By Brent Stecker
As the Mariners’ new hitting coach, Dave Hansen has several young hitters the Mariners are counting on this season to spend his time working with. And as he told “Bob and Groz” on ESPN 710 Seattle, that’s exactly what’s he’s doing.
Hansen, a former MLB pinch-hit specialist who previously served as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ hitting coach, has put a lot of time in with three of Seattle’s youngest and most promising players — catcher Jesus Montero, second baseman Dustin Ackley and first baseman Justin Smoak.
Montero has a reputation as a free swinger, and Hansen said the goal is to keep things simple with the 23-year-old.
“He’s got a world of talent. When I saw him last year (when the Dodgers played a series in Seattle), I thought, ‘Wow, this guy’s got just some natural pop in that bat … but he’s really a free swinger,’ ” Hansen said. “He’s kinda all over the place. My approach with him is to get him to focus on one spot and being one guy at the plate.”
There have been good results in spring training — Montero is hitting .367 in 10 games.
“He’s been in one place, he’s swinging at good pitches, and he’s actually taken a few in the dirt, which is encouraging,” Hansen said. “He’s hitting the ball to right-center field now, which is his natural bat path that he kinda got away from (by) free-swinging. He’s kinda tightening up all that movement that he has.”
The presence of new leaders on the team have been a big help, as well.
“Veteran leadership helps out especially with these young kids, because we can tell them how to work, but when they actually see it with their teammates it makes a little more sense,” said Hansen. “(Montero has) seen that in Kendrys Morales. He’s kinda latched onto him, and (Morales) is a great influence.”
The 25-year-old Ackley (.321) has also had a strong spring, something Hansen credits to hard work in the winter.
“He’s tried to get his hands in motion a little more. He’s working on that timing right now,” said Hansen. “He’s been doing good, and he’s healthy. I didn’t see him so much last year, but from what I understand, that was limiting him physically at the plate. He doesn’t have those issues now and he looks pretty good.”
The switch-hitting Smoak, 26, was a can’t-miss prospect who has struggled throughout his three-year career with the Mariners, but he has been a revelation this spring, hitting .390 with three home runs in 13 games.
“With Smoak, sometimes as a young kid when you get labeled as having this power (without) really understanding it yet,” Hansen said. “(When he is) putting too much pressure on himself to hit the ball out of the ballpark, his swing gets real long. But he’s done some great work in the offseason — he’s lined himself up and his hands are a little bit more free. He’s not trying to hit homers, they’re just going to go out.
“He hit a home run left-handed to the opposite field (in spring training), which is really encouraging because he’s been so around the ball and trying to hit homers to the pull side. … And right-handed he’s been pretty consistent. He’s worked really hard.”