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Dalton Pompey – Improving and adjusting as an MLB Hitter

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Mar 3, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Dalton Pompey (23) at bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Dalton Pompey (23) at bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Dalton Pompey showed some solid adjustments last fall and the Toronto Blue Jays are hoping he carries that over into the 2016 season.

After a 2014 season that saw him post his best minor league numbers across three levels, have success in his September cameo, and a successful trip to the Arizona Fall League, Dalton Pompey entered the 2015 season with inflated expectations and tons of hype.

Those expectations placed upon the 22-year-old by the fans and media were incredibly large for a player with a total of 39 major league AB’s, and he was basically penciled in as the starting CF during spring.

Pompey went on to struggle in April, lose the CF job to Pillar, and spend the majority of the year in AA and AAA. Largely due to those far-fetched expectations, his season was deemed as a disappointment, and the hype he garnered for himself has disappeared early on in spring training.

He’s said to be “competing” for the LF job with Michael Saunders, but the general consensus from fans and media sees him starting in AAA, and he’s not even in the discussion for the leadoff spot. Personally, I think he should be strongly considered for that LF spot over Saunders and should be given more of an opportunity to be the leadoff man, as his skillset is the most optimal for the job. However, that’s a different discussion.

The lack of hype and attention towards Pompey is a product of the fans short attention span and the media’s tendency to get overly focused on the new things in camp (see Kevin Pillar last spring – not much hype in spring, but went on to put up a 5 WAR year). In reality, Pompey comes into this season with the same skillset, the one that had everyone excited last year, more experience and success at the upper level of the minors, and more time in the major leagues. Yea, he struggled last year in April, and there are areas of his game that need refinement, but the same could be said for every young player; what he needs is an opportunity. In order to use that opportunity, he needs to make some important adjustments. 

Whenever a young player gets sent down to the minor leagues after struggling, you look for a couple different things during their time back in the minor leagues. First of all, you obviously want to see success. That wasn’t an issue for Pompey, who slashed .351/.405/.545/.950 (175 wRC+) at AA through 148 PA’s. He didn’t show the same kind of extra base power following his call-up to AAA as he only hit 1 HR, but his plate discipline was fantastic with a 12.2 BB% and 13.9 K%. He slashed .285/.372/.356/.728 (114 wRC+) in 295 PA’s.

Secondly, you look for a young player to make the necessary adjustments after finding out what areas of their game needs improvement. These could potentially be mechanical changes, or adjustments with regards to his approach at the plate. I’ve gone through Pompey’s AB’s from both April and September/October during his time with the Jays last year in order to try and find some key differences. I looked at Pompey from the left side of the dish, as this is where the majority of his AB’s will come from.

The first thing I saw from Pompey’s AB’s in April was an inconsistent load. He employs a leg kick, but at times he would bring his leg up, then tap his toe, then bring it back up before starting his swing. At other times he would just simply lift his front foot up before planting to begin his swing. An inconsistent load is going to adverse effects on a hitter’s timing, and this is something I didn’t see when watching his AB’s in September. So, that’s a simple adjustment that Pompey looks to have found some consistency with.

The next thing I wanted to look at was the way Pompey took pitches. It might not seem like a big indicator of a hitter’s ability, but you can tell a lot about a hitter by looking at the way he takes a pitch.

Take1
Take1 /

Game 1: April 11, 2015 @ Baltimore – Sequence 1 / Acquired from mlb.com

In this screenshot from April 11, 2015 in Baltimore, you can see how Pompey is way out on his front side. This fastball from Ubaldo Jimenez is no where near the zone, yet Pompey looks like he’s about to take a hack at it. His front leg collapses way too early, his hands leak toward the plate, and his hips start to rotate well before he plans on starting his swing. When you see a hitter lunging towards the ball it’s never a good thing, especially when you’re not planning on actually swinging.

When a hitters front side is heavy and their hands leak towards the plate, they’re going to be susceptible to offspeed pitches and pitches on the outer half. Their hands will be arriving way too early because their body is way out in front of the pitch. Even the best of hitters get fooled and end up way on their front side, but you’ll see them keep their hands back, and that can help them still have a chance at making good contact. When Pompey’s hands move forward with his body, the chances of him making good contact are extremely slim, especially against an offspeed pitch or pitch running away from him.

Watch Josh Donaldson, or Jose Bautista take a pitch. You’ll rarely see them heavy on their front side. Something that really impressed me about Devon Travis in his rookie year was the way took pitches. Very soft on his front side and his hands are super quiet, giving him the opportunity to have success on all pitches and locations. Very impressive from a young player.

The good news about Pompey, from what I’ve seen while looking at his AB’s from September, is that he was consistently doing a much better job of taking pitches. Much quieter with his front side and his hands stayed in a strong hitting position.

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Struggling in this regard could be a mechanical issue, but it could also be happening due to the circumstances or mental state of a hitter. As a rookie who was thrusted into a starting role, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was pressing and anxious at the plate. That could have very well been something that was forcing him to be uncomfortable at the plate. There’s probably no way to know for sure, but it’s good to see that it’s not a big issue anymore.

Following that, I moved on to the finer points of his swing. While there were some improvements, I still saw some concerning trends when looking at Pompey’s mechanics when swinging at pitches away from him and on offspeed pitches.

Swing1
Swing1 /

Game 1: April 11, 2015 @ Baltimore – Sequence 2 / Acquired from mlb.com

Swing2
Swing2 /

Game 2: October 1, 2015 @ Baltimore – Sequence 2 / Acquired from mlb.com

The first picture is from the same at bat against Jimenez I discussed earlier, and the second one is from an AB on October 1 in Baltimore. I used the same ballpark in order to get the same camera view, and used nearly identical pitches in order to gauge a fair comparison. Both pitches are fastballs running low and away from Pompey.

This is moment right before Pompey begins his swing, and there’s a couple important things to note. His front leg is a slightly less bent, and he’s got less weight on that leg. You can also see his back foot isn’t coming off the ground as much. This suggests that he isn’t lunging at the pitch quite as much, and he’s more balanced at the plate. Keeping his weight back also gives him the ability to hit the ball with more authority as he has more weight going towards the pitch when he begins to rotate. This is a good sign.

Another thing to note is his hand placement. You can tell that they’re a little higher based on the angle in which the bat is sitting behind his helmet. As I mentioned earlier, keeping your hands higher gives you a better chance of making good contact, even if your body is out front.

These are good adjustments from Pompey, and they’re important for his future. However, the next set of pictures looks at an area that needs further refinement.

Follow1
Follow1 /

Game 1: April 11, 2015 @ Baltimore – Sequence 3 / Acquired from mlb.com

Follow2
Follow2 /

Game 2: October 1, 2015 @ Baltimore – Sequence 3 / Acquired from mlb.com

The last thing I wanted to look at was Pompey’s follow through. In the AB in October, he hit a double to left field. It was the prettiest double, but since he had his hands back he was able to barrel the ball by flicking his wrists at the ball despite having his weight lunging over his front leg.

But this represents the byproduct of the issues I’ve laid out while analyzing these screenshots. He’s dramatically over his front side on his follow through because he’s way out in front of the pitch. In the AB from October, he was able to use his hands that he kept back to barrel the ball, but it’s not a recipe for success moving forward. He’s going to have a very hard time with offspeed pitches, and hitting the ball to the opposite field with any sort of authority if he continues to be falling on his front leg, which in turn, causes him to over-rotate his hips.

As a left-handed hitter, his hard hit % is 42.9% while pulling the ball, 31.6% to centre, and 27.8% when hitting to the opposite field. He clearly has very good hands, and his bat speed is excellent when he turns on a fastball, but he will continue to be exploited by major league pitching if he can’t use the whole field and adapt to offspeed pitches by fixing these mechanical issues.

From what I’ve seen, he has improved in this regard, but there’s still plenty of adjustments to be made. The best major league players are constantly making small adjustments in order to continually improve their craft. That’s become evident on the Blue Jays, as many of their top players are always making changes.

For the rest of the spring in the televised AB’s, I’ll be looking to see if he has furthered his improvement in these regards. His only home run of the spring came off a curveball, which is an excellent sign.

ST1
ST1 /

March 4, 2016 @ Dunedin / Acquired from mlb.com

ST2
ST2 /

March 4, 2016 @ Dunedin / Acquired from mlb.com

As you can see in the first screenshot, Pompey does a terrific job of keeping his weight back and hands high here while recognizing curveball. If he had lunged forward and dropped his hands before recognizing breaking ball like we saw early in 2015, there’s no way he drills this ball to right field. Furthermore, keeping a light front foot allowed him to transfer all that weight towards the ball when he began his rotation, and his good hand position allowed him to drop the barrel on the ball with authority.

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This is just one example of a successful AB, and it’s a terrific sign for Pompey and the Blue Jays, but we still do need to see some consistency in this regard.
Pompey is an athletic kid who has terrific hands at the plate. His plate discipline is strong, he’s good fairly good pop, and his bat speed is terrific. He has a bright future in this game, but in order to take advantage of the inevitable opportunity he will receive with the Jays, he will need to continually make adjustments and clean up his mechanics in order to hit major league pitching consistently.

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