Mitch Haniger, OF, Mariners
The past: A first-round pick by the Brewers in 2012, Haniger was demoted to A ball at age 24 and traded twice by 25.
What’s new: When he was sent to Class A ball by Arizona in June of 2015, Haniger decided it was time for a change. An outfielder with middling power—he had hit one home run in Double A at the time of his demotion—he began researching the swing changes made by Josh Donaldson and A.J. Pollock, under the guidance of hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary, and the philosophies of hitting instructor and former big leaguer Jacob Cruz.
Haninger adopted a leg kick with an early start, a trigger mechanism to create rhythm with his hands, and a shallower swing path, rather the old-school method of “dropping” the barrel down to the baseball. The key to the trend of launching baseballs (damage is created by getting the ball airborne, not hitting it on the ground) is to get the barrel into the zone as quickly as possible, which takes the “steepness” out of the swing and keeps the barrel in the hitting zone longer. The longer the barrel is in the hitting zone, the more “time” a hitter creates for himself. The hitter can let the ball travel deeper. To enhance the feeling of getting the bat into the plane sooner, Tewksbary has talked with some clients about feeling as if the bat will hit the catcher when it is behind the hitter. If it sounds revolutionary, it’s not; it’s essentially how Ted Williams hit.
Donaldson, Pollock, Daniel Murphy, Trevor Story, J.D. Martinez, Jose Bautista, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger are just a few of the many players who have adopted this kind of swing change to produce more balls in the air.
Haniger broke out in a big way in 2016 with his new swing: 30 homers and 111 RBIs across three levels (AA, AAA, MLB). The Mariners spotted a bargain and obtained him with shortstop Jean Segura in the deal that sent pitcher Taijuan Walker to Arizona last November.
The April breakout: Haniger, now 26, has a 1.042 OPS through his first 21 games, including a .600 slugging percentage, and he leads the league with 20 runs scored.
Sustainability Factor: High. Haniger has terrific athletic skills. Now he has a swing change to maximize his offensive potential.