Akron Aeros, Indians

Rubberduck manager David Wallace discusses contact and power

Greg Allen Akron Rubberducks
Allyson Foutty/IBI

Home runs and strikeouts have dominated the landscape of MLB the past year and a half to the point where many wonder if the ball is juiced. The Cleveland Indians crafted a lineup at the big league level loaded with contact and the ability to elongate rallies with plate discipline. Power, instead, is a bonus. The merits of this construction were discussed in detail last week. These strengths are also cultivated throughout the Indians minor league player development system, which Akron Rubberducks manager David Wallace discussed with WFNY.

Wallace was named Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year in 2016 and has managed Akron for three years.1 Wallace is a rising star in the Indians development system with a particular insight and charisma that indicate greater things to come. Following three years at the helm in Akron, Wallace will be transitioning to the front office for 2017.

The Indians have had significant success over the past half decade developing players with high contact rates and helping them add unexpected power at the big league level — be it Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis, or Francisco Lindor, a Wallace protege.

Please be advised that a focus on contact does not to imply that the Indians do not tailor their development process to optimizing each individual’s tool set as Wallace noted.

“We are always exploring ways to get each hitter in the most powerful position to impact the baseball,” he said. “That might look different from hitter to hitter and the goal is not always homeruns.”

While swings may not be as numerous as there are different designs of snowflakes, the mechanical differences from swing to swing is definitely lost when bucketing swings into “contact” and “power.” Specialization can make sense, but the Indians have done a remarkable job accessing increased power from elite contact types once they reach MLB.

A key question is whether there was something advantageous to developing players with above average contact tools versus those with above average power. Wallace’s belief is that the real key is the player being willing to adjust.

“Willingness of a player to get outside of their comfort zone and explore potential adjustments is a characteristic we value highly. The guys [Lindor, Ramirez, Brantley] you mentioned deserve a great amount of credit for doing just that.” Wallace continued. “They are always looking to learn and grow even while experiencing success. I wouldn’t say a type of hitter is easier or harder to develop since each case is different.”

Looking for the next overlooked high-contact prospect who can add power through extra base hits or homeruns is natural.

The obvious answers are two players who spent time in Akron in 2016. These are two players who Wallace has managed the past two seasons and had profiles of above average contact and plate discipline. These players are close to the big leagues and could quickly add depth: Yandy Diaz and Greg Allen. Wallace noted the value their profiles provided to his Rubberducks lineups.

A good, disciplined at bat is usually what gets a rally started.

“A good, disciplined at bat is usually what gets a rally started,” he said. “They also have great value in extending a rally. When you add the tool of speed, which Yandy and Greg have, it puts even more pressure on the defense.”

Wallace sums up in a sentence what Bill James took great time to establish.

“They (contact plus the discipline of Yandy and Greg) also have great value in extending a rally.”

The intersection of experienced baseball mind and sabermetrician is always an appealing occurrence.

Having coached Yandy over the past two years Wallace believes that some power growth may happen.

“I do think Yandy’s power numbers could rise in the big leagues,” he said. “We have seen it in short sample with Lindor, Ramirez, and Naquin. Again, I attribute it to the player’s willingness to continually work on improving their swings and the pitches they swing at.  Yandy’s plate discipline will continue to serve him well in this way.”

Perhaps most fascinating is Allen, a player who has been covered by WFNY in great detail. Allen flashed a power spike in a middling sample in Akron as well as in the Arizona Fall League following the season; enough to inquire if Allen had made an adjustment.

“Greg is an incredibly strong guy,” said Wallace. “His strength numbers in the weight room are at or near the top of the organization in every category, despite not being the biggest guy we have. When his timing is right and he efficiently uses his whole body, not just hands, Greg has the potential to drive the ball with great authority. There weren’t any major mechanical adjustments, just getting timing right and making a good move to the ball.”

In Allen and Diaz the Indians have players who can help Cleveland in 2017; Diaz could be ready offensively Opening Day. The Tribe features a lineup loaded with contact and plate discipline profiles, and those skillsets benefit from each addition of a similar profile. Diaz and Allen look to be the next in line in the Indians development system with this profile. Like the other prospects that came before them, a sneaky power growth is always a possibility.

  1. Joel Skinner was the last to manage for as many as three years in Akron. []

  • mgbode

    This is so great. Last week, Hattery did the research and figured out how and why the lineup construction was and how EE could help it even further. But, he wasn’t satisfied and continued to report the heck out of it by landing this interview. Good stuff.

  • jpftribe

    Excellent piece. Encouraging on so many levels.

  • scripty

    Power #’s should always increase at MLB for legit big leaguers with reasonable hit rates. Faster velocity of pitches, more warm weather parks, and additional years of strength training.

  • scripty

    Can Diaz play LF? Otherwise I am not sure how he slides on the roster.

  • mgbode

    Diaz has been playing OF and LF is the easiest position of the three

  • mgbode

    all good points; better and more variety of off speed pitches being a detriment to many though. tough to barrel a ball if you don’t know where it is going to end up

  • scripty

    Okay, I hadn’t read to what extent but admittedly haven’t been scouring online for his defense recently. I know he can hit.

  • Harv

    Please stop getting me so geeked about Allen. Haven’t even seen video of him yet and I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than being all “he looks lost but youse guys said he was the next Lofton!” before all his equipment is even delivered.

  • Harv

    actually, other than Lindor I can’t remember as much buzz about any of our minor leaguers since maybe Manny and Thome.

  • Steve

    More velocity isn’t going to help guys hit the ball harder.

  • Steve

    Here’s just a splash of cold water: he’s projected to hit worse than Almonte this year.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2017-zips-projections-cleveland-indians/

    Though, for a guy with so few games at AA so far, that’s actually pretty good. I’m not expecting him to make the bigs before September callups, and then really only seeing him as a baserunning/defensive replacement. 2018 could see him make his mark though.

  • mgbode

    Umm, 15-20% of EV is from the pitch speed. So, while bat speed is way, way more important. Yes, pitch speed helps too.

    It is just that if a guy was hitting doubles 10 feet from the wall, then it would take 20mph more on pitch speed (while still hitting the ball squarely w/ same bat speed) to get him over it.

    http://diamondkinetics.com/dispelling-the-mystery-of-pitch-speed/

  • scripty

    false

  • Steve

    I should have put more to explain this better. Yes, some EV is from pitch speed, but it is also much harder to square up the ball. We’re not comparing 90+ mph straight balls over the plate to 70 mph straight balls over the plate, but to 70 mph balls that dip and dive and end up out of the zone. When we do see 70 mph straight and over the plate? That’s batting practice and home run derby, and balls flying out of the park. They aren’t generating less EV there than in game.

  • mgbode

    Just three of the best prospects to ever come from our system. I’m not so sure he is in that class but he has definitely continued to garner a ton of buzz alongside Francisco Meijia (who is a bit further away).

  • Harv

    Thanks. I needed that.

  • Steve

    Sizemore, Victor, Santana, and even, sigh, Marte.

  • Hopwin

    Don’t forget about Matt LaPorta!!!

    Quit the Mexican leagues…
    http://isportsweb.com/2015/03/21/cleveland-indians-what-ever-happened-to-matt-laporta/

  • Steve

    I wish I could. But I don’t think he was ever a top 10 prospect like those other guys. Add Phillips to the list too.

  • Hopwin

    He was our number 1 prospect after the trade and the Indians hyped the crap out of him because that is what they got as the centerpiece for CC (thank God for that particular player to be named later).

  • Mike Hattery

    This is a classic Mike Hattery/Jim Pete experience, we quickly become fascinated by guys we believe have undervalued tools and then inflate their stock. The last time Jim and I did this was Jose Ramirez, of course before that it was Joe Wendle. You win some, you lose some.

  • Mike Hattery

    Thanks man, thanks for reading.

  • Saggy

    Allen is very intriguing to me. I can see him as a 15/35 guy with a glove. I’m thinking less Kenny Lofton, more Carl Crawford, in his prime.

  • Saggy
  • Saggy

    LaPorta was the #7 pick in the entire 2007 draft and he was traded for a Cy Young winner in his prime. I feel that qualifies as a top-10 prospect.

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  • jpftribe

    I, for one, absolve you of these crimes. As penance you are forbidden from ever discussing unicorn FQB’s and antiquated defensive alignments.

  • Steve

    https://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/top-100-prospects/all-time

    He topped out at #23 by Baseball America. That’s still a darn good prospect, but closer to what Chisenhall topped out at, and Zimmer is now, than where guys like Sabathia, Phillips, Martinez, Sizemore, and Lindor got. With some hindsight, it seems a bit obvious that we should have been a little more careful with our hype.

  • Hopwin

    Honestly the LaPorta fiasco is what led me to distrust any news coming out of our minor league system.

  • Steve

    Who knows how much of his failure was the hip injury. Maybe he would be getting the $20M a year to hit 40 home runs.

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