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Article: Twins Select RHP Tyler Kinley In Rule 5 Draft (L...

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 01:22 AM
See updates below...The Twins lost two players in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft and added a right-handed pitcher. In the m...
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Article: Twins Sign Closer Rodney To One-Year Deal

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:11 AM
The Twins headed into the Winter Meetings with almost zero closing experience on their roster. They will exit with a wealth of it.On Thur...
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Baseball Bat Post Winter Meetings Top Free Agents Availab...

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 10:23 PM
Don’t worry Twins Fans. Almost every upper echelon Free Agent is yet to sign. Here is my list of the Top Remaining Free Agents at each po...
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Article: Winter Meetings - Search For A Starter

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 09:52 PM
The Winter Meetings are an interesting event, particularly for fans. There are a multitude of rumors, and we need to sift through them to...
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Is It Over for the Wild?

Minnesota Wild Talk Yesterday, 09:19 PM
The Wild hopefully hit rock bottom yesterday after losing 7-2 to the Jets. The excuses are running out for this team. They're fairly heal...
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New swing helps Twins' Clete Thomas contribute

Attached Image: CleteThomas.jpg What Clete Thomas experienced last year at the major league level was the opposition's complete ownership of the airspace in and around the strike zone. He was, as the internet kids say, pwned.

In 29 plate appearances in 2012, he struck out 16 times and did not draw a walk. What the data tells us, but does not need to, is that in this small sampling Thomas was a complete free-swinger. Not only that, he was chasing after anything that moved in the general vicinity of the stadium. This resulted in a quick and much needed demotion to Rochester.

The whiffing did not stop while playing in The Flower City (Author’s note: it’s a thing, look it up) either. He was thrown a chair a whopping 109 times in 426 plate appearances. After parting ways briefly in November, the Twins re-enlisted Thomas in December for organizational outfield depth. He was told to tone down his swing and improve his contact.

The idea of retooling a player's swing or pitching mechanics fascinates me – particularly for guys on the fringe. You know that thing you have complete muscle memory for and are comfortable with? Change it. If it doesn't work? Oh well, you may be out of baseball. Pat on the butt and best of luck.

Plenty of struggling players are asked to rework this or tinker with that and the vast majority of them seem to stay at or near the level of production they had before the overhaul. That said, there are a few notable players who have turned their careers around by changing things up, like Roy Halladay or Jose Bautista. But players like these are the exceptions, not the rule. Locally, Twins hitter Trevor Plouffe made improvements to his swing and that turned into one of the most potent 30-day power binges this state has ever seen. Although the third baseman has had trouble at third and staying healthy, he has shown an ability to drive the ball better since his re-education. On the other hand, players like Delmon Young and Luke Hughes also made some adjustments that helped fuel brief hot stretches but never really made much long term progress.

On the recent FSN broadcasts, Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven lauded Thomas’s work to improve his contact rates; this effort helped him produce a fantastic start with Rochester this year. True, Thomas’ strikeout rate stayed the same but it was not due to wild swinging. The edict to change not only incited alterations in Thomas’ mental approach (i.e. plate discipline, pitch selection) but also in his mechanics to ensure a greater rate of contact. He improved his walk rate from 6% to 12% and with that came an increase in strikeouts looking. When he put the bat on the ball, it packed some punch. He raised his slugging percentage from .405 to .576 thanks to nine home runs in 36 games, after hitting 12 in 109 last year.

Thomas’s changes started with the set. In 2012 (right) he stood more upright, holding his hands higher and keeping his front foot opened. Comparatively, this year, Thomas has brought the front leg inward, lowered his hand level and has a more compacted stance.

Attached Image: Clete.jpg

The side-by-side differences are evident but how did they affect his swing?

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Thomas has had a long, looping swing that generated some power but far more empty swings – as evidence by his 23% strikeout rate in the minors and a 25% rate in the majors. With an opened and upright stance, Thomas exhibited a sizable load with his hands prior to bringing the bat through the zone. During his swing, his head would change planes, likely causing some hand-eye issues and resulting in the hefty in-zone swinging strike rates. Though many hitters have open-stances like pre-2013 Thomas had, those players typically have a toe-tap or other timing mechanism (not unlike former Twin Jason Kubel) to keep their weight back and evenly distributed. In Thomas’ case, the front side is all drifting away from the plate leaving him susceptible to pitches away.

Posted Image

The most noticeable change in how muted his hand-load is this: instead of drawing his hands as far back as he did in 2012, he has a smaller loading point which quickens his hands and bat through the zone. With bat speed being one key to power, this alteration is part of the reason for the increase in power. Second, with the compacted stance, his head does not change planes as much which leads to better vision. If a hitter’s eye level is changed during the swing he will have additional difficulty squaring up on the ball. Last, with the more closed stance, his weight stays centered at the middle of the hitter's field rather than pulling open, giving him better plate coverage.

Dating back to his tenure with the Detroit Tigers and their minor league organization, Thomas always had high levels of whiffability but also displayed enough power and speed to continue being considered a fourth outfielder candidate stashed away in Triple-A. However, once at the major league level, pitchers would exploit his deficiencies and render him fairly useless at the plate. The work ethic shown in being able to revamp his approach and swing has made him a useful component to the Twins. His stay with the Twins may be short-lived once Aaron Hicks proves ready to return; nevertheless, give Thomas credit for being willing and able to make enough adjustments in his approach and mechanics to have given himself value to the Twins .

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