While we were visiting Kannapolis earlier this month for four games, we conducted a number of interviews. We already published our Q&A with the pitchers and their coaches. This article has highlights from interviews with five hitters and their Hitting Coach.
This was a two-writer effort. Matt Cassidy interviewed Dismuke and Booker, while I interviewed the other four hitters…
Hitting Coach Jamie Dismuke
FS: Last year you were in AA, and now you are in A-ball. What do you see as the differences in what issues are typical between hitters at the two levels? Are there themes around what they tend to be working on that differs?
JD: Obviously, these are kids that are out of high school, college, and of course the guys in AA have been around for a while. So they are able to make adjustments faster than these guys [Class A hitters] are. They repeat their swings at the higher levels, and adjust at an at-bat to at-bat situation. Here, you might get one good swing and three bad ones. It’s just repetition, and little simple things like that.
FS: I want to ask you about Micker Adolfo. Last year he had some injuries and missed some playing time, but this year he seems to have made a leap. He looks quicker to the ball. What adjustments has he made to get him to where he is now?
JD: Quite honestly, I didn’t get to see him much last year. But for the most part this year, he’s doing what we talked about earlier. He’s repeating his swing, he’s getting ready on time. When you’re synced up and the timing is good, the swing is going to work. But he’s much better even from Spring Training.
FS: For some of our readers that don’t get to watch games, all they see are the numbers. So, who on this team is better than their numbers might suggest? Who you think they should watch for regardless of current results?
JD: I would say [Zach] Remillard. I mean, he should be hitting .350 [NOTE: He was hitting .308 at the time of this interview]. He’s been hitting the ball hard all season long. For me he could easily be hitting .350. But he’s just been lining out to people. He’s had a couple games where he’s missed a barrel, but for the most part he’s been our most consistent guy for barreling the ball up on a daily basis.
FS: One more player to ask about – Joel Booker. He’s a bit new to the radar. What’s your take on him as a hitter?
JD: He’s a pleasant surprise. He can play the outfield, he has a good arm, and he can run. He can flat-out fly. Gary Ward [AZL and spring camp hitting coach] told me hey, you’re going to be surprised, because he’s a game changer. When he gets on he can steal second, steal third, and next thing you know we’re up 1-0. He is definitely a game changer.
2B Mitch Roman
FS: You went to Sinclair Community College out of high school. How did you end up at Wright State?
MR: Out of high school I was just a smaller kid, not many four year schools wanted to take a chance on me. They gave me walk-on offers but I wasn’t willing to take a walk-on offer because I wanted to play. Sinclair saw me at a showcase one day and I thought I’ll give it a try (with baseball). If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go to a four year school and try to find a job out of school. Fortunately Sinclair worked for me and I did pretty well there and Wright State and Indiana State were the two schools that offered me to go there. Wright State had a really good track record of producing players and they were good the year before so I thought lets give it a shot. It ended being the best two years I ever spent at Wright State. My sophomore and junior year we were Horizon League champs and went to the regional finals.
FS: What was the draft process like for you?
MR: I wasn’t really on the radar until halfway through the season when all these scouts started to come out and see me and our catcher, Sean Murphy, who is with Oakland Athletics. I was producing and putting up good numbers, but Sean helped me because he got all those scouts out to our games. Next thing you know June came around, and I had an adviser at the time who is now my agent, he told me I have a good shot of going day 2 top 10 rounds. That didn’t happen, but I wasn’t bummed, it was all about the opportunity of being drafted and live my life. There was a point where I didn’t think I would play baseball anymore because of the whole junior college thing. I stuck with it and in my heart I knew something good is going to happen because my whole life I’ve been proving people wrong and its something that has fallen into place during my journey.
FS: You’ve had a great start to the year, what’s the biggest factor to your success?
MR: As you move up in this game, you have to have more on an approach. Last year I was in-and-out of approaches, I didn’t know what type of player I was just getting used to pro ball. This year I’ve really stuck to up the middle and right field approach and swinging at good pitches. The pitchers are getting better and better as you go up, so you gotta start knowing what they are going to throw and different pitch selections. The biggest thing I have been working on is my mental game, my approach of taking pitches up the middle and taking things slow.
FS: You played some SS and 2B last year, do you have a preference on where you play defensive?
MR: Whatever I can get in the lineup for, honestly, anything I can do to help the team win I am for it. If its first base, third base, outfield, catcher, I don’t care, I just want to play. The only way to move up in this game is to play, so if I am on the field I am happy. I even played a game in left field last year. Fish went down with a injury and we didn’t have anyone else to go out there. Tommy [his manager Tommy Thompson] asked if I could play outfield and I told him I’ll play wherever you want me to play. It was fun, I enjoyed it a lot.
FS: You and Mike Morrison were part of the Coastal Carolina team that won the NCAA Championship. Could you take us through that whole experience?
ZR: It was something special. That team, you don’t find that your whole life you play on a number of different teams, the kind of bond we had, that kind of make-up. It just seemed to be a team of destiny, all the pieces fit together and we worked well as a unit. It was crazy, a lot of fun, and something I’ll never forget. Everyone loves to call us the underdog, but I think we gave inspiration to a lot of people out there that feel like underdogs. For us, we never felt that way. We took it a pitch at a time and knew we had some talent that was overlooked, and we had guys that were willing to compete, so we went into each game with an optimistic mindset and it paid off.
FS: While you were on your championship run with Coastal, you were drafted by the White Sox. Did you know the White Sox were looking at you?
ZR: Yeah I did. I was in touch with a couple teams and as day two was winding down we were at LSU coming off a practice and I was checking out their football field. When I walked into the stadium I got a call from a scout, Kevin Burrell (White Sox area scout), he told the White Sox were going to draft me in the upcoming round. I was filled with emotion and excitement and just to be with the guys I love with that team, it was just icing on the cake to have all that come together.
The next day when Mike (Morrison) got drafted by the White Sox, our team was actually at a pool hall. I’m not sure if thats where he got the call exactly, I know we had a lot of guys waiting for calls that day. When we found out he got picked up by the White Sox we were ecstatic. We tried to contain it because there was a couple of other players on the board and we tried to make sure we considered everyone. But everyone ended up getting signed or drafted that was eligible for the most part. That team was special and it was a for sure a special moment.
FS: You’ve preformed really well this year, what is feeling good and what has been your approach to achieve that success?
ZR: The biggest thing is in college I was more of a power guy, my strikeouts were high, and I didn’t really have a approach or game plan, and I had a lot of movement in my swing. I got to instructional league after last season and got with Gelly (Mike Gellinger, Hitting Coordinator) and he simplified some things and I’ve been working on it ever since. As I progress with that simplification process, I found myself able to see the ball better, establish a zone, and be on time more consistently. Its still a work in progress and I am truly finding an identity in it, because I’ve done something else for so long. But so far its been great and thats why you get 400-500 at bats a season, things don’t always roll your way but you can only do what you can do.
FS: So you have changed your swing mechanically since last year?
ZR: Yes. My swing with Coastal, not that its a completely different swing, but there is completely different movements. I had a big leg kick and a bat tilt and we just cleaned a lot of things up to simplify it.
FS: I know the stats aren’t where you’d like them, but how are you feeling with your swing and your approach?
JF: It has been a bit of a rough go the past couple weeks, I had a good start. I’m not freaking out or anything like that, I am playing with a few things in the cage, trying to get comfortable again. Thats just the way baseball is, you can go a couple weeks, comfortable in the box, and the ball comes in looking like a beach ball. Then the next day you feel like you hitting with your opposite hand. Its just a rhythm thing I am working on in the cage, nothing too big, it will come and I just have to grind through it.
FS: How are you feeling health-wise? I know you had some injuries in the off-season. Has anything carried over into the season?
JF: No, its nothing physical. Just like any other baseball player I have nicks, but nothing that would affect my performance. I feel healthy so far.
FS: I have seen you play couple times here and the biggest thing I’ve noticed if your defense. Routes are good, showing off a plus arm, how do you feel in the outfield this year compared to last?
JF: I’d say that is the proudest area I have right now, my outfield play. From last year to this year, I feel like a completely different player in the outfield. I don’t panic anymore like I used to, and there has only been one ball that I misplayed on a tough day. Other then that, I’ve been making some great plays and getting good jumps. I felt like working with Aaron Roward a lot and Willie Harris last year in Great Falls has helped a lot. Every time that Rowand comes here we are out in the outfield working. I feel like that has helped a lot, I feel so much better in the outfield. I’ll take struggling hitting right now over the strides I’ve made in the outfield.
I’ve been told one of the biggest improvements I need to make is outfield. So if I struggle all year or not, the bat will be there. I have confidence in my bat and in my ability and thats the reason I am here honestly. I feel like I can make strides in the outfield and become an every day capable outfielder at the next level, the bat will be there.
FS: You have had some bad luck with injuries the past couple years and you are preforming so well this year. How do you feel?
MA: I feel good. Its definitely a good feeling to feel healthy and you see what I am doing on the field. That has come from help with great coaches and all the good guys we have in this organization with so much experience.
FS: Have you made any changes to your swing? It looks more compact to me compared to last year.
MA: I got myself a nice routine that I started with in instructional league last year. I do a wide base drill, thats my first drill of the day, to get my hands going. Then I go to a narrow base drill, thats for separation, then side flips, tee work, ball toss, then I go into batting practice. I am focusing on being centered, balanced, and on time, you have to be on time.
FS: I noticed last night you almost beat out a routine ground ball to the shortstop. Do you feel faster this year?
MA: Yeah! I dropped some weight, ten pounds in the off-season. I worked a lot on the beach on my agility and my conditioning, so I think its showing up in games.
OF Joel Booker
FS: Talking about base stealing a bit, since that’s something you’ve done a lot of… Aside from just natural speed, what makes you successful at that? What techniques or approach are you using to be effective doing that?
JB: So first, since I am quick enough, I don’t get as far off the base as most people get. When I take my lead I take three steps, put my weight on the inside of my left leg, and I’m always thinking ‘I’m going’. Then that way if he picks off, my natural reaction is to go, but I still have enough time to get back. If I was to take a couple feet more, then I’m going to get picked off. So therefore by thinking going, as soon as I get a good read that he’s going to the plate, then I’ve hopefully gotten a good enough jump to hopefully steal second. At second, I was taught to always keep my feet moving, and kind of shuffle to get started. That way when he goes to the plate you’re already in your running form. So that’s how I do second, and try to steal third.
FS: Leaving speed and steals aside – let’s assume for a second you have average speed, even though we know you don’t – what’s the strongest tool you feel you bring to the table?
JB: I’d probably say my defense. I like to think I’m pretty smart and have good routes in the outfield. Knowing where to be and how to align the guys. This year is actually my first year being responsible for alignment of other outfielders. I listen to the coaches. [Roving Instructor Aaron] Rowand put a lot of emphasis on center fielders taking charge. I’d say I’ve gotten a lot better at aligning the left fielder and right fielder, moving them into better spaces.
FS: Continuing on that, and when you are making those decisions, do you know the hitters that are coming to the plate? Or is it more about your outfield compadres?
JB: It’s who’s pitching, and the hitter. Like if we have Hansen on the mound, we are more likely to play oppo. But if we have someone who can catch up to and pull Hansen’s fastball, like number 8  for Asheville can, then we’ll play him more to the pull side. It depends. Recently we would do it where I would play to whatever side we all played. But with Fish [Jameson Fisher] I can give him more leeway, or even Micker, because they are both quick enough to cover both the gap and the line. Then with my speed in center we can also cover the gaps that way. When Rowand came, he wants us to give them either the line or the gap. So we’ve mostly been taking away the gaps and giving them the lines, because not many people are going to hit the line.
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