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Run by The Trentonian's Nick Peruffo, this blog will provide daily multimedia coverage of the Trenton Thunder.

Monday, January 16, 2012

10 Minutes with Kevin Long

Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long was at the Princeton Charter School this afternoon for part of his series of clinics with kids throughout the northeast. The clinic lasted four hours (though I had to leave early) and imparted swing mechanics to about 80 kids through easy-to-understand fundamentals and drills. 

Before the event began, I sat down to discuss the event, as well as a bit of Yankees-related stuff. Here's what he had to say. 

Josh Norris: With whom have you worked this offseason?

Kevin Long: I just met with Andruw Jones and Alex Rodriguez. I have seen Brandon Laird, Jesus Montero -- who we just traded -- Francisco Cervelli, a kid named Austin Romine. Swisher and I have talked quite a bit. Russell Martin and I are going to do some work in Arizona. Granderson and Cano I've talked to ... I've seen pretty much everybody. The good part about getting ready to start my sixth season is I don't have to spend as much offseason time with these guys, so that's kind of cool. 

JN: You mentioned a couple of guys who I'd like to talk about a little bit more. Obviously you just traded Montero, but there's still a lot of interest out there. How does he generate so much success from such an unorthodox-looking stance and swing?

KL: When I break down the absolutes of the swing, the absolutes are all there. As awkward as it may look, it's very functional. And what he does really, really good is he lets the ball travel and can hit the ball the other way a long, long way. A lot of that is his physique and his physical ability, but he's got the ability to let it travel and then to explode and (have) the ball just go to right field. It's funny, because when he pulls the ball he tends to get topspin, so it's almost (like) his swing is geared to go to right field and it really helps him. 

JN: If going to right field were something he were deficient in, how would you teach it to him?

KL: First of all, you work within their strengths. His strength is what? Going the other way. So you don't get too far away from that at any time. His deficiencies -- places that pitchers can exploit -- would be inside, so we started to work on that last year, and then had talked about part of his routine this year being to work on that. We were gaining on that, but at this point he's been traded, and I wish him the very best. 

JN: Going to another catcher, Romine. I've seen his swing for a couple of years, and what I've noticed is the really big leg kick. If you were to build a swing from scratch, is a leg kick something you would incorporate?

KL: His leg kick is now officially gone. That's something he worked on when he got called up in September, and we worked diligently to get that out of there. He feels really, really good about it being gone. He used it a little bit when he came up to the big leagues, and it's just to hard to manage a leg kick. His was, I hate to say out of control, but it was really, really high and really violent, and that's hard to play at the big league level.

JN: When you see Alex Rodriguez get out of whack, a lot of people will attribute that to the leg kick getting too exaggerated. Is that the same thing with Romine?

KL: Yeah. Any time you do something with your front foot, whether it be stride, whether it be just a heel trigger or just a leg kick, it's got to be controlled, and when A-Rod gets out of whack, it's because his leg kick is too high and too violent. 

JN: What do players say when you're trying to remove it? Can they give you a reason as to why they do it in the first place?

KL: It's to break inertia. It's to give them a little rhythm with their swing. Some people need more than others. A-Rod originally got his leg kick so that he could stay back. It kind of kept him back where, if he did it any other way, he would tend to go forward. It helps him keep his weight where it needs to be and stay centered, but again, he's very cognitive of the thought process of small leg kick, under control, so that he can be more efficient. 

JN: How long is it going to take a kid who's had something like that in his swing for a while to get it out of there, and how long is it going to take him to feel comfortable doing it another way?

KL: It's not necessarily that you have to take it out, it's that you have to get it under control. Instead of being maybe where the leg kick goes up to their elbow on their front side, we might reduce that to half that distance. If we can go half that distance and then go up and down, it'll take them a little time to get the feel for it. First of all they've got to understand why they're doing it, and if it doesn't make sense then they shouldn't do it. And if it does make sense, (you have to give) them the understanding that it's going to help them, and then you've got to come up with drills that can help them get that feel. 

JN: How do you teach plate discipline, which seems to be something that involves a lot more mental work than it does physical work?

KL: It's a process. Robinson Cano when I first had him walked 17 times in seven-hundred-and-something at-bats. He's walking 50 times a year now. It's still an everyday process. I'll take him in the office and 'Look at your last 17 swings, 14 of them have been out of the zone. Let's get back in the strike zone.' And you're a little bit firm with him, a little bit tough, but he's already seen the rewards of swinging at strikes. His home runs went up, his RBIs go up and his average goes up, so the biggest thing is to keep on pointing out that they're swinging at pitches that are out of the zone. 

JN: I brought up plate discipline to bring up Jorge Vazquez, who's gotten a lot of ink since the Montero trade as a possible in-house candidate as the designated hitter. How do you teach him to lay off the bad stuff, and what kind of big-league impact do you think he could have this year?

KL: I don't know. I couldn't tell you. I know that he had a very good year in Scranton, a lot of home runs, but he hit .250. Two-fifty in Triple-A is probably equivalent to .200 in the big leagues, so does that warrant him getting called up? I'm not so sure. Is he a big swing-and-miss guy? Is his strike-zone discipline not where it needs to be? Those are things that our minor league guys are going to have to evaluate and stay on top of. 

When I get Jorge one of the first things that we're going to talk about is, 'Listen, we've got to get better about staying in the strike zone.' He's getting as much of that in the minor leagues as I was going to give him in the big leagues, and we'll kind of see how this plays out, but I'm excited to have him in our system and I hope he continues to get better and we'll see what happens. 


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