Continuing our profiles of some of the top high school hitters available in the 2014 MLB Rule IV Draft brings a look at Jacob Gatewood, a Short Stop from Clovis High School in Clovis, CA. Do you like your up the middle players tall, lanky and wiry? Do you like them with plus raw power? Do you like them to wrists that would make Connor MacLeod envious? If you answered yes, you’ll probably like Gatewood. If you answered no to any of those three questions then I’ll remind you that Chuck Knoblauch ain’t coming through that door, and you really, really need to go watch Highlander.
Of course you could always kill some time using your newfangled Bitcoins at BitBet.com
For a look at Gatewood in action, I'll again defer to MLB.com's outstanding draft coverage.
Gatewood works from a tall set-up, allowing his length and wiry strength to be used to his advantage. As I’ve discussed in regard to Joey Gallo, depth and distance from the plate in a hitter’s stance as well as angles through the zone become an ever-present concern for tall hitters with long limbs. Too much ‘hunch’ in their set-up will lead to an inability to get the bat head through the zone and anything less than an absolutely direct lines will lead to plenty of sad-faced calls to their bat supplier.
When I watch a player take batting practice, of course I want to see a proper sequence at work, but what I really want to see is what they are working on. This gives an indicator of what the hitter is trying to do mentally and physically, and how well they merge the two. Ever watch Albert Pujols take a round in a cage? A lot more downward angle forward and through than you see in the game. That’s mental thought at work, folks. (As an aside- when you see an established hitter doing or talking about mental cues that might make you pause, that’s their mental cues. Many have accused pro hitters of not knowing what they are doing/thinking because the verbiage is different than what the online hitting ‘experts’ (that have never turned around 90mph) might use. Remember, it only has to make sense to the hitter. They’re the ones actually doing the work. Understanding for a Layman requires one to leave agendas at the door and read between the lines. /end)
Watching Gatewood take BP, well, it’s an experience. One that makes you smile and say ‘Go ‘head son!’. Gatewood will usually feature 3-4 distinct timing/loading patterns, all with their own unique styles. Tending to start with a simple wrist flick to tip his barrel and a simple negative front knee lift to get loose, then a toe-tap, then an Anthony Rizzo style hook lift and ending with some good old fashioned back leggin’, tiltin’, liftin’ and gettin’ the head out hacks to finish the round.
Yup. It’s fun.
The always generous @SoCalSteve9 has been gracious enough to let me use his video of Gatewood.
OK, so it's BP. That's not where the game is played, right? It's not that importat. Outside of the gunshots his barrel produces, an obvious sign of present bat speed and raw power, rounds like that shows a hitter who isn’t afraid to be aggressive while letting the head fly yet has a solid feel for what he’s doing to have that many variances, but can still get into his simple game pattern. These things are great to see in a young hitter.
Something it also shows, and is something to watch, is that Gatewood will at times look for that little extra in his swing, despite his strength and plus bat speed. This of course means the last little driver for consistent and effortless power isn’t fully engrained yet- more on this below.
The elephant in the room when talking Gatewood as a hitter is going to be the strikeout rate, and how much that will impact his chances to produce. Impact potential will always be potential when the impact is restricted by good pitching. Are we talking Mark Reynolds, or are we talking closer to the 110-130 range (over 600 at bats)? I’m leaning toward the latter, given he adjusts and develops physically like he should.
Developing hand and upper back strength will be extremely important for Gatewood as he ages as this should limit how much his arms work within his swing. A tendency for hitters with a pronounced barrel tip trigger is to use the arms to get the bat head in motion, and often use the arms/shoulders to rush/catch up if they start late. This is an area where Gatewood can be prone to running into issues and what causes some to question his ability to be consistent. The bat head only needs to gain some steam as the hands work up and back in the sequence. Doing more or trying to create more will only lead to unnecessary lengthening of the distance from barrel at launch to contact.
That ‘little extra’ I mentioned earlier? Let’s get into that. Regardless of BP/in-game or what movement pattern Gatewood is using at that time, there is some momentum at work. Hitting is the wrong place to use momentum as a means to produce power, and what you get instead is false weight transfer. Simply moving your weight to a new spot doth not maketh it proper weight transfer. Gatewood will start with his weight slightly on his front side before swaying back to transfer his weight behind his center-line, then using that momentum to move forward and turn it into hip rotation. Since this doesn’t fully engage his lower half, he will often stretch his hands back further than needed to ‘find’ that extra to help power the swing. For a perspective- this is one of about 37 things holding back B.J. Upton from being a productive hitter. Gatewood must improve upon fully shifting his weight back and properly to the spot it needs to go- his rear hip joint.
Transferring your weight into your rear hip joint as sort of a ‘holding point’ as you move out is one of the keys to have a rock-solid lower half that will lead to efficiency of the hands. Simply moving it into and out of might look/feel like it’s getting there, but take a look at your trigger; does it lengthen out unnecessarily? Then you, my friend, are not properly loaded/coiled.
Getting Gatewood to fully load/coil into his rear hip joint would work wonders for his overall sequence, including his slight tendency to work front-side out in game. The biggest gain to be had from this is the ability to consistently power his swing with his legs and core, not his arms. On top of this, it should lessen Gatewood's tendency to work frontside out in-game. At the very beginning of his hips' rotation, Gatewood's front is often the first one to go. In some hitters you might see this as a clearing action so the back hip has a path to come through, some others will do it as a means to kickstart the hips with the front side leading the way and powering the move. Which one do you think allows better plate coverage? That would be the former, while Gatewood is the latter. Doing more with his back hip to lead the charge would allow him a more square landing position, but still have the hip speed to get through the zone with the same force as he currently has.
Working further upstream, this would allow a ‘smaller’ trigger/hand loading action, an area where you want movement to create depth and hand speed, but not a large amount of length behind you. The goal of creating depth with the barrel is simply getting the barrel behind the body, not the hands, arms AND barrel and doing it by pushing your hands back as far as they go. Keeping his swing (relatively) compact is going to be key for Gatewood’s consistency. What you can’t do is put him in a box and take away his freedom of movement, style or aggression. What you can do is increase his efficiency and make sure his power is coming from the right movements and sequencing. Gatewood has shown a feel for this at times in-game, but it is not yet the 'default' depth of his trigger.
While I wouldn’t categorize Gatewood as a ‘dead pull hitter’, his spray chart definitely leans that way. Pulling the baseball with authority has become somewhat of a lost art in a generation of amateur coaches preaching ‘let the ball get deep’ and ‘hit it the other way’ based on the fear of the strikeout. This is a fine ideal for hitters who fit that mold and need to be reminded to stay within their game.
Jacob Gatewood’s game is not about carving singles through the right side.
Teach him to battle and spoil when buried in the count? Sure. Teach him to work outside of his strengths and rein his focus toward being a hitter that he is not? No. You don’t give a lion a slice of turkey and expect him to be satisfied.
With that said, Gatewood has a hard left turn with his wrists after contact as he is dominant toward his top hand/arm within his swing. This produces more top-spin than a hitter of his tools should be having. When he squares and hits through, the trajectory and exit velocity are nothing short of spectacular, but the consistency isn’t there yet. Adding a focus on spreading the dominance from top to closer to even between both hands should make his bat head angle through the zone have a larger contact zone on top of hit through more effectively. Since you have both hands on the bat, it makes sense to use both of them for control and speed. If one hand overpowers the other, the angles will breakdown and the spots where a pitcher can get the hitter out grow larger.
While it can be said for any hitter in their first year of pro ball, there are plenty of adjustments to be made for Gatewood. Some will be simple, some might take some more time and an organization that knows what they’re doing, but in the end we might see a 35+ home run hitting Short Stop. Those don’t come around too often. If impact potential is what you’re after, Gatewood offers more upside than any high school hitter in the draft. While there may be some bumps along the way, it's going to be entertaining. If Gatewood clicks like he can, we might just see a new super star.