(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thanks to Periodico JIT)
This content can also be found on WorldBaseballExperience.com, founded and operated by this column’s author, Nick Holmes.
Part one of this series, on the general differences between Latin and U.S. players, can be found right here.
When it comes to hitters, you will hear a lot of talk around the cages from scouts, hitting coaches and other players that Latin hitters all look the same. Yes, I know that is a broad statement. Of course, there are exceptions and not everyone is precisely the same. Let’s go ahead and snuff that comment out before it flames too high. I will say a “high percentage” of hitters born in Latin American countries have a similar display of athleticism in their approach.
We don’t need the opinion versus fact police infiltrating the comment section before I even get started.
There is quite a bit of evidence in more than a few young hitters that show high hands and elbow, open stance with a lot of movement in the upper and lower half, aggressive and at the same time “loosey- goosey.” Visually, the parts appear to move independently of each other, and somehow all come together in the end; beautifully choreographed.
Latin hitters rely on their tools to stand out more than game IQ. More than the intricacies of hitting 101. Feel good, get in there and hack. Show us what you got kid. It can be traced back to education. There is a gap in the level of learning. We know this. When you have more knowledge to work with, you have an advantage of progressing faster. More substantial strides in growth emerge. If the instruction is lacking and the information is unattainable there ceases to be any expectation of profound advancement or evolution in the process. There is also something to be said in ignorance is bliss.
It’s energetic. It’s flashy.
Hitters from the U.S. appear mechanically poised; tight but fluid from the bottom to the top in their stance. Similar to well-oiled cogs in a machine. Everything moves in sync, one link in the kinetic chain at a time. You see it ripple through the body and explode through the extension and finish as if powered on steam and pressure.
It’s forceful. It’s polished.
Repetition and constant improvement with minor mechanical adjustments create consistency among U.S. hitters that increase efficiency and productivity. They are used to hearing terms like load, rotation, linear movement, tall backside, etc. They are driven to the perfection of fundamentals first, and then encouraged to master those mechanics.
The Two Common Differences
I inquired within my circle of influence before writing this. I asked friends that are currently invested in the development of professional hitters both foreign and domestic. The consensus came back and the two differences that seemed to be of popular opinion were…[drum roll]
Approach and mechanics.
Both are learned at the root of the mental process. How do hitters think in regards to approach and mechanics? It goes back to the amount of coaching and game speed at-bats they are experiencing (see part 1). When you get to see a lot of pitches at game speed it allows the hitter to recognize and develop a pattern to be analyzed. Then, an approach to attack that pattern can be outlined or prepared. Educated hitters are also learning the tendencies of the pitchers they face. Successful hitters are schooled on how a pitcher wants to get them out. Pitchers want to get ahead in the count. They aim to keep the hitter off balance. Acquiring knowledge and retaining information going into the battle puts you in a much better position to win the battle.
Having an approach before getting into the box – before the on-deck circle; before sitting in the dugout; before BP in early work – makes every day that you pick up a bat important.
Relying on and trusting the approach, you have designed to execute the plan of attack. Pitch by pitch that plan may alter. Possessing the understanding of flexibility and when it needs to be used helps in this situation. Making adjustments when the plan is not working or deciding to trust it enough to stick with it above all costs could be the answer. I don’t know the answer. I do know that you must have some feel and ability to swing the bat somewhat mechanically sound. I am also convinced that wanting to get a hit is not an approach.
Hope is not a plan.
Preparation is a lot of work. To some hitters and coaches maybe even a lot of BS. Some may say that thinking can do more damage than good.
“Don’t think; it hurts the ballclub.” – Crash Davis.
Many may argue that having no plan at all and relying solely on raw instincts and athletic ability frees your mind from all the noise and you can relax and react quickly without hesitation. If you are thinking about your stride or your hands you can’t focus on the ball. Therefore hindering your chances of making any contact at all.
See ball, hit ball.
Again, I am not 100 percent convinced of either school of thought. I would also add that it doesn’t matter where you were born at some point you have to be self-aware enough to know what works for you. I will let you decide which one is more deserving of trial and error.
I Call Roberto Clemente
Kids grow up watching their heroes play the game, and they want to be like them. It is no surprise that today’s heroes in Latin America like Jose Altuve, Big Papi, Adrian Beltre or in the States; Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Giancarlo Stanton are rubbing off on the youth.
Did those hitters copy their heroes? Something tells me they did at some point in their life.
Ask any player past or present, and I would bet they will give you the name of the guy they always “called” in that backyard wiffle ball game or home run derby – the swing they imitated; the guy they wanted to be.
I call Roberto Clemente.
I wonder who Big Papi called?
Hmmm. Maybe this guy?