Kenny Williams hasn't played professional baseball in 20 years, so he can be forgiven a bit for the two swings he took in front of his team at Camelback Ranch. In his career, Williams hit .218.269.339 with 27 home runs in 451 career games, spending time with the White Sox, Tigers, Blue Jays and Expos.
Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional.
Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable?
“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said.
But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight.
“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”
Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)
And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:
For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:
Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:
But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?
“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions.
“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”
The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS. But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22.
There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out.
“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.”
First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.
Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”
“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”
The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.
The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.
News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.
“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”
The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.
“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”
Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.
Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.
“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”
“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”