Professor Pentland and the Homer's Odyssey
Jeff Pentland played with Reggie Jackson and has tutored Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp, to name-drop just a few. He has advanced degrees in biomechanics. His playing days were on both sides of the chessboard; pitcher and hitter. What he doesn't know about the art/science of hitting may not be worth knowing.
No wonder the Dodgers fired him as their hitting coach last year.
It's not like there wasn't a precedent. But gurus like Pentland are never out of work any longer than they care to be. This year he signed on with the Seattle Mariners (again) as the hitting coach for their Triple A affiliate, Tacoma of the Pacific Çoast League. The Rainiers hit only .235 in April but this month they're banging away at a better than .300 clip and carrying a 13-game homer streak as Pentland settles in. He stepped away from the batting cage while the Rainiers are in Des Moines taking on the Iowa Cubs and talked with TCR.
Pentland said he's still occasionally in touch with Bonds but has no contact with Sosa. In fact, he parlayed his history with Bonds, dating to Arizona State where he coached while Bonds played, into a breakthrough with Kemp when Pentland was trying to establish a rapport after joining the Dodgers.
"I just mentioned something I'd once worked on with Barry," Pentland said. "Matt's eyes lit up. He said, 'You worked with him?' I had instant credibility." With Kemp maybe, but not enough with the Dodgers when the brass went looking for a scapegoat despite the breakout success of the latest Pentland protege.
Ask Pentland if any of his former star pupils got carried away with experiments in home remedies for slumps like brainiacs who cheat on exams without needing to and he gets circumspect. Inasmuch as he didn't blow any whistles when investigators interviewed him for a couple of hours during the compilation of the Mitchell Report it's no surprise that Pentland didn't confide anything while he sat and spat there in the confessional of the visitors' dugout at Sec Taylor Field. Whatever personal suspicions he may harbor are kept to himself.
"I didn't make judgments one way or another," he said when asked specifically about Sosa's power surge. "He was a grown man and I treated him that way." Read into that what you will.
Pentland joined the Cubs midseason in 1997. Over the following winter he had a heart-to-heart with Sosa, convincing him to swing easier to make more contact. The following summer Sosa and McGwire mugged Ruth and Maris in what's since become a dark alley of the record book.
"Sammy had very big, very strong hands," Pentland recalled. "He liked to use a bat that was thicker-handled than sluggers usually use." And lighter-barreled?
Pentland was gone from Chicago by the time Sosa's infamous corked bat incident occurred but he seems sympathetic about it, recalling that equipment used to come at Sosa in bunches during his seasons in the sixties.
"I used to check out his bats because he got 'em all the time from manufacturers and I never found one that was altered. You can tell a corked bat just by the sound the ball makes coming off of it," Pentland said, adding that if he'd found a suspicious weapon in Sosa's arsenal he would have pointed it out to him.
He brought up the juiced balls conspiracy theory during the discussion of enhanced performance.
"I remember George Brett at that time saying how the balls bounced twice as high as they used to," he said.
Pentland's been in the game for decades now. He says the same approach doesn't work for everybody and believes players are generally more sensitive than formerly due to the increased pressures that come along with increased paychecks. Besides PEDs and turbocharged gear, Pentland notes the modern player has tools at his disposal that are completely legit and equally accessible to pitchers and hitter alike.
"All of the videotape and the computerized spray charts and tendency data are so sophisticated now," he said. "You really have to take advantage of that stuff. I tell the guys here about guys I know in the big leagues that got there and stayed for 10-12 years, more by working hard than raw talent."
He may look and sound like just an ol' country batting coach spouting his accumulated wisdom like tobacco juice but it's more complicated than that. He's a biomechanic who tinkers under the hoods of living, breathing machines. Just picture him talking applied physics to Sammy Sosa and try to imagine how many bombs Einstein might have hit with a database, juiced balls, weight training and a good video tech backing him up.
Baseball might have been very, very good to him, too!
This might be old news but Hammel was on ESPN 1000 and said that he changed his diet and workout routine over the off season and tweaked his delivery so it'd be more repeatable so he'd have a better second half. So...some cause for optimism anyway.
CHILDERS: RHSP Dylan Cease and LHSP Bryan Hudson are probably the top two SP prospects in the organization right now.
LHSP Jose Paulino has electric stuff (91-94 MPH fastball with sinking action and a mid-80's slider), but he also has trouble commanding it.
RHP Jose Albertos (2015 IFA - Mexico - $1.5M bonus) just turned 17 in November, and his fastball already sits at 95-96. He also throws a curve and a change-up, and is fairly advanced for a kid his age.
AZBOBBOP: Most of 2016 draft picks will get assigned to either Eugene or AZL Cubs, but the Opening Day Eugune roster will probably be almost 100% from the Extended Spring Training squad roster (pending the arrival of draft picks).
I think I can probably tell you which pitchers and players at EXST are in contention for roster slots at Eugene and which are in contention for slots with the AZL Cubs - AS THINGS STAND RIGHT NOW - (listed alphabetically):
* bats or throws left
# bats both
Eloy Jimenez atop the leader board for minor-league home runs in the Cub system, with seven. Tied with Balaguert and Vogelbach, two 24-year-olds. Jimenez won't be 20 until late November. Leads the Midwest League in SLG and OPS. Maybe he'll get promoted to the Myrtle Beach squad that visits Woodbridge, VA, in June or Frederick, MD, in August.
Watched two Pelican games at Frederick the other week. Was most impressed by Stinnett and Happ. Happ may swing harder than Javier Baez, though more compactly. (Also got to see Brockmeyer hit a bomb.)
E-MAN: Jose Paniagua isn't a string-bean, but I wouldn't say he necessarily bulked-up during the 2015-16 off-season either, He led the DSL Cubs in HR and doubles in 2014, and he showed XBH power when he arrived in Mesa last year, leading the AZL Cubs in HR, doubles, and RBI in 2015. It's just that he has taken his HR power to a new level this year.
Paniagua displayed plus-HR power in Cactus League Minor League Spring Training games in March, and that got him a slot on the South Bend Opening Day roster. But he was sent to EXST after only six MWL games.
More on the Cub Way.
Martinez is one of my least favorite pitchers in baseball. I'd love to see a game like yesterday's against him.
Send Soler down!
Awesome thanks AZ
Great report, Phil! This organization has so many hitters to be excited about.
Ben Zobrist is very enjoyable to watch!!!!!!
given that he seems to only be throwing low 90s these days rather than the 93-96mph he used to throw, along with his wildness issues this year, he may end up passing through.
i dunno if something is wrong with him physically or his past shoulder issues has rendered him what he currently is, but he's been throwing a lot of sliders he can't control well and his fastball isn't as sharp. even when his slider wasn't working in a game he was still throwing a lot of them.
Any scuttlebutt on where Neil Ramirez gets traded?
He seems better than some of the relievers on competitive teams. He ought to bring more than the waiver fee.
My guess? Toronto.
PHIL: It seems as if Paniagua has always played 1B with the Cubs. At 6'2 and 180#, what is his frame like? String bean? Have you seen him bulk up? Where do you project him? Thanks.
Phil, what's your thoughts on which position players are going to Eugene and who is staying in AZL?
Ahhh...way to bring me down BB.
Still - a win tomorrow will be an acheivement regardless.
Don't mean to spoil your mood, but with tonight's win the are 3-5 on the trip with one to play.
While I'm bringing the room down -- Richard comes in to pitch the 9th with a 12-1 lead...and can't finish the game. Woof.