Shortly after he signed on in D.C., agreeing to a 1-year/$10M contract after six seasons in Chicago, Kyle Schwarber got a call from Washington Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long, who told Schwarber that he wanted to get together with the now-former Cubs’ slugger.
“He reached out after I signed and just congratulated me,” the 27-year-old outfielder said on a Zoom call with reporters from West Palm Beach, FL., “and we started talking about hitting and he just mentioned about coming out and I said, ‘Come out whenever.’ I’m like, ‘Let’s go. I’m ready.’”
Long, of course, didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation to get together and talk hitting.
“He was like, ‘Alright, I’ll be there in like three days,” Schwarber recalled. “I was like, ‘Cool.’
“He just showed up. So it was great. And he came with a lot of good things for me.
“And the best thing is the hitting stance, everybody wants to kind of think it’s a new thing.
“It’s really not. You kind of look back in my past where even in college and early years of minor league baseball I was a squatty guy.
“It’s kind of getting back to who I was and going back to the basics there.”
Schwarber said that Long came to meet him in Tampa Bay prepared, after having watched a lot of video on the left-handed swinging power bat who’d struggled in 2020’s 60-game run, finishing the COVID campaign with a .188/.308/.393 line, six doubles, and 11 home runs in a total of 59 games and 224 plate appearances over which he was worth 0.4 fWAR.
In his last full season’s worth of at bats, the 2014 first round pick (4th overall) hit 29 doubles and 38 home runs in 155 games and 610 PAs, finishing 2019 at .250./.339/.531 in a 2.6 fWAR season.
Long did his homework before traveling to Schwarber’s home.
“He already saw some video and we made some changes, one to get back down to my legs, stay behind the baseball,” Schwarber explained. “I think that was the biggest thing, from being too far out on my front side, and the only thing to do was kind of push back and it’s either hitting a hard ground ball or a weak fly ball. Now I’m just giving myself a better chance to stay behind the baseball, and doing that and working with Kevin and working with [Assistant Hitting Coach] Pat [Roessler], it’s been fantastic.”
Davey Martinez, who was the bench coach in Chicago while Schwarber was breaking into the big leagues, said he noticed the changes to the slugger’s stance early this Spring.
“I like where he’s at right now. He looks good. I know they got him in his legs a little bit more,” Martinez said on Thursday.
“He’s staying through the strike zone a little bit longer. And he’s trying to use the middle of the field. One of our best hitters does that every day, in Juan Soto. He doesn’t try to do much. You watch his batting practice, and he really focuses on staying through the middle of the field. We wanted to get Schwarber in that group with him so they can work together.
“They can work together, and K-Long did a really good job so far of trying to get him to understand how important it is to try to stay — not to do too much, try to stay in the middle of the field. We know the more contact he makes, the better he’s going to be.
“He’s got power, we all know that, so we just want him to put the ball in play more. And he’s also going to take his walks.”
When they say, “get in his legs”, what do Schwarber and Martinez mean, exactly?
“I think for you guys to visualize, a little bit more squatty, in terms of that, not as upright,” Schwarber said.
“Being able to just kind of stay back there on my back side and be able to see the baseballs better and stay behind them and not being able to travel as much is I think the best way to describe it.”
How did he get away from the “squatty” stance and end up upright? Schwarber said it was a natural evolution.
“This game you’ve got to kind of evolve with. It’s just different. Things will change each and every year. I remember my freshman year of college I was upright and then I went back down in my legs for the next three years and then I just kind of kept getting a little bit higher and higher and higher. I think a lot of it too was trying to stay with the game, a lot of guys were throwing at the top of the zone now with 98, 98+, so you are trying to give yourself a better advantage up top, and you can let some things go down low. So, I think it’s just finding that medium there, so you can stay up top really nice and also being able to control the bottom of the zone really well too.”
Schwarber was just excited that Long wanted to meet with him, and then to have him give good advice from the start of their relationship made it that much better.
“I was really excited about Kevin wanting to come out because I’ve heard a lot of great things from him,” Schwarber said.
“He’s got a really good reputation in the game, and to be able to work with him before I got to Spring Training and get a familiar face, and knowing that I’m going to be working with him a lot, I thought that was awesome, and I was really happy that he did it, and I thought that we got ahead of the curve on some of the stuff that we wanted to accomplish during the year.”
Was he surprised his hitting coach made a house call?
“Definitely. I wasn’t expecting it. When he said he wanted to come down I was all in. I was like, let’s go, let’s do this, and him and his wife came down and we were able to work on — we were at a high school hitting a couple hours. And just sitting there talking some things out, and really explaining things and doing things in a slower time before — you get to Spring Training and you got to keep your pace, because you got a lot of other guys around you, so it was nice to just kind of get that instruction, and then he left and I was able to keep pounding all that stuff in that he gave me to show up to Spring Training to have a really good base.”