PAWTUCKET – Concern over Lars Anderson’s sparse home run production isn’t solely limited to fans and beat writers. That’s why PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler purposely went out of his way to defuse any qualms/concerns regarding his first baseman by offering up this statement a few weeks back: “You talk to scouts and what they see in young players is as they get older and learn about their swing a little bit more, they are then able to start turning on balls. Usually there’s more power and production later on down the road.”
The last sentence in Beyeler’s quote was brought up to Chili Davis Sunday, as the first-year Pawtucket hitting coach was asked if the power pantheon truly represents the final frontier for young and impressionable hitters to cross.
“The older you get and the more you develop, you get what I call man strength about you,” Davis started off his explanation. “There are some kids who are naturally strong and have power. As a hitting coach the thing I like to do is not to focus so much on the power, but trusting the power.
“To many young hitters, the power becomes the biggest concern for them,” Davis delved further. “You watch a bunch of highlights on ESPN and what’s never talked about is how pure a hitter is. It’s always about the power, the home runs and the walk-off home runs. It gets into these kids’ heads. Instead of learning how to play team-type baseball, it’s more power oriented and they start getting outside of themselves and start swinging harder.”
The author of 350 major-league homers in 19 seasons, Davis was then asked specifically about a few of his current pupils. Josh Reddick fits the profile as someone who may have discovered another power realm in 2011. The outfielder tops Pawtucket with 12 home runs, all coming in the season’s first two months. Listed at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Reddick has always been described as an aggressive hitter with sneaky power, the kind that could translate into the sum being greater than the parts.
“The bat speed he has, which to me is what produces the power more than the raw strength … it all comes from bat speed,” Davis said. “I think Reddick should be more of a .290 hitter and hit a lot of doubles. The potential to hit 20-25 home runs, maybe later in his career 30 home runs, is there. The most important thing for Josh is to make his approach less effort and more under control.”
Once that happens, Davis believes the .224 batting average Reddick carried into play Sunday will be a distant memory. “For a young hitter, hitting home runs in bunches can work against you. They lose a discipline they had when they hit those 12 home runs.”
Davis chose to label Anderson “a line drive hitter,” which totally goes against the perception that he’s supposed to wield a big stick and mash at a clip behooving his 6-foot-5 frame. In his second season in Pawtucket, Anderson has compiled 15 doubles, one triple and four home runs in 215 plate appearances – a slugging percentage of .409. With the PawSox last season Anderson slugged at a .428 clip.
“Lars can hit balls out of any part of the ballpark. So can Reddick and (catcher) Luis Exposito,” Davis. said. “We have some guys here who can exploit their own power, but not in trying to. They can find out a lot about their power just by hitting the ball hard and hitting line drives.”
Retracing his own steps to the big leagues, Davis traveled back to 1980. As a 20-year-old he hit .294 with 12 home runs in 129 games with Shreveport, then the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. That particular campaign taught Davis “more about myself as a hitter than any other year in the minor leagues. I hit the ball hard all year, but I just didn’t get it in the air. We had a terrible ballclub and no one pitched to me. I was the fourth hitter in the lineup and (opposing teams) weren’t going to let me beat them.”
Davis rebounded in a major way with Triple-A Phoenix in 1981, belting 19 homers with 75 RBI in 88 games. His average (.350) and slugging (.605) were off the charts, figures that no doubt paved the way for him to become a regular fixture in San Francisco’s lineup starting in 1982.
The importance of stringing together a season of quality work represents the crux of Davis’ message to Reddick and Anderson. That and that alone will determine where their respective careers take them upon leaving McCoy Stadium.
“Lars and Josh need to show this league that they are good hitters, not just power hitters. It’s all about putting together a consistent year here at Triple-A,” Davis said.