What's Up With Upton? Predicting and Fine-Tuning a First Rounder
Yesterday's article focused mainly on identifying a long swing, but what is the opposite of a long swing? Justin Upton. "Quick" was what came to mind while watching swings from his 2005 draft video. But is there such a thing as too quick? Since quickness and bat speed have an inverse relationship, perhaps there is an optimal blend. A closer look at Upton's swing might just reveal an area that determines his level of super-stardom.
Here is a look at one of Upton's pre-draft batting practice swings:
He's quick and baseballs are disappearing over the fence - this is too good to be true! I thought nothing of it until I slowed down some swings and noticed this possible area of concern:
The issue here is that Upton shows signs of taking the swing over with his arms/hands. This is both similar and opposite from what Johnson/Harvey showed. Similar in that the hands/arms take over the swing, but opposite because Johnson/Harvey created an extra swing segment, whereas Upton may be eliminating a more optimal swing segmentation. In simplest terms, when Upton begins pushing with the arms/hands, he does not allow rotational forces produced by the body to be completely transferred to the bat.
Upton, to me, resembles a Rickie Weeks type of player - chosen as "5-tool" middle infielders at the top of the draft. And I am going to skip a step here and add in what I consider to be a good blend quickness and power, Alfonso Soriano, who transfers momentum efficiently from hips to shoulders to bat.
Weeks is on the left and Soriano on the right, along with a game swing of Upton in the middle. Each clip is synchronized to contact. Weeks and Soriano are hitting home runs to left field, and Upton appears to have hit a foul-ball home run down the left field line.
Remember the trouble sign from Upton's bp swing? Here is how it shows up during game action:
Given Upton's athleticism and ability, projecting him as a "Rickie Weeks type" is not far fetched. Weeks is showing progress at the highest level and gives plenty of reason for optimism. Upton does not show much reason to warrant different expectations of himself.
My question is this: what type of hitters can these players really become? Check out Soriano - another good athlete who came up through the middle infield - whose swing is quite different. In the 2-frame segment above, look how much further Soriano is able to move his bat in the same period of time. Moving the bat head over longer distance during the same period of time equals more power (with no loss of quickness). Soriano accomplishes this by keeping the arms/bat segment connected to the rotation of the torso, rather than pushing the bat to contact.
If Upton and Weeks stack up athletically to Soriano, basic swing mechanics may be the only thing holding them back from 35-40 home run power. Of course, this is a sticky subject, because you do not want the player to feel that a major overhaul is necessary. You want to work with what he has and make the most of the existing talent - see which simple, small adjustments can create the greatest benefit.
Getting back to the draft, investing in quickness (Upton-style) over bat speed (Johnson-style) is most likely to provide the most immediate return. Quickness provides more opportunities for solid contact and plate discipline, which provide productivity outside of simply home runs. "Power comes last" is a common statement, and perhaps this is a good example to keep an eye on. If power truly does come last for the likes of Upton and Weeks, will it be a product of their current swings, or courtesy of some Soriano-esque improvements? Again, time will tell.