Special to Royals Review. Photo credit to Nick Pratto’s Twitter, @N_Pratto
Beyond the right field wall at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington, Kentucky is the Legends’ clubhouse. The Class-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals houses three players considered the future of a team in need of revitalization. Seuly Matias, M.J. Melendez, and Nick Pratto emerged from a door emblazoned with a large “KC” decal, donning their jerseys for on-field interviews. It is a moment that feels like one that members of the media would experience years in the future, with the trio emerging from the bowels of Kauffman Stadium instead of a minor league ballpark in Kentucky.
Nick Pratto, the Royals first-round pick in 2017’s MLB Draft from Huntington Beach High School (California), took a detour from higher profile discussions to talk with me. This year has been Pratto’s second year in professional baseball and first with a full-season affiliate. While Matias leads all of minor league baseball in home runs and others revel in Melendez’s defensive prowess, Pratto’s results have left him wanting more. In 60 games with the Legends this season, Pratto is hitting .238/288/.367 with seven home runs. However he was quick to mention what others scouting the stat line of his 2018 would fix their eyes on. His understanding of the issue provided a different perspective to a common problem.
“My strikeout numbers are a little higher than I wish they would’ve been, but there’s still plenty of time to fix that.” Pratto said. His 80 strikeouts are fifth-most in the South Atlantic League (behind teammate Seuly Matias).
“A lot of my strikeouts are looking or chasing at balls that maybe [the umpire] calls earlier in the count and I’m like, ‘Ok, now I have to put that in play.’”
A fluid strikezone is something players in the minor leagues have to deal with. Just as the players themselves are developing, so are the umpires controlling the outcome of numerous events. If Pratto’s rationale makes you more comfortable with his on-field product, then you have something in common with the 19-year-old first baseman.
“I’m not concerned. The contact I’m making is hard. My outs have been pretty hard as of late, I’m not concerned with any of it.” Pratto continued.
His confidence comes across not only in his optimism for how 2018 will trend, but also in his demeanor. Interacting with Pratto for a short period of time shows you an affable person blended with an advanced level of self awareness.
My intentions of speaking with Pratto were specifically to inquire about a change I noticed in his hand placement that has remained intact since 2016. Any anxiety I had about how willing Pratto would be to engage in matters of mechanics dissipated with my perception of these characteristics shortly into our conversation. This left me even more interested in Pratto’s assessment of his former self.
Lance: How much do you watch video of your swing?
Nick: Quite a bit - beginning of the year I didn’t really do it much, I was feeling pretty good, but as we went through the year things kind of creep into your swing that you kind of want to check out and make sure you’re doing alright.
I was interested in one thing in particular with this video related to your hand placement. I noticed you brought them forward in your set-up during the Area Code Games [right video above] in late 2016. Was this an adjustment you made internally?
Yes actually. You see my hands when I load right there? [Pointing to the left video in the gif above] There is no real separation, they just kind of stay there. In this video [Pointing to the right video in the gif above] they separate back and I really get a good load in my front half… and that’s really where power and strength come from.
Was this an on-the-spot adjustment or was it more long-term development based?
I mean I always kind of knew that was a key part, here [left video] I was more handsy, I kind of just flicked the ball around. And this [right video] is where I really started to develop power and really kind of drive the ball.
Is that power because of the momentum of your hands going back as opposed to keeping them back, or is it more the total engagement of your whole swing’s rhythm?
Kind of a mixture of both. I think I get a good rhythm with it and my hands coming back really gets a good whip forward.
After complimenting Pratto on how consistent his swing has been since August of 2016, I asked whether he prided himself on this consistency. The second half of his response - “... just stick to what I have and kind of just make little tweaks here and there along the way.” - was an opportune segue into a second adjustment I presented to him.
Pratto’s “little tweaks” have become subtle. During the Area Code Games (seen on the left side of the gif directly above) Pratto set up with the plane of his bat flatter in relation to his his shoulder before loading. Compare that set-up to spring training of this season (right video directly above) and you’ll see a tendency to start the plane of his bat perpendicular to the ground.
“That creates more of a loft in the swing,” Pratto says gesturing to the gif above. “The flatter your bat is, the flatter your bat is going to be through the ball.”
Our conversation evolved from the purpose and reasoning behind adjustments to the application of these adjustments to an actual approach, which starts with preparation. As most left-handed hitters see the ball out of a right-handed pitcher’s hand better (among other factors), hitters are naturally more successful versus the handedness opposite of them. While this doesn’t appear to be a big issue with Pratto given his career splits in the minor leagues, that may be for good reason.
“My approach is pretty simple, I’m always trying to stay through the middle whether it’s a lefty or a righty. That keeps me balanced both ways.” Pratto says in response to my questioning of whether he prepares for lefties differently than for righties. “Lefties are all different, some are changeup guys, others are slider-curveball guys... We don’t really do much scouting report kind of stuff, so you have to get a feel after your first couple at-bats and go from there.”
Pratto has a purpose for what he does, whether it’s tweaking his mechanics or standardizing his approach to southpaws, this comes across well in conversation. As if the Royals attempted to emulate this feature of Pratto, the organization selected four college pitchers with their first four picks in the 2018 MLB Draft. Some might consider it a deliberate attempt to compliment the offensive talent at the top of Royals prospect lists.
“I watched the first day, I thought it would be really interesting how they went about it and everything,” Pratto said on the Royals 2018 draft haul. “I’m really excited with what they did and I think it’s a good sign for the organization as a whole.”
Pratto, along with teammates Matias and Melendez, will soon be joined by these four college pitchers in an organization that’s restarting from the ground up. Future “little tweaks” made by Pratto will represent continued growth off of a stable frame. If emulated by the rest of the organization, this adjustment and subsequent success should create buzz in Kansas City once again.
Lance Brozdowski is the editor-in-chief of the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network, and writes about fantasy baseball for Razzball, contributes to Viva El Birdos and writes at his own site, BigThreeSports. He co-hosts a prospect podcast on Razzball and hosts his own Podcast, Two Strike Approach. You can follow him on Twitter at @LanceBrozdow.