Lakeland, Fla. — Niko Goodrum is tired of hearing people talking about things he doesn’t do well on a baseball field.
The man is a switch-hitter and not only can he play seven positions on the diamond but he can play them well. He was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop last year and lost his position. How about that? As a switch-hitter, he’s hit .323 from his natural right side of the plate and 29 of his career 33 home runs from his unnatural left side.
But that’s not the narrative for Goodrum these days. It’s the swing-and-miss rate and high strikeout rate (38.6% last year), especially left-handed. Teams are beating him with high fastballs and getting him to chase breaking balls off the plate. He’s struck out 11 times (all hitting left-handed) in 26 plate appearances this spring.
“He’s aware of what he’s working on and we’re aware of the swing and miss, especially from the left side,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That’s an area you’ve got to focus on.”
Goodrum sounds like he’s ready to change that focus.
“For me, it’s just getting back to being comfortable with who I am and not trying to please anyone,” he said before the game Friday. “Lot of people get to focusing on what you can’t do. That’s just the energy that people bring. They want to focus on what people can’t do rather than just focus on what I do well.
“People say I need to do this and I need to do that. I’m just going to be myself and value who I am, knowing what I bring is valuable and just clear my mind.”
He was asked to clarify who he was referencing, media, fans, coaches?
“Just anyone that has said anything about, well, he needs to do this, this and this better,” Goodrum said. “But what do I do good? Focus on that. You evaluate the problems that are going on, but it’s just me clearing my mind.”
Goodrum came into the spring hoping to alter his left-handed approach. He’s always had a power mentality from the left side. Get the barrel of the bat out quick and look to do damage to the pull field. Thus, the bigger home run totals.
Thus, also, the high swing-and-miss and strikeout totals and .206 career batting average left-handed.
His initial intent was to adapt a similar approach left-handed that he used right-handed — let the ball get deeper, stay back and focus on hitting the ball up the middle, gap to gap. It’s the approach preferred by Hinch and the hitting coaches.
“He needs to be productive,” Hinch said. “Everybody focuses on the swing-and-miss, especially left-handed. It’s something where he’ll have to figure out a swing to make more contact, whether that sacrifices a little damage or not.
“He’s hit a ton of homers left-handed. But being more than just a home run threat left-handed is critical for him to get the playing time he wants.”
From what he said Friday, it sounds like Goodrum is abandoning that plan and going back to his old left-handed approach.
“Just take what I do well from the left side and take what I do well from the right side and put it into a full package,” he said. “That’s what it is. Just let everything go, man. From the right side I’m going to hit .300. And I got caught up in trying to hit .300 from the left side, but at that point we’re talking about a Hall-of-Famer, right?”
His point is, in a perfect world, every switch-hitter would be able to hit .300 and mash 20 home run from each side. But that’s not the reality for most. What he wants is to be judged not as right-handed and left-handed hitter, but as one hitter who can hit from both sides of the plate. Scrap the splits.
“At the end of the day, you get so focused on doing that you get lost in what you do best,” he said. “You’re trying to be perfect in a game of failure and that’s going to be tough on you.”
It will be an interesting dynamic in the last two weeks of camp as Hinch tries to determine whether he needs to find a spot around the diamond for Goodrum to get every day at-bats, or whether he’s primarily going to be an option against left-handed pitching.
“I’m just going to handle my business,” Goodrum said. “I was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop, so that speaks for itself. I can play defense well. That’s not an issue. That’s always going to be there.
“What it boils down to, if we’re speaking facts, it’s about hitting. It’s not about what I can do on defense, that’s already understood. This isn’t me pointing fingers or blaming — you’ve got to hit.”