Steverson aims for common ground with White Sox hitters

Steverson aims for common ground with White Sox hitters
February 21, 2014, 12:00 pm
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Todd Steverson has a significant task ahead this spring of getting familiar with an entirely new batch of hitters.

But after more than two decades coaching in a variety of roles for the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland A’s, the White Sox new hitting coach has his priorities established.

First and foremost, Steverson — who was hired in October to take over after Jeff Manto was dismissed — has to be able to find common ground with each of his hitters. There’s no question he eventually needs to know each player’s swing and how it works. But Steverson’s experience working with numerous players as the A’s roving minor-league hitting instructor the past two seasons tells him he needs to be on the same level when it comes to terminology.

“The key is to be inquisitive,” Steverson said. “He’s the one hitting. You’ve got to ask, ‘What does that mean to you?’ Or if you tell me something, a baseball term, I need to know what that means to you.”

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Many of the team’s younger players had a chance to work with Steverson during January’s mini-hitters camp. Along with several days working in the cage, Steverson used the opportunity to discuss his selective-aggressiveness theory. The dedication and thirst Steverson has for his craft didn’t take long to make an impression on several players who attended.

“It’s been a lot of passion,” outfielder Adam Eaton said in January. “I wish I could bottle up some of his (instructional) talks. … Just the inspiration, fury and grittiness to his game, and how he goes about it hitting. His whole mentality is awesome.”

Said prospect Micah Johnson: “He’s probably the perfect guy for this. He connects with every single person.”

Johnson had a chance to work with Steverson again in Chicago last month when the two were in town for SoxFest.

The second baseman said he likes how Steverson is more focused on the mental versus the mechanical. He said Steverson’s approach allows him to feel better as a hitter. Johnson said he and Marcus Semien went through several rounds of batting practice with Steverson before the coach suggested a power round where he wanted each player to focus on hitting the ball as hard as they could.

“Stay loose, have fun, breathe and try to hit balls hard,” Johnson said. “That’s all you need really sometimes is just to simplify things. If we want to talk about mechanics we can talk about that all day. That can really get in some people’s heads.”

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Simplification is a big key, especially when it comes to terminology.

One hitting term could have entirely different meanings for a coach and a player, Semien said. For Steverson, that means talking to each player in depth to find out what they’ve been taught. When it comes to communication, the man players have come to call “Trick” feels more than confident he can find common ground with his players.

“I do a pretty good job of communicating and talking with the guys about not only baseball, but what's going on in their life,” Steverson said. “They're human beings. I think people forget the fact that these players are human beings. They got wives, they got kids, they're from somewhere, they like certain kinds of music and certain things like that. … That’s the way you start to get to understand who these players are, what they believe in or being able to get on the road of changing their mindset.”