BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The last time we saw Mariners prospect Tyler Marlette, he spoke at length about cutting down his swing mechanics, and the benefits he’d been reaping from the switch. That conversation was in mid-June, and at the time, Marlette was hitting just .226/.295/.466 — a marked improvement from his season-low averages in the .160s in May, to be sure, but still a far cry from what he wanted.
And then, July happened.
Between the second and 25th of the month, Marlette raised his average 76 points. At one point, in an 11-game stretch, he knocked out 25 hits. In a four-game home series in mid-July against High Desert, he put together back-to-back-to-back three-hit nights, and tallied 11 hits, two doubles, a home run, and five RBI in total against the poor Mavericks. He followed that up with nine more hits, including four doubles, on a four-game trip to Visalia, and then came right back home and promptly had a two-home run game against Modesto.
A few weeks before that hot streak, just as Marlette was starting to come around at the plate, he said this to Today’s Knuckleball:
“Oh man, I was swinging way too hard, I was getting way too far out, and my front side was leaking out early, too … Just looking at video of how far I was stepping and how my swings were getting bigger and bigger, that’s when I noticed it. The video was huge for me. So, I went to the cage and corrected everything and now I’m getting back to playing baseball again.”
At the time we had some early-season video of him at the plate, but with nothing to compare it to, we were content to take the catcher’s word for it, acknowledge his much-improved results, and move along. But now, after a handful of recent Bakersfield games in late July, we have a good comparison point to see just how much Marlette has shortened his swing in the last two months.
Take these two clips, side-by-side, showing (on the left) a couple of early-June games against Visalia and Stockton — when Marlette was cold — and on the right, swings from that two-homer mid-July game against Modesto:
Watch the slowed-down versions of his swing in that clip, and you suddenly understand the significant adjustment he’s made. On the left, his strides are long and slow, his front foot lands late, and his hands take a long time to move into hitting position. On the right, his front foot is down almost immediately and his hands take a direct path to the baseball, the combination of which allows him to control his swing, stay through the ball, and react to pitches deeper as opposed to lunging forward and hoping his moving parts catch up.
That, in turn, has allowed him to better recognize breaking balls, and take pitches that aren’t in his zone. But don’t take my word, or the video, for it; go to his numbers, too:
Again, a more controlled swing and a visually-confirmed quicker path to the ball results not only in the gaudy offensive totals Marlette is starting to put up (he’s now up to .270/.332/.480 through 304 at-bats this year), but it’s also created a markedly-lower strikeout rate and a slight rise to his walk rate.
As fun as that all may be, though, the trick now is to maintain it for the season’s final month, and then for likely what will be a couple weeks of Cal League playoff games for Marlette’s Bakersfield Blaze. In a very small window, the catcher’s last ten games have been a struggle; he’s hitting just .225 in that stretch (9-for-40) with a concerning 15 strikeouts. Small sample size, undoubtedly, but Marlette is also finding that maintaining his new swing mechanics over a long stretch is a challenge easier said than done.
“That’s the problem I’m running into right now, is trying to maintain that, because I got to the point where I was so hot I had like six or seven three-hit games in a row, and it was kind of unheard of,” he told Today’s Knuckleball last week in Bakersfield. “Now I’m starting to slow it down a little bit more, and I have to maintain it and be a little more prepared to go out every night and put up good numbers to help this team win.”
His preparation and approach are unchanged; just like he mentioned when we spoke in June, he still watches video every day, still knows how to iron out some of that length and over-exertion in his swing, and he still prepares the same as he seeks consistency at the plate. The heart of the issue now, though, is one facing every Cal Leaguer who’s played a full season thus far under the hot sun that beats down daily triple-digit temperatures: The dog days of August are here.
“It’s tough, it’s the dog days right now, and when you hit late July, early August, that’s when your dead legs start to come in,” he said, acknowledging it’s been a sluggish few weeks for a lot of teammates and opponents, as well.
“After a couple weeks it goes away, but I’m trying to keep everything loose. I’m going to the gym every day, and really making sure that I’m doing my little things, just trying to stay fresh as possible.”
That being said, as tired as his legs may be for this early August period, the 23-year-old would much rather stick behind the plate and catch, even if it means putting his body through more wear and tear, as opposed to taking the easy road as a designated hitter. The reasoning behind it, too, speaks profoundly to Marlette’s hitter’s mind.
“I’d rather catch, to be honest with you,” he admitted. “The other night I was having a hard time picking up the ball [at the plate as a designated hitter], but I think catching helps me with that, being able to get behind the plate and catch an inning before I have to go and hit.”
That sentiment is understandable; after all, Tyler Marlette did say he was a hitting catcher. Now, as every day goes by, he continues to put up the numbers and show the adjustments that prove his point loud and clear.