good ways… that’s taken away when you’re in a cage.”

In December 2011, LeMahieu was stolen away from the Cubs by the Colorado Rockies. Technically he was traded, but given how the four-player swap has worked out, the deal qualified as highway robbery. Colorado acquired the two-time batting champion, along with Tyler Colvin, in exchange for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers. Stewart went on to record negative WAR, while Weathers weathered injuries and never made it out of the minors.

Theo Epstein, who’d been named Chicago’s president of baseball operations six weeks earlier, approached Wilken at the winter meetings. With him were two members of the Cubs’ brain trust.

“Theo told me, ‘Hey, we’ve got a deal, and it involves two of your guys,’” recalled Wilken. “He says to me, ‘You’ve got a 70 bat [on the 20-80 scouting scale] on LeMahieu. “One of the guys with him says, ‘What are the demographics on a six-foot-five second baseman?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re looking at [LeMahieu].'”

Opinions on the young infielder varied. One evaluator purportedly felt that LeMahieu’s arms were too long, and that his swing path wasn’t going to work in the big leagues. Wilken had an opposing viewpoint. “There are guys who can be longer to the ball and still have good hand-eye,” he explained. “And his hand-eye was pretty darn good.”

The swing path in question has obviously worked in the big leagues. LeMahieu slashed .299/.352/.408 in his seven years with the Rockies, and since signing a free-agent contract with the Yankees in January 2019 — barring an extension he’ll be back on the open market this winter — that line is .336/.386/.536. Moreover, LeMahieu has laid waste to the idea that he can’t hit for power. He’s swatted 36 home runs in fewer than 900 plate appearances since donning pinstripes.

“It turned out that I was wrong about him being a 70 hitter,” said Wilken. “He’s an 80 hitter. He’s just a damn good baseball player.”

David Molyneaux NeauxBrainers ()

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