Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
Sweeney needs the help, and has needed it for a while, but there are still plenty of concerns with his swing
Don't take that headline to mean that Ryan Sweeney is going to start winning batting titles, or become the subject of rhymes from some future spiritual successor to the Beastie Boys. However, it sounds as if, with the help of Hall of Famer Rod Carew, Sweeney has worked to change a problem in his swing that has kept him from hitting in the way that a 6-foot-4, 225 pound baseball player should. Rob Bradford:
"I basically changed my swing," Sweeney said. "I changed my lower half and how I'm getting to balls. I just feel like I'm ready to hit every pitch and I'm taking good swings and I have a good bat path to the baseball. I just feel like I can put better swings on the ball.
"Talking to Ben [Cherington], he said, ‘We don't need you to hit 20 homers.' As long as you can go in and give a good at-bat. I just feel like what [Carew] taught me will put me in a better position to drive the ball more."
That's all well and good, but there are things worth noting here. Sweeney has had problems with the lower half in his swing for a long time, well before he was ever a major-league outfielder. Baseball America's 2007 handbook, which ranked Sweeney as the top prospect in the White Sox system, said that he needed to learn to stay back better on pitches, as doing so would lead to Sweeney, who would not be out ahead on his front foot with his swing, driving pitches with more power behind them. Thanks to slow-motion recordings and the power of YouTube, we can see this phenomenon in action.
You can see that his bottom half and top half don't quite mesh together on his first couple of swings, but on the last one -- which he drives -- his halves are working a bit more in sync. It's not quite perfect, by any means, but it beats the lunging, all-arms approach of the preceding swings.
Chances are good that, in the six seasons in between that scouting report and today, Sweeney has been told by many hitting coaches that this was in need of changing. Obviously, to this point, it has not. Maybe Carew was able to get through to him where others have not, but there are other problems that will likely persist even if he shows himself capable of consciously staying back on the pitch. Mark Anderson, a scout who works both for Baseball Prospectus and his own publication, says that Sweeney's swing, "isn't all that bad," but that the issue is his pitch recognition, and a consistent failure to recognize breaking balls. "As a result, he ends up lunging a lot, taking all the power his legs could generate and negating it."
Given this, it seems as if the positives from Sweeney's change will come when he sits on a fastball and gets it. That's an improvement on his past, when lunging swings that started too early resulted in too much authority-less contact, but it's not quite fixing the whole issue. If the conscious decision to stay back on the pitch and use his whole legs also results in an improved ability to recognize breaking balls, then he's closer to a total fix. It's hard to say that's what will happen, though, for someone who already has nearly 2,000 plate appearances in the majors. Anderson goes so far as to say that Sweeney would be better off "sitting dead-red" on fastballs, letting him "crush anything straight," essentially giving up some batting average in order to boost his power output. If this also resulted in additional walks, thanks to waiting for his pitch, it could be a good direction for Sweeney to go in.
The Red Sox have seen him play well, and they've seen him really struggle, so he's going to have to impress with a real new-look swing in order to get the chance to be the player multiple organizations have been waiting to see for nearly a decade now. Whether or not Carew's tutelage brought him to that place is just something we're going to have to see for ourselves in the coming weeks and months.