Power corrupts? Tigers working to level out Zack Short’s swing plane

Detroit News

Detroit — He’s 5-foot-10, 180 pounds and if you think he’s got sneaky power with a baseball bat in his hands, you should see him on a tee box with a driver in his hands. He can straight bomb it.

“That gets me in trouble, too,” Tigers shortstop Zack Short said before the Tigers completed their series Sunday with the Orioles.

Sounds counterintuitive, but power can corrupt some hitters. Since he hit homers in back to back games July 21 and 22, he’s gone 2 for 23 with eight strikeouts. Five of Short’s 16 hits are home runs this season, which is great, and also, on a broader level, not so great.

“He hit a home run with a 40-degree launch angle the other day,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s got a ton of power. He might have too much power for his own good.”

The reality is, it’s not the home run swing that’s going to prolong his career in the big leagues. He doesn’t project to hit enough of them to sustain his .167 average or .276 on-base percentage. Between now and next spring, and he understands this, Short’s mission will be to reshape his swing, level it out, and put more balls in play.

“It’s not a simple solution,” Hinch said. “It does take work to reshape a swing. Obviously, Zack is a talented player and he’s had success in the minors and he’s hit for some power here. But we still want more consistent at-bats and more contact — that goes without saying.

“The launch angle off the bat is super high and it doesn’t lead to a lot of consistency. It’s something he has to work through as he develops.”

Short gets it. He’s been trying to level out and shorten his swing for the past two years. But you have to understand where the swing came from. He was 140 pounds in college. He was a brilliant defensive shortstop but to produce above his weight class offensively, he had to develop a more powerful punch.

He swung from the heels with all his might on every swing, driving balls farther than you’d think possible from a player of his stature. It got him noticed and drafted. His average launch angle this year is 20 degrees and pitchers are beating him with fastballs up in the zone.

“That’s been the grind through my whole career,” Short said. “I got away with it in the minor leagues, but I didn’t really hit a lot in the minors either. I’ve gotten outside my approach right now. I’m usually a pretty patient hitter, but when that batting average is staring you in the face in every ballpark you go in — pretty big scoreboards up here — it’s not a secret.

“I’ve been chasing hits and that’s a scary place to be.”

The big leagues can be an unforgiving environment for developing players. Like Hinch often says, this isn’t an instructional league. The major swing adjustments for Short will have to come during the offseason. Catcher Jake Rogers fought this same issue the last two offseasons and was still working on it before he got injured this year.

“There will be swing adjustments along the way but doing it at this level is very difficult, trying to flatten your swing and stay through the ball,” Hinch said. “When the ball is coming in at 90, 92, 95 mph and with some break, your body responds how it’s used to responding. To just overnight say I’m going to flatten my swing — that’s not how it works.

“He’s got to find a swing that’s going to produce more control and he knows it.

Whether Short employs a hitting guru like Rogers did with Doug Latta remains to be seen. But, as with any problem, admission is the first step toward recovery.

“There is damage to be done hitting the ball in the air, but I need to lower my angle,” Short said. “I have to look myself in the mirror and say that’s not my approach. I know it’s in me and moving forward I’m going to work my tail off every day until I get there.”  ‘

With Niko Goodrum working his way back to healthy, there is a chance the Tigers send Short back to Toledo to work on the swing changes there. That’s not been determined, of course. And Hinch said Short’s defensive work has been a stabilizer in the middle of the infield.

“The defense has been very good,” Hinch said. “We’re a better team with him here and contributing. But it’s a fine line between needing to make adjustments and still getting opportunities here. … I believe he will make the adjustments, learn and grow.

“We haven’t seen the best version of him offensively that we’re going to see moving forward.”


Twitter: @cmccosky

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