Washington Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long traveled around the country last winter to work with some hitters before the start of his first season on the job, as the players started to swing again in preparation for the 2018 campaign.
One of those players was Andrew Stevenson.
Long, who was hired as the Davey Martinez’s hitting coach after first interviewing for the managerial opening in D.C., tried to get an early start on a few tweaks he thought might bring something out of the 2015 2nd Round pick.
“It was at a good point in the year to make those changes,” Stevenson explained, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes, “... so I would have the whole offseason to work on it.”
Long’s advice for the 23-going-on-24-year-old outfielder centered around getting the relatively light-hitting, defense-first prospect to incorporate his legs into his swing to a greater degree than he had previously.
“I always kind of thought I had more power in there somewhere in my body, so it was just kind of finding it, staying in my legs instead of coming out of them,” Stevenson said.
“Staying in my legs it’s trying to give myself more time. So I think I’ll be able to make a little better decisions at the plate. I think I’ll drive a few more balls in the gaps and maybe get a few more out this year.”
Stevenson hit seven home runs total in 2018, between Triple-A and the majors, one shy of his total over the previous three seasons, with a .235/.318/.338 line over 77 games and 331 plate appearances for the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate and a .253/.306/.320 line in 57 games and 86 PAs coming off the bench for the big league club.
He said last week he was still trying to apply the advice Long offered after a season of work together.
“Throughout the season it was still a work in progress,” Stevenson said, “... and towards the end of the year I started getting comfortable. I was back up here pinch hitting a good bit, I felt pretty good up there, so I think that’s something that I’m just going to take [away], but I think like you’re always trying to tweak, trying to get better, but you’re never fully, ‘Alright, this is it,’ you know, you’re always trying to learn and get better and that’s something I’m going to try to do this offseason.”
“The big things were just learning how to use my legs,” he continued.
“In the past it was kind of a more upper body swing, and just learning how to use the legs is something that definitely helped out.
“I was able to hit the ball harder, and I think now it’s just kind of taking some of the things I use to do good and bring in the using my legs and finding a swing that works for me right now.”
Long will be on the road again this winter, visiting various hitters to offer advice as they step up their workouts and prepare for Spring Training.
He already met with one of his hitters, though not in a professional setting.
“I was at my grandson’s game the other day,” Long said when he met with reporters at the Nationals’ Winterfest celebration last weekend, “... and sure enough I look at the third base coach and said, ‘Hey, he looks familiar.’ So, Howie Kendrick was coaching third on the other side.
“So I’ve seen Howie so far, that’s it, and then the guys that I’ve seen in my short time here, but I’ll see a few of the guys and I know Michael Taylor for sure, we’ve got a few things we’re going to work on, I know Spencer Kieboom is coming out, and I don’t have the rest planned, but I will see some hitters.”
Taylor, in particular, is one player Long is focused on after something of a lost year for the Nationals’ 27-year-old outfielder, who followed up on a sort-of-breakout .271/.320/.486, 23 double, 19 home run, 3.1 fWAR campaign in 2017 with a .227/.287/.357, 22 double, six home run, 0.9 fWAR 2018 season in which he found himself the odd man out in the outfield mix, and had a lot of time to work behind the scenes with his hitting coach.
“It was good,” Long said, “because last year at the end he wasn’t playing a whole lot, so we got to address quite a few of [the things] we wanted to work on this offseason, so he’s currently doing that. I think he’s going to play Winter ball as well, so he’s going to do that, then I’m going to go out to Florida for a brief period, and then he’s coming out to Arizona.”
Taylor’s whole set-up had changed by the end of the year, Long said, and it was a difficult process.
“It’s the muscle memory,” Long said. “It’s really, you’ve trained and you’ve done things one way for a lot of years, and you’re basically retraining how you go about it.
“So it’s going to be a bit of a process, and that’s why us being able to address that and work was huge. And now he can take it into the offseason, and hopefully a bit of winter ball, and then we’ll just continue. We came up with kind of the blueprint and we’re going to follow that.”
The continuity, with all of the Nationals’ coaching staff returning, allows them to continue the work they started last season, and knowing everyone as well as he does after a year of work together will definitely, Long said, be an advantage going into the 2019 campaign.
“It makes a huge difference, and it’s not so much knowing the hitters as much as it is the personalities, and kind of what makes them tick, and we talk about analytics in this game, but the human element, to me, is as big an element as any. Is this guy an approach guy? Does this guy like to talk about mechanics? Does this guy like to do this or that? What’s his drill work? What’s made him go in the past? What adjustments did we make this season? And what can we do moving forward? So yeah, I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did last year.”