I had the great pleasure to talk with the recently promoted Adam Engel about his breakout AFL, his rollercoaster 2016 season, and the art of stealing a base. Engel hit .361/.425/.569 in his last sixteen games for the Barons to earn a promotion to the AAA Charlotte Knights just after we interviewed the outfielder. We also have some videos embedded below, to illustrate some of the changes that Engel is describing…
Q: You had an unbelievable Arizona Fall League (won AFL MVP, .403/.523/.642), could you talk about that whole experience?
A: It was definitely an incredible experience. Even outside of the performance, it was cool to get around some really good players and see how other guys go about their business. The competition level is so high and every player wants to compete against the best so I definitely enjoyed that. On the field, I got to experiment with some new stuff while I was out there. Really I got to work on some things that you want to work on during the season, but it’s not quite that easy. When you get to a league like that, you can get uncomfortable and try new things. I found some stuff that I liked and I continued to have conversations with the White Sox about my approach to stay consistent out there. At the end of day it worked for me and I was able to put together a good stretch out there. Most importantly, I just was having fun and I think that’s a huge part of playing this game.
Q: After all that momentum from the AFL, you started off slow in Birmingham and were sent back down to Winston-Salem. What were the causes of some of your early season struggles?
A: I went to Spring Training and got to work with a lot of different guys and they had some different ideas on what I needed to be working on. I was trying to implement some of those things and take into the season and just struggled early. I don’t want to blame it on one thing or the other, but what I was doing at the plate just wasn’t consistent. I would have a good game here or there but then string together a few hitless nights and it can be a quick downward spiral once you start struggling. But you have to try to pull yourself out of that and get yourself comfortable and I’ve be able to find something here as of late that feels good that the White Sox recommended. It has been helping out a lot and I am at a place now that I can work on the same thing every day and stay as consistent as possible.
White Sox Hitting Coach Todd Steverson working with Adam Engel on eliminating some of the pre-swing movement, which is still evident in his batting practice (Video from South Side Sox via the White Sox).
Q: What did the White Sox recommend that has been helping?
A: I had a pre-swing move, that I was even using in the Fall League, that wasn’t very consistent. In the Fall League I was trying to find a rhythm before I got into my swing and that was what I was working on in camp this year, getting myself ready to hit. I was experimenting with some stuff and during the season, I wasn’t loading the same way every time. I really liked the rhythm I had in the Fall League but it just wasn’t consistent and it was hard to go out and have a sound approach when you are thinking mechanically. Here recently I have worked to minimize the movement to create rhythm, if that makes any sense. I make a smaller rhythmic move before I start my swing and that’s been helping. When you have a big move you have to focus more on linking up with the pitchers delivery. When it is smaller, you can start a little later and still be on time and you can be wrong and still have time to adjust and be ready.
Engel hitting a double for the Barons on July 9th of this year. His hands are much quieter and has a less pronounced bat waggle pre-swing. He is quicker to the ball in his swing compared to the video taken in Spring Training (Video courtesy of Minor League Baseball).
Q: When you were sent down to Winston-Salem, you were reunited with your hitting coach from all of last year, Charlie Poe. Did the familiarity help with those adjustments?
A: C-Poe was my hitting coach in Great Falls and I had him last year as well. He knows what he is talking about and what I like routine-wise and the drills to do. He is awesome and the Birmingham hitting coach Jamie Dismuke is awesome as well. I don’t want to say that a change in a hitting coach got me back on track as much as it was going back to the basics and trying to find something that familiar. When I was sent down, I knew was struggling, but I wasn’t really sure what I was trying to do. When I got sent down the White Sox said you need to work on this, this and this and it was just C-Poe and I got to work. It wasn’t like C-Poe had something that Jamie didn’t. As soon as I was brought back to Birmingham, C-Poe and Jamie had a conversation about what I was working on and Jamie picked up right where C-Poe left off. The White Sox wanted to make sure the message was consistent from level-to-level and just continue to work at the same thing.
Q: What else are you currently working on?
A: At first I was trying to quiet down my rhythm and not get too jumpy. I was hitting a lot of fly balls, especially up in the count, so now trying to focus on not missing under and when I do get my pitch to make it a line drive. Its an evolution, starting from what they thought was messing with me and build on it from there. Now it has gotten to the point where things are working well on the mechanical side now its making sure I am in a consistent position to start my swing. It has been a long road but I am here and I am happy where I am at.
Q: You led the Carolina League last season in stolen bases and swiped 37 more bags so far this year. Can you take me through your process of stealing a base?
A: Normally, especially when we have played a team before, I have an idea of a leg lift time or what part of his body moves first either towards the plate or a pick-off move. So I have an idea before I even get to first base of what I can look for. When I am at first, it is a feel thing with a big consideration being the game situation. Depending on if it is a lefty or righty at the plate, the count, the game score, all these things. I try to pick up grips, pitchers can give away what pitch they are about to throw depending on how they are holding the ball. A lot of it is how his body language looks, where he is looking, if he stiffens before he try a pick-off or loosens when he is going to the plate. All that is under a microscope, when I am on first I am really focused in on the pitcher and looking for anything that would give me an advantage. Other times there are times where the game says you gotta run here and you have to just out-run the ball.
Q: You are regarded as a excellent center fielder. How much pride do you take in your defense?
A: My defense is my first love of the game that I really enjoy. I didn’t start playing the outfield until I was a freshmen in college and that point on I knew I needed to work because I was so far behind all the other outfielders. My outfield coach in college (Louisville) really taught me how to get better, what to do to get better, and how to get prepared. From that point on I took a lot pride in that. It is kind of nice starting from scratch when you are older because you haven’t developed any bad habits yet and you don’t have to unlearn anything. I used to play shortstop in high school so I had to learn game situations in the outfield which are completely different. I still remember the first couple balls I had to run a long way for in college and thinking how awesome it was. It reminded me of football in a way, running underneath the ball and making the catch. It is something that I really, really enjoy doing and the biggest thing is that I am helping my team.
***For more info on Engel, read our prospect profile here***
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