Report From The Fort: Rooker Getting Into The Swing Of Spring
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (Brent Rooker, Chris Paul, Justin Morneau)On Monday on the back fields of the Lee County Sports Complex, Brent Rooker played first base for the Chattanooga Lookouts work group against the AA work group of the Boston Red Sox. Long-time big leaguer Chris Heisey came down from big league camp and introduced himself to the Twins 2017 draft pick.
As usual in those games, he got a couple of at-bats and played half of the game at first base. He was then replaced by another quality Twins prospect, Lewin Diaz. However, Rooker’s day was not over. After watching an inning of the game, he shifted to the half-field adjacent to the field in which the game was being played.
He and fellow prospect Chris Paul went to first base where Joel Lepel hit them ground balls, and they were to throw it to second base. They were working on turning and throwing and other footwork basics. After a while, the were joined by a couple of new Twins instructors. Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau found their way over there. Cuddyer mostly observed and later hit fungoes to other infielders. Morneau stood by Paul and Rooker, offering suggestions and even showing the footwork.
The opportunity is great for the minor leaguers to learn from such talent. Twins Hall of Famer Torii Hunter has worked with the players. Michael Cuddyer was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame following the completion of his career. Justin Morneau announced his retirement in January. The former MVP has joined the Twins front office as a special assistant to Baseball Operations.
These are guys who have accomplished so much, including All-Star Games in their long MLB careers. To get pointers from them can mean the world.
Rooker noted later, “Having guys like Justin and Michael around is awesome because they have so much first hand experience and knowledge that they’re able to share. Just being around them and listening to them talk about the game is a huge help to guys like me who are trying to get where they have already been.”
Rooker grew up in a small town, Germantown (TN), just miles from Memphis. His father played baseball at Memphis, and his younger brother is currently on the Memphis team. Rooker headed south a couple of hours and chose Mississippi State for his college baseball.
Rooker noted, “I originally thought, in my junior year (of high school), that I was going to play football in college. Then I started getting bigger looks for baseball, from SEC schools. I went on a few visits. The atmosphere. The energy surrounding Mississippi State is what sets it apart.”
Rooker is a great athlete and participated in three sports during his high school career at Evangelical Christian Academy. Not only did he participate, but he was a team leader in all three sports.
“I did it because I really enjoyed all three of them. I was blessed to have the opportunity to play all three (sports) and compete for a state championship in all three sports. We won in baseball twice, and then lost in football and in basketball my senior year. When people ask what advice I have for younger players, it’s always to play multiple sports as long as you can and as long as they enjoy it and have some success and contribute to a team. I think they should try to compete in multiple sports for as long as possible because it helps develop young athletes both mentally and physically.”
The coaches at Mississippi State told him that he would redshirt his freshman season. While it wasn’t ideal and could be frustrating at times, Rooker says it was the best thing for him.
“Simply put, I wasn’t ready to compete at the level I needed to to help the team, so the redshirt was the best thing for me. I was told I was going to redshirt. It’s not the most fun thing to do. You have the choice though. I could leave and go to a JuCo and play right away, or I could stick around and try to figure out how to play at this level. I chose to do the latter and it really paid off for me. That year was hard. It was a lot of hard work, and it was tough not to be able to play and compete and practice all the time. At the end of the day, I really needed it and think it was the best decision for me.
Following a strong junior year (redshirt sophomore season), the Twins took Rooker in the 38th round. He chose not to sign, betting on himself.
“Going into the draft, I was telling teams, Top 5 rounds and I’ll sign. After that, it would be a financial decision that we can discuss. After I got picked, I did have some conversations with the Twins people. At the end of the day, it was a better decision for me from a development standpoint to go back to school and compete in the SEC which is as good as amateur baseball gets.”
He continued, “I knew there was more in me.”
He spent a lot of time that summer trying to figure out how to take his game to the next level.
“My focus was to figure out what that was for me whether it was an approach thing or a physical thing or a swing thing. I knew it was in there. I knew I had more capability than I was showing. I did whatever I could, talked to people to try to figure out what it was that would take me to the next step.”
Video has become a big part of Rooker’s preparation and work toward becoming a better player. He notes that while he has had favorite players and favorite teams in the past, he now watches baseball players a little differently and has found a couple of guys whose swings he likes and studies.
“I didn’t necessarily model my game after people. I found people that I liked what they did with their swing and watched a lot of video of those guys and tried to learn a lot from those guys. The two guys that I’ve watched the most video on and studied the most over the past two years while I was trying to figure out my swing. Josh Donaldson was one, and Barry Bonds is another guy I’ve watched a lot of video on.I look at how they move and how they made their swings work efficiently.I think those are the two guys I’ve probably learned the most from from an offensive standpoint.”
On Sunday, Lance Lynn pitched in a minor league. In that game, Rooker lined a double to left field. The below video was recorded, and it illustrates the results of his work. You can see a nice, efficient swing with little extra movement and a lot of power generated.
Later that day, Parker slowed down the video to better illustrate the efficiency.
Rooker noted that the jump from the SEC to the Appalachian League “wasn’t too big, but the jump from E-Town to the Florida State League was a big jump for me in terms of seeing the quality of stuff that guys are throwing every day.”
He is working with the Chattanooga group right now, so it makes sense the that organization may plan to have him start the season back in Ft. Myers where he posted a .917 OPS with six doubles and 11 homers in just 40 games in 2017. It’s also possible that he will begin the season with the Lookouts.
While we will continue to look at his statistics, Rooker will continue to work on his process. As he said, the numbers will take care of themselves.
Could we see Rooker in a Twins uniform, playing games at Target Field by season’s end? The odds probably aren’t high, but the fact that at this time a year ago, he hadn’t even started SEC games yet, it is remarkable to note that it is absolutely possible. If not, maybe 2019.
He’s been working hard at first base, trying to learn some of the nuances of the position. Getting help from a guy like Justin Morneau, who made himself into a very solid defensive player over his career, can’t hurt. He’s also spent some time in left field this spring.
“My job is not to worry about the assignment. My job is to show up wherever they put me and continue to work my process and get better every day. If I continue to take incremental steps, every game, every week, then I’ll be where I need to be and I think the numbers should take care of themselves. I don’t worry about the end results. I just worry about my own process and what I need to do to be the best player I can.”
Twins fans, that player could be really good.
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