Swing revolution will take time to reach college ranks

Baseball fans are currently witnessing a revolution among hitters in how they swing the bat.

Conventional baseball wisdom states that a hitter should swing down on a ball, thus creating backspin and helping it fly. This hitting philosophy is taught from T-ball to the major leagues. Players are told that swinging up on the ball can create too much lift and can lead to far more pop-fly outs and weak contact.

But a growing portion of major league coaches and hitters don’t see that strategy as viable. Rather, these new-school minds see the uppercut as the most valuable swing path, which in theory allows for better contact, more balls in the air and keeps the bat in the strike zone longer.

Superstars like the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson have taken to this new approach. “In the big leagues, these things called ground balls are outs,” Donaldson said in an interview last season. “They don’t pay you for ground balls, they pay you for doubles, (and) they pay you for homers.”

Doug Latta is one coach who preaches this new gospel of the uppercut swing. He operates the Ball Yard, a hitting facility in Northridge, CA. Major-league hitters such as Justin Turner and Marlon Byrd have credited Latta as helping them take their swings to the next level. In Turner’s case, it transformed him from a utility player into a middle-of-the-lineup stalwart for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Eventually, you don’t hit in this game, you’re out,” Latta said. “Anyone can take a swing and run into a ball but as you move up, you’ve got to be more consistent.”

Latta is a former high school coach who opened the Ball Yard in 1998 and has since worked with countless baseball and softball players to refine their swings.

“With the right body movement and the right swing plane, the bat will stay in the path of the ball much longer,” he said of the uppercut swing. “And, with the body supporting that swing through, essentially it’s more efficient and it’s more powerful.”

Despite the continuing acceptance of what Latta describes as the “Nike swoosh” hitting philosophy among major leaguers, there is still plenty of push-back among the high school and college ranks.

Head SF State baseball coach Tony Schifano was somewhat skeptical about the movement. He believes that some ballparks are better suited for the uppercut approach, but Maloney Field is not one of them. “I understand why they’re doing it,” he said. “But, you know, the old school is two strikes, shorten up, put the ball in play, good things happen when you put the ball in play.”

Senior outfielder Myles Franklin echoed Schifano’s feelings regarding the Gator’s home park.

“Playing on this field, it’s huge,” Franklin said. “It’s 360 feet to left field — there’s not a lot of home runs here.” The Gators hit 15 home runs in 48 games last season.

Franklin, who stole 14 bases in 14 attempts last season and is 3-3 so far in 2017, despite hitting in the middle of the order, said he doesn’t try for any type of hit specifically.

“I’m not trying to hit a ground ball or hit a ball in the gap, I’m just trying to make the best contact I can,” Franklin said. “If your body is in the right place to hit the baseball and you’re able to put a good swing on the pitch that you want to swing at, you’re going to create that angle naturally if you’ve worked on it enough.”

Latta sees it taking a while before college teams implement hitting philosophies like the one he teaches. “I’m figuring it could take eight to 10 years,” he said. “I think coaches sometimes hold onto their biases or what they think works because they say ‘that’s what I’ve done for all these years.’”

“I will honestly say that I think some tremendous baseball players never get the chance to realize their full potential because of bad swing mechanics,” Latta said. “If you don’t hit, you don’t play. When you’re not hitting, this game’s not a lot of fun.”  

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