NEW YORK — Nick Ammirati didn’t take Adam Frazier seriously.
In the entire time they’ve known each other — a decade now, beginning when they roomed together at Mississippi State — Frazier has never asked Ammirati for hitting advice. Frazier, after all, was the best hitter in college baseball, let alone on the Bulldogs roster.
But last week, as Ammirati and Frazier played their usual late-night Fortnite after an Orioles home game, the suggestion came. Ammirati, now the hitting coach for the University of Kentucky, told Frazier over a headset in between their calls to locate an enemy in the video game how his Wildcats hitters have posted one of the best team batting averages in the Southeastern Conference.
“He was like, ‘You need to take a look at my swing,’” Ammirati recalled. “I was just like, ‘Well, just send me a video.’”
The next morning, he didn’t just send one. Frazier sent a pair, challenging his friend — and impromptu hitting instructor — to find an answer to why he felt so good at the plate one day and so off the next. One video was Frazier’s two-run homer last week against Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani; the next was a rolled-over ground ball from the next day.
Ammirati paused the Kentucky hitting drills he was in the midst of overseeing to watch Frazier’s tape, and Ammirati saw the answer immediately.
He screenshotted the videos side by side, then sent a subsequent video demonstration. The issue: Frazier was too upright, with his butt and hips right in line with his ribs. Ammirati told Frazier to stick his butt out more, a slight bend that allows Frazier a cleaner, smoother and faster bat path.
It’s the critical piece to Frazier’s revitalization at the plate, bringing unexpected power to a contact hitter’s game. Although it’s something Baltimore’s hitting coaches have preached since Frazier joined this offseason as a free agent, hearing it from an outside voice reinforced the instruction.
“Sometimes when you start struggling, you just need an extra set of eyes there,” Ammirati said. “A quick little fix. Sometimes it’s just a placebo effect, too. You never know.”
Whatever it is, it has worked.
With his three-run home run off New York Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes on Wednesday, Frazier matched his career-high on-base streak to 17 games. In the last two weeks, Frazier has recorded a hit in all but one game, and among those 14 knocks, a player known more for his contact ability has flashed a surge in power. He homered off Ohtani. He homered again in Toronto, then checked in with a triple later in that three-game sweep of Baltimore’s American League East foe.
And, in the opening game at Yankee Stadium, Frazier plated two runners with a double to right field. While his average exit velocity of 85.7 mph is still in the bottom 6% of the majors, Frazier has improved upon last season’s struggles with the Seattle Mariners and looks closer to the All-Star-caliber player he became in 2021.
Still, Frazier hasn’t felt at his best until recently, when a late-night conversation with Ammirati while playing Fortnite unlocked an adjustment Baltimore’s hitting coaches have preached for months.
“I was halfway kidding, but he pointed out one little thing and I was like, ‘I see what you’re saying,’” Frazier said. “I felt it. The BP I’ve had the last few days have been some of the best I’ve had all year.”
It was a reversal from the usual roles Frazier and Ammirati held in college. At Mississippi State, Ammirati — a defense-first catcher — followed Frazier around the batting cages to partake in the same tee drills his roommate used. But Ammirati has spent the last 10 years teaching hitters at Hinds Community College, Southern Miss and now Kentucky.
He was more than happy to lend a hand to one of the best hitters he’s ever seen.
“His swing is beautiful,” Ammirati said. “He’s always had an unbelievable swing. When I played with him in 2013, he led the country in hits. I was like, ‘It’s not your swing. Your swing is unreal.’ It just allowed him to stay through the ball longer. When your hips are flying while you’re swinging, it’s like your momentum is taking you, so I guess it would affect the bat path. But it wasn’t his swing. First thing it was his timing, and then his hips were in the way.”
Last year in Seattle, when Frazier stumbled to the lowest batting average of his major league career, he had a tendency to throw his hands at the ball without the full support of his body. Frazier is such a good contact hitter because of his hands (his 9.7% strikeout rate is in the top 2% of the league this season), but he found that the disconnect left him rolling over on more balls than ever before.
In the preliminary meetings ahead of Frazier’s signing with Baltimore, co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller noticed how Frazier had a tendency to “lift up” as he began his swing — practically rising on his toes.
The downside of such a movement was evident with Frazier’s .238 batting average and .612 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. But even without the results to back up the view, Fuller knew encouraging Frazier to dig into the dirt more as he swung would lead to a turnaround.
“When you just look at where your strength comes from, no matter any sport — soccer, making a tackle in football — it’s always going to originate from the ground on up,” Fuller said. “The guys who have the ability to use their hands, it’s a skill, no doubt, the hand-eye coordination to do that. But the hands kind of work independently from the body, and when we’re using our legs, using our hips, transferring energy up, now we have all that foundation for the hands to work strongly at the end of a swing.”
The results are there in plain view: Frazier isn’t trying to hit home runs — that’s not his game — but with six this year, he’s already surpassed his totals from 2021 and 2022. Part of that comes from Frazier’s hip placement, moving his butt out away from the plate. With Seattle, Frazier’s bat path worked well for opposite-field hits; now he can cover all parts of the zone.
Much of that work began before Frazier even arrived in Sarasota, Florida, for spring training, delving into mechanics with Baltimore’s hitting instructors. But Frazier is reaching this next level now, with the assist of a hitting lesson that originated through Fortnite.
“It always helps just to have an extra eye,” Ammirati said.