Just because the task — overhauling everything about your swing in the course of a year — isn’t an easy one doesn’t mean the hard days don’t sting.
It’s been nearly a year of significant change since the Orioles drafted outfielder Dylan Beavers with the 33rd overall pick with the mutual understanding that there was plenty of work to do to unlock one of that draft’s most intriguing skill sets. Until now, the returns have been clearer to see. He’s struggling now and feeling more doubt.
“You definitely think, ‘I want to go back to what I was doing before and see if I can hit that way, because this ain’t working,’” Beavers said last week in Aberdeen. “That’s kind of the hardest thing, just trusting it and sticking to the process, because development’s not a one-day thing. It takes a good amount of time.”
That’s been the message Beavers has been telling himself, with the help of the Orioles’ player development staff, as he works to sustain the offseason changes he and the organization were so bullish on and make new ones to ensure his advanced bat-to-ball skills and good control of the strike zone yield the hard contact they’re seeking.
After starting strong with an .886 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in April, Beavers had a .533 OPS in May to bring him down to .686 for the season. As fellow college draftees Jud Fabian and Max Wagner take off, Beavers has been trying his best to translate the daily pregame work designed to improve him long term with the fact there’s a game every night he wants to perform in.
“I’d say I’m struggling with it a little bit, trying to maintain the positions I want to be in when I’m hitting and having the balance of that, and then also going into the game and trying not to think and just kind of compete,” he said. “So, I’d say that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’m kind of in between right now. I go back and forth — I’ll try and just take competitive at-bats, not think about mechanical stuff, and then I’ll struggle with that and I’ll start getting in my own head about my mechanics. It’s like a back and forth.”
The good news is there are changes that have taken hold. He has maintained the posture he worked on last year in Delmarva, and of the two main offseason takeaways from his motion-capture scan at Titleist Performance Institute, one has carried on.
The scan found his hips moved significantly toward the plate as he swung, which cut off his ability to combat inside pitches and those that moved toward him. He’s staying more neutral, to the point that the scouting report of opposing pitchers attacking him inside has changed — they have to use their whole arsenal on both sides of the plate now, and he’s glad for that progress.
With the other change — maintaining optimal weight transfer and pushing off his back leg — the balance hasn’t quite come yet.
“It’s just the front-to-back movement that I want to kind of work on, especially with off-speed pitches. That’s where I get really out front and almost am hitting off one leg,” Beavers said. “That’s one of the things we’ve worked on, riding on the back leg and staying central with my balance. I think that’ll help improve the consistency of hard-hit balls.”
So will a new change they identified in a unique way. Beavers found he was constantly hitting himself on the back of the helmet with his bat as he loaded, which aside from the obvious discomfort “would just mess up all my rhythm and everything.”
They found he was using his hands and his elbow to load, as opposed to utilizing the scap muscle in his back and shoulder, and that was impacting the angle his bat came down. Before, he was tipping his bat, which hitting coach Zach Cole said “was creating a little more steeper [vertical bat angle] in his path.”
Beavers acknowledges it’s a hard habit to break — he’s been tipping his bat forward since he was 7 years old — but Cole said doing so will allow Beavers “to turn the barrel a little bit better and catch more balls more consistently flush.”
“Just kind of controlling that tip a little, along with the progress we’ve made with the weight transfer and the stuff with his hips, and allow that barrel to turn and be more impactful,” Cole said.
Beavers knows the solution is to keep working at it. Although it’s difficult to be thinking of these mechanical cues with a pitcher on the mound in a meaningful at-bat, the pregame work is designed to create challenging circumstances to practice these minute moves and build muscle memory.
“The progress is being made, and it’s also being exploited in some cases too, in terms of how much work needs to be done,” Cole said. “Everybody knows that, once we get into games, the stress levels get a little higher and those intricacies get exploited. Now, we keep upping the stress level and keep learning more day by day. Beavers strives to be the best, wants to be the best now, and he understands that’s not how it’s going to be and he needs to keep working at it.”
In the interim, Beavers takes a long view. He and Cole break down his at-bats in game, and those often come with a reminder from the coach that Beavers is at his best when he’s relaxed. That can be hard when you have such high expectations in these challenging circumstances. He is controlling the strike zone with an 11.3% walk rate. He has the second-lowest swinging strike rate (7.8 percent) of anyone in the organization, even if his strikeout rate is high.
Those core skills are still intact, and Beavers said knowing that is reassuring. During a visit last month, Orioles minor league hitting coordinator Anthony Villa provided a perspective on Beavers’ progress that stuck.
Beavers said: “I was really frustrated after a game — I just felt like I took poor at-bats, and I felt like, when I got pitches to hit, I wasn’t making the right move on them. It had me questioning everything I was doing. Villa pulled me aside and said, ‘Development is kind of like the stock market. You want to go in an upward trajectory, but in baseball you’re not going to go straight up. It’s not like day after day you’re going to keep moving up. There’s ups and downs, ups and downs. As long as you’re trending in the right direction, that’s what you want to have — not necessarily to go day by day, but to kind of look at it in a more broad spectrum.’ "