Leonys Martin went to the Dominican Republic and worked with Robinson Cano on making his swing simpler and shorter.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Leonys Martin wants to be known as more than an exceptional defensive outfielder, who is an average hitter with the propensity to strike out a little too often.
Sure, he set career highs in runs scored (72), home runs (15), walks (44) and total bases (196) while hitting .247 with 17 doubles, three triples and 47 RBI in 143 games. But he also posted a career-high 149 strikeouts and had an on-base percentage of .306, lower than the .340-.350 number he would prefer.
“I want to do better,” he said. “I want to stay focused on my part. I have to know what kind of player I am and stay in my game, get my on-base a little bit higher and try to steal 30-40 bases. Get on base, try to create rallies and score runs — that’s part of my game.”
To do that, Martin committed to a major swing overhaul this offseason after spending just over week working out with Robinson Cano in the Dominican Republic. At the urging of Cano and his longtime offseason hitting instructor Luis Mercedes, a former outfielder for the Orioles, Martin decided to rework his swing and stance in an effort to shorten it and be more consistent on hitting the ball to all parts of the park.
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“His swing was long and his head was moving,” Cano said. “Not everyone is Gary Sheffield to hit like that. He needed to change.”
The modifications are noticeable. In past years, the lefty-swinging Martin started with his hands high behind his left ear with his shoulder and back elbow cocked with his feet spread wide. This season, Martin starts with his hands below his left shoulder and close to his body while standing upright in a more natural stance.
“They asked me to try it and felt more comfortable,” Martin said.
The lowered hand placement is very similar to teammate Jean Segura, who spent the offseason before 2016 working with Cano and Mercedes, making the same change as Martin. Segura had a breakout year in 2016, hitting .319 with 203 hits, an .867 on-base plus slugging percentage, 41 doubles, seven triples, 20 home runs, 64 RBI and 33 steals in 153 games. And he credited the swing changes from Mercedes and Cano as the reason for it.
“I made that adjustment and it worked,” Segura said.
Mercedes has also worked with Edwin Encarnacion, Eduardo Perez, Welington Castillo and Marcell Ozuna in past offseasons. Martin worked on the swing with Mercedes, Cano and Segura for a week and then continued the conversion in Miami.
“I feel much better,” Martin said. “I feel like I’m using my hands a little bit more and my swing is more under control. It feels shorter.”
Martin notified hitting coach Edgar Martinez of the changes and then worked with him in Miami. Martinez was a proponent of the changes.
“The style he had in the past, he kept his hands higher and his shoulder would go up,” Martinez said. “He would kind of swing up. He feels this swing is more level. The hope is that when he hits the ball the other way, it will be more lower line drives and hard ground balls and not soft fly balls.”
The swing is simpler with less moving parts.
“When he had his hands up, he would have to lower his hands to hit,” Martinez said. “Now he has them low and they go up. It’s better for the hands to go up then go down. I think it will help. There’s a lot less movement when he starts with his hands low.”
Manager Scott Servais likes the early results.
“It’s not really where you start, it’s where you’re at when your foot gets down and you’re at the hitting position,” Servais said. “He’s starting lower, but he’s still kind of bringing his hands up. So he’s getting to a good position. I know Edgar has been talking a lot with him, actually took some still shots off a video the other day. And you could see when his foot gets down he’s in a really good spot now. It should free some things up and maybe he’ll be a little more consistent, but shorter to the ball than last year. We’ll see. I think the biggest thing with Leonys is trying to get his timing because doing something different like that, you’re a little off-kilter.”
When Martin gets the new swing timed properly, he will send screaming line drives into left and left-center, showing his underrated strength.
“I like that,” Cano said. “When he’s pulls the ball he’s strong enough to hit it hard or hit it out. But I like seeing him hit the ball hard the other way instead of pulling everything. A lot of pitches middle away, he would try to pull and roll over for an easy ground ball. Now he’s hitting them hard.”
Martinez has been quick to remind Martin that the early and uneven results of Cactus League games aren’t the best measurement of the changes working.
“Right now, he likes it and he feels comfortable with it,” Martinez said. “That’s the key. If you go to the plate and you don’t believe in it, it’s going to be difficult to make it work. He believes in it and he works at it.”
Martin has had enough success early, including some hard doubles to the opposite field, that have kept his faith in the change.
“It’s a process,” Martin said. “I’m trusting the process.”