Orioles catcher Chance Sisco talks about his efforts to improve his hitting.
SARASOTA, FLA. — Chance Sisco came to the Orioles last June after a power surge at Triple-A Norfolk, but the one-time top catching prospect didn’t display much of that jolt at the plate once he arrived in the big leagues.
He maintained his keen batting eye but didn’t provide much pop, with six home runs in his first 19 games and just two in the next 40 en route to a .220 batting average with a .729 OPS.
So when the offseason came, he and the Orioles developed a plan to fix it.
Sisco spent three days in California with renowned hitting guru Craig Wallenbrock, a 73-year-old consultant with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a veritable power-hitter factory. Wallenbrock, who started his private coaching career in the mid-1970s by buying tapes of elite hitters and comparing their mechanics with his clients', instructs players from other teams in the offseason and has a pupil list that includes stars like the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun and the Boston Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez. He’s considered one of the early pioneers of the elevation/launch angle revolution that has taken over baseball in recent years.
“You just kind of hear the name around baseball and know the guys that he’s worked with and the success that both sides have had,” Sisco said. “I went into it with an open mind. I honestly didn’t really know what to expect or know what I was going to get out of it, but I wanted to go in and get something out of it. It worked really well, I think. I’m pretty happy with the spot I’m in right now.”
The program they designed was centered on the direction and timing of Sisco’s left-handed swing. The work with Wallenbrock, Sisco said, focused on loading his weight properly and shifting the landing spot for his front foot before stating his swing.
“If I can land in the right spot and stay connected throughout the load, then I’ll be able to be a lot more consistent with delivering the barrel and not have those rollovers and flares, obviously, and the swings and misses as much,” Sisco said.
To Wallenbrock, no matter the diagnosis of a player’s swing upon arrival at his facility or the specific fixes that are assigned, consistent contact is the end result they’re searching for.
“I think the number one thing is virtually everybody that I’ve worked with has an increase in consistent hard contact, and a rise in their slugging percentage,” Wallenbrock said. “They start driving the ball more. That doesn’t necessarily mean home runs. It could be more doubles or triples, depending on a guy’s size and everything. The biggest thing that I look at is an increase in hard contact, and as a result of that, that typically goes along with a higher slugging percentage.”
Sisco was a second-round pick in the 2013 MLB draft as a high school senior from California, and though his calling card was his bat, he didn’t show much power. When he hit an opposite-field home run in the MLB All-Star Futures Game in 2016, he’d hit just one the entire season to that point at Double-A Bowie. But he hit .320 with an .828 OPS that season and was the organization’s top prospect by season’s end.
That power deficiency started to change a bit as he reached Triple-A Norfolk, and consistent production hasn’t really been a part of Sisco’s game during parts of three seasons in the major leagues. The work and analysis this offseason made him realize how much things have changed, subconsciously or not.
“There were some things that I did really well in the minor leagues that I kind of got away from,” Sisco said. “Honestly, going through this process, it’s kind of gotten me back to some things that I did, and looking back at some swings in the minor leagues, I did load properly then. I didn’t necessarily land in a great spot. I’m a little better at that now, but I loaded properly then. I’m getting back to doing that now."
Hitting to the opposite field is still his strength, he said, and his approach is still to hit the ball up the middle. Sisco said he’s not selling out for pull power, as has become the norm around the game as players realize the correlation between power production and paydays.
When he was producing in the lower minors, though, Sisco hit the ball the other way far more often.
Sisco is in a unique position, with 753 Triple-A plate appearances and a large enough body of work that there are challenges he must contend with at the major league level. Wallenbrock said a lot of variables go into a player’s buy-in and follow-through on the program, including their own willingness to change and the organization’s support.
“It really depends on the individual on that,” Wallenbrock said. “I also think it depends on their level of frustration with what’s going on. I work with guys who swear they want to make a change, and then they start trying to make that change and they do have difficulty because the old habits are so ingrained that they end up deserting it the first time there’s failure. And then, there’s a guy like [16-year major leaguer and current Washington Nationals manager] Davey Martinez who just says, ‘I’m not going anywhere with what I’m doing. I’ve got to fully invest,’ and did fully invest. I have everything in between.”
Sisco seems to have no such reservations. He said he constantly kept Orioles hitting coach Don Long updated on what he was doing, and a Friday morning meeting with Long came with Sisco’s assessment that he is “getting into a way better spot, and my direction with the load and the swing is a lot better."
Manager Brandon Hyde hasn’t seen a ton of Sisco’s hitting this spring with the way the schedules have worked for the catchers, but has liked what he’s been seeing in reports and in his brief looks.
“There's some swing adjustments there, stuff that I saw a couple days ago that we're really happy with,” Hyde said. “I know he's in a good place mentally with his swing, and there's a lot of things he's working on. I think he's making big progress.”
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When Grapefruit League games start later this week, Sisco said he’ll determine whether the changes took hold and are successful not by the afternoon’s batting line, but by what the video tells him about whether he’s getting in the right spot with his landing foot and loading properly.
Wallenbrock typically waits until the regular season gets going to see whether the work with a particular client takes hold.
“I like Chance,” Wallenbrock said. “He seemed like he was fully committed, but the proof will be how he does this year."
Around the horn
>> Ryan Mountcastle spent another day primarily working with the outfielders in left field Tuesday, and Hyde said they wanted him to get as much exposure as possible at that position.
>> Richie Martin, who played only shortstop in 2019, spent Tuesday working at second base in an effort to make him more valuable and versatile for the club, Hyde said.