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For a young Nats prospect, the swing’s rhythm has a toe-tapping beat

For a young Nats prospect, the swing’s rhythm has a toe-tapping beat

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — During Jacob Young’s brief stint with the Washington Nationals last season, the outfielder realized he needed to make some adjustments.

He had rocketed through three levels of the team’s minor leagues, batting .305 over 112 games with 39 stolen bases. But when he got a call to the majors in late August, it soon became apparent to him that he was late getting his hands and bat through the strike zone.

Every hitter has his own idiosyncrasies in the batter’s box. Young was shaking his bat before each pitch, tilting the knob toward the catcher while wrapping the barrel almost behind his head. The Nationals’ coaches noticed the movement — and that it was slowing Young’s path to the baseball when the right-hander was at the plate.

So new teammate Lane Thomas, who does a similar though less pronounced bat shake, offered a tip: Keep the knob of the bat pointed toward the dirt and tap the foot as a timing mechanism. That way, his hands would have a shorter path to the zone.

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Young, 24, tried it for the last week of the season and carried it into spring training this year. The pre-pitch bat movements aren’t identical; Thomas keeps his hands further back than Young does, and their foot taps vary. But the similarities are unmistakable, especially when the pair are on the same field during batting practice.

“Yeah, I know. I saw,” Young laughed. “[The stance] does look like Lane’s. … It was just a movement thing to get my hands in a better place before launch.”

Young likes to feel in a rhythm before the pitch. But that pre-pitch bat wrap became more pronounced as the season progressed, Young realized. With Thomas’s suggestion, Young found a repeatable motion.

“The last few years, I feel like guys have been throwing so much harder,” Thomas said. “I feel like you could get away with a little bit more if the guy’s not throwing as hard. But I feel like these starters and bullpen guys, you’re seeing someone throw 98 every game. If you have a lot of movement at that point in your swing, it’s hard to be consistent.”

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If the adjustment works as well for Young as it did for Thomas — who is coming off a 28-homer season that saw him post a .783 OPS-plus — the Nationals would have a welcome surprise on their hands.

Two seasons ago, Thomas was trying to prove his worth in the Nationals organization. Now Thomas is the veteran helping out the next generation of prospects.

Young started last season in high Class A Wilmington and ended it by making his major league debut even though he played just four games at Class AAA Rochester. He hit a modest .252 in 33 games and stole 13 bases with the Nationals. This past offseason, his goal was to stay behind the baseball and drive off his back foot, a move designed to get the ball in the air. He hit grounders in 58 percent of his at-bats last season, well above the major league average.

“He got better toward the end of the year as well, but he’s focused,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “He feels like he’s ready for this, like he belongs, which is awesome.”

Young is part of a crowded outfield this spring. Thomas will man right field, and Victor Robles is the favorite to start in center, though Young is in the mix both there and in left field. The Nationals signed veterans Eddie Rosario this week and Jesse Winker last month to minor league deals. Stone Garrett could be ready for Opening Day, though his rehab from a broken fibula and ankle puts his status in doubt. Alex Call is another option on the 40-man roster.

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Young’s defense and speed are assets, making him a bench possibility. But the team also believes Young could benefit from consistent playing time in the minors.

Outfielders are the strength of the Nationals’ system. James Wood has been the breakout star of camp and is making a case to break camp with the team. Dylan Crews, the 2023 No. 2 overall pick, has impressed, and Robert Hassell III looks healthy after a wrist injury hampered him a season ago.

That’s not to say Young couldn’t crack the big league roster, but the Nationals certainly have options. Young just wants is a chance to prove himself.

“If you get the opportunity to compete for a job or anything like that, that’s all you want,” Young said. “I just want to take the best advantage of it that I can, show them what I can do not just in center but in all the spots to just see whatever they need to help this team win.”

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