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Giovanny Urshela and the anatomy of a swing

Giovanny Urshela was recently called up by the Cleveland Indians to replace a struggling Lonnie Chisenhall in the starting line-up. While there's been a lot of focus on the youngster's plus defense over his years in the Indians' system, what will allow him to be a major factor in years to come will be if he can continue to improve his offensive production.

In covering Urshela over the past four years, what's really stood out about him as a player has been his willingness to listen to coaching, both offensively and defensively. Where it's really come to fruition for the rookie over the years is at the plate. You can see it in his swing changes over the years.

While covering Urshela in Carolina, the coaching staff and Indians' organization was happy with his both his overall approach (he's never struck out all that much) to hitting, combined with a nice, smooth swing, they were concerned that he wasn't able to make adjustments early enough in a pitcher's delivery. The concern is that he wouldn't be able to produce as he moved up through the organization, and combined with his struggles to walk, it looked like there was a good chance that he would end up as a defensive fill-in at best.

Defensively, he has amazingly solid quick-twitch, combined with a cannon for an arm. The only question was that offense.

There are a couple of other things to note with regards to Urshela. First, this is a kid that began making waves as an 18-year old at Mahoning Valley. He's always been advanced defensively at his level, and while there were knocks on his offense, you could make a case that he's been ahead of the curve at the plate throughout his career based simply on his age.

As mentioned before, Urshela has also struggling with selectivity at the plate. In his career, he never crossed the 20 walk threshold on the season until 2014, and while he's never K'ed much, the Indians' have long wanted him to take more pitches. That began to take hold a bit in 2014, when Urshela walked 36 times on the season. Not a bunch, but he had never had more than 16 in a season, and only struck out 67 times total that year.

Now let's take a look at the swing, utilizing what video that I could find, via the internets. It's not perfect, but I think you'll be able to see the changes over the past four seasons.

What you'll notice with Urshela is that he's incorporated simple mechanisms via his coaching staffs at each level to attack specific skills. At the beginning of 2012, the Indians were looking at filling in the gaps, having him gain weight and strength, and to begin getting selective. He had a tendency, at times, to get a bit loopy, trying to swing for the fences to overcompensate for his line-drive swing.

These mechanical tweaks were beginning to take shape in April of 2012 in Carolina, when he went on the DL, missing a month of games. When he came back, his swing took a hit...until late July and early August:

Here's his swing late in 2012, at the six second mark. You can see that he starts off with a wide stance and a short step, and follows with a nice, solid line-drive swing. He had gained some weight as well, thanks to workouts, and his line-drive swing was beginning to produce some power as well.

In 2013, Urshela moved on to Akron, where again, you can see a mostly closed, crouched stance, and that foot lifting, but staying on the ground. His swing is smooth through the ball, with barely a hitch.


Now come the major changes. Once in Columbus, Urshela opens up his stance and incorporates a leg kick. His stance remains crouched and compact. The opening of the stance comes as the season progresses, but the leg kick was there from the start in 2014. Here's a home run hit in May:


And here's another hit in August:


As you can see, his stance has opened up, and he's generating even more power.

So why the leg kick?

This could lead itself to a long conversation about timing, as well as load/weight transfer. In Urshela's case, it seems easy. If you watch the videos from earlier in his career, his swing is clearly starting much later with regards to the pitcher releasing the baseball. If you look at his Columbus swings, you can see that the leg kick allows the swing to start much earlier.

There's also been some substantial studies that discuss the importance of getting your hips pushed through before the ball gets to the plate, which is clearly what Urshela has begun to do in the upper minors.

Now you can pro and con the leg kick all you want, it's clear that the Indians have been tweaking his swing to where it currently is, and it's clearly working.

Now, one last look:


Here, Urshela hits his first Major League home run against the Seattle Mariners. Immediately, you can note that he's much more upright, and his hands perhaps slightly lower in comparison to his body. It certainly gives him a more relaxed look, and he delivers. You can see the weight staying back, thanks to the kick, and then his hips releasing, once his foot reaches the ground. As the ball reaches the plate, he's able to drive the ball to left field with a nice load transfer.

The key between those earlier swings though, in my mind, is that now, his swing starts before the pitcher releases the ball. Back then, he was rushing his swing after the release point. It's really hard to be successful doing that.

Now, he's much more relaxed at the plate, and much more balanced.

It's a beautiful thing that truly reminds me of Evan Longoria's at bats earlier in his career, minus the high kick. No, I'm not comparing Urshela to Longoria. That's not the intent. I'm just noting that Urshela's current stance resembles Longoria's stance early in his career.

This isn't a talent match, by any stretch.

While the science of any swing is often more in tune with the hitter and his comfort level, what stands out with Urshela is what I've noticed since I met him in 2012: he's willing to listen to his coaches to get better.

While many wondered about his offensive skill set and whether or not it could match his defense, Giovanny was busy listening to those around him, and progressing in the exact manner that the Indians' brass wanted.

While we're only a few games into Urshela's career, and it's far too early to proclaim him a true success story, it's easy to see that regardless, Gio is the type of player that is coach-able, and when you have talent to match, the only way you can go is up.
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