Minor League Baseball’s season is just getting underway, and so far the Milwaukee Brewers’ former first-round pick Corey Ray is turning heads. Looking at his first nine games, it appears a few minor tweaks at the plate are helping the outfielder tap into the offensive potential that was so heavily touted when he was drafted.
The best place to start when looking at this change in mechanics is the setup.
Before Ray even gets the pitch we can already spot changes in his stance. First and most obvious, the location of his hands and the bat. In 2017, Ray’s hands started low, in front of his right shoulder. This set up can be beneficial as it gives the hands a quicker path to the bat; however, one issue that can arise comes from timing. With the lands starting earlier in the swing path, the batter must engage his hips earlier to ensure the whole body is used in the swing.
In 2018, Ray has raised his hands up above his shoulder. The change gives the lower half more time to generate torque while the hands pull the bottom of the bat to the zone and through. This helps Ray avoid “throwing” his hands at the ball, which generally results in topspin on hits. When Ray loads with his hands higher up, the hips can engage first, bringing the hands through the zone.
You can also see a change in Ray’s starting weight distribution. In 2017, Ray put a slight lean into his back leg, a common loading stance readying for weight distribution. Ray has changed his stance to a more balanced look pre-load.
Now, let’s look at Ray’s swing. In 2017, Ray’s setup involved a toe tap before his stride. It’s not captured in this video, but it was noticeable throughout the season. I have always been against wasted movement before the batter engages his lower half for the swing. Previously, Ray would tap his toe in front during the pitcher’s windup, bring it in to tap it under his front hip and then stride forward as the pitch was delivered. You can notice in the video that his kick is starting before the pitch is delivered. This can be detrimental to the weight transfer as you’re losing energy supporting your weight under your back leg prior to the swing.
This year, Ray is only taking one step forward. The single movement forward optimizes the potential to kinetic energy transfer for his swing. In the video, it’s also noticeable that Ray doesn’t start lifting his leg until the pitcher starts coming forward and puts his foot forward as the pitch is released. This makes it more likely that he is using all of his energy towards the pitch and in the swing.
As Ray’s foot comes down in 2017, his hips start to turn, and the back leg dips before the hands come through the zone. When his hips begin to turn, the hands go down and don’t move forward. Now, Ray starts with a bent stance, preventing energy from being wasted on the dip in his back leg. The hips and the hands also rotate at the same time.
Most importantly, Ray is transitioning his weight more cleanly. You can see the front leg’s muscles engaging to take the weight transfer, successfully passing the pressure for optimal power in the swing. You can see that his hips end more open in 2018 than in 2017, creating more energy from the lower half. Ray has also added an ankle roll which can help open the hips more on rotation. It’s common to see golfers do this when driving the ball off the tee.
Finally, Ray is now holding his bat with both hands throughout the swing. This is not necessary for a good swing, but for Ray, it can serve as a mechanic to protect him from taking too steep an angle at the pitch. This can more regularly keep the swing consistently level through the zone, which produces more solid contact and matches the path of most pitches.
There are still improvements Ray needs to make elsewhere before he can reach his ceiling. He obviously needs to improve his patience as his strikeout rate sits at 30%. Ray’s BABIP is above .400, and while it is more likely to be higher than average due to his plus speed, that’s unsustainable and will come back down to earth. Ray is also pulling almost 50% of his hits, something that has already lead to massive shifts and will probably end with him hitting into more outs if he doesn’t start using the opposite field more often.
Even with those stats, Ray’s mechanical adjustments are something for fans to be excited about. In a small sample size, these modifications are paying great dividends for the young outfielder as evidenced by his .294/.351/.559 slash through 37 plate appearances. It should help turn his plus raw power into game power and make him a more formidable hitter.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs