Jerry Dipoto was certainly busy over Thanksgiving weekend. Two trades bracketing the long weekend gave the Mariners’ a number of new players to integrate into the organization. Jean Segura grabbed all the headlines in the trade with Arizona right before Thanksgiving, but it seems like everyone else is talking about Mitch Haniger. Over on FanGraphs, both Dave Cameron and Jeff Sullivan highlighted Haniger as a piece with unexpected potential. Much of that newfound upside was driven by a number of changes Haniger made to his swing over the last year or so.
As detailed by Diamondbacks beat writer Nick Piecoro, Haniger started tinkering with his swing after being demoted to High-A to get more consistent playing time. From Piecoro:
“For Haniger, the changes were borne from a question: Why was it that other hitters who weren’t as big or as strong as he was were able to drive the ball to the opposite field with more authority? He began studying swings of players like Josh Donaldson and A.J. Pollock and read up on the hitting philosophies of Bobby Tewksbary, a coach who helped both of those hitters develop into All-Stars.”
You can immediately see why Jerry Dipoto would be enamored with Haniger. Dipoto has spoken on many occasions about valuing players with a high baseball IQ—players who understand and study the game deeply. It’s obvious Haniger has that kind of character Dipoto has sought out. So what exactly did Haniger change in his swing?
Below are two gifs of Haniger at the plate, the first from 2013 and the second from 2016.
The differences are striking. Before the pitch is delivered, Haniger is now standing taller in the batter’s box. As the pitch is delivered, he’s incorporated a leg kick into his swing and his hands are loaded in a much lower position. At the point of contact, his lower half is more balanced as his weight transfer is timed much better.
From that same Piecoro story, Haniger spoke about the difference his new swing mechanics made for his approach at the plate:
“I feel like now I’m able to recognize pitches better. I can make up my mind whether to swing or not later than I have in the past because my swing is deeper in the zone. I’m able to stay off close pitches. It’s easier for me to use all fields and to see pitches better.”
The addition of a leg kick to his swing provides a timing mechanism for him but the bigger change that really propelled his development was what he was doing with his hands. This YouTube clip from Baseball America gives us a great look at his hands before making his adjustments:
Watch his hands as he loads up to swing. He gets them back but they stay high. The motion looks a little awkward because it’s rigid—it doesn’t give him an ability to adjust to varying speeds. The changes are a little harder to demonstrate because there isn’t any footage from a similar angle after he made the changes. The best look I could find is from his first hit in the majors:
Look at where his hands are as the pitch is delivered. They’re much lower and his motion looks a lot more fluid. In this particular example, he’s hitting a 90 mph slider off Noah Syndergaard, one of the nastiest pitches in the majors. Haniger was able to recognize the pitch and drive it with power to the opposite field.
The real test for Haniger—like any young player—is to continue making adjustments as pitchers begin to exploit his weaknesses. But for Haniger to ask the questions he was asking and to proactively work on implementing changes speaks volumes about his baseball IQ. When speaking about his time in Seattle, Mark Trumbo readily talked about working with Edgar Martinez to make adjustments to his swing. The changes Trumbo worked on in 2015 and 2016 echo the changes Haniger has already made on his own—limiting wasted movement and working on timing pitches. Those adjustments led, in part, to a career year for Trumbo in 2016. Haniger now has the same opportunity that Trumbo had with Edgar. His willingness to make the adjustments necessary to be a successful major leaguer is obvious. Now comes the hard part.