Sometimes it’s so exciting to get a little insight from someone who actually “laced them up” at the highest level. Today I had the pleasure of sitting down and having a great conversation about hitting with Max Venable, former big leaguer and current Bay Area Warriors Collegiate team coach.
Venable grew up in the Sacramento area and was drafted by the Dodgers in 1976, making his Major League debut with the San Francisco Giants in 1979. Over the next 14 years, he played for the Giants, Expos, Reds, Angels and the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese league. Max said that his favorite accomplishment in the game was making it to “The Show” (players' endearing term for the Major Leagues) since so few actually do, and that playing for the Reds when the great Pete Rose was making history as the all-time hit leader was one of his best baseball memories.
Max has been helping our young hitters in the baseball camp we just completed, as well as the players on the Warriors Collegiate team, which has been playing phenomenal ball.
We are very proud to have Max Venable in our dugout coaching our Warriors Collegiate team with Jesse Foppert.
We are privileged to share with you some of his hitting wisdom.
Aaron: What kind of offseason workouts do you feel are the best for developing a young hitter?
Max: With young hitters, and really any development level at all, a player just needs to hit. No matter whether it’s soft toss, hitting off a tee, any type of live hitting, especially if you can get in a cage or a guy on the mound and get real live hitting. When I was coming up playing, Bill Matlock used to always say, “No matter whether you were going well or not, all you need to do is hit, and hit.” So I believe in that as well, that you’ll be much better off if you can get a high number of reps as to keep your swing sharp. Again, if its just hitting it off the tee, dry swinging, soft toss, and other live hitting its just going to do nothing but help. So hit, you just got to hit.
Aaron: Is there a point where a player can do more harm than good with all the batting cage time? Or does a player just need to come to a point where they trust their mechanics and go through their motions?
Max: It totally depends on the individual; one guy might be in the cages before a game for a half an hour and another for a couple of hours, with the same results. Sometimes, however, I think a guy can get in too many swings, thus overworking the mind and overdoing the thought process and over analyzing. I think you need to get in there, take some good quality swings and then move on into the game and the next day, and adjust from that. Again like I said earlier, it’s about getting good quality swings and make those adjustments as you go. Everybody is different about their work ethic and what goes in to their game. Some guys are “gym rats” or in this case “cage rats”, but I am a firm believer that a hitter needs to get swings in every day. Some kids say 500 swings, I say that’s a lot of swings, but the idea is to get swings in every day with a high percentage of them being of good quality.
Aaron: What do you think is the biggest flaw in most players' swings that limits power, good contact, etc ?
Max: Everything comes down to timing. You know if you get the timing down, especially with the kids here with the Warriors, we keep talking about being ready to hit. With the power we try to figure out the bat speed. I was actually talking to one of our Warrior Collegiate players recently about power, where you can have a smaller guy, say 5’8” 160 lbs, who can generate good bat speed and hit the ball out of the park. And then you have a bigger guy that’s 6-foot 5, who you think should be hitting the ball out of the park, but he doesn’t. So sometimes the experts don’t even know. Generally speaking you have to produce good bat speed and the timing has to be pretty much precise. If you’re hitting home runs the timing must be just right to have the correct trajectory to hit the ball out of the ballpark.
Aaron: When coaching players, do you ever use the hitting styles of professional players as examples?
Max: I can bring up some names; it all depends on the individual. I’m a guy that believes that it’s all about the hands. If your using your hands well its going to allow you to be consistent, but if your not you may hit some balls, but that’s about it. We always talk about whatever we do in baseball we need to be consistent at it, and if you’re using your hands well you have a chance to be consistent at it. So, each guy is different I don’t bring up a lot of big league names, it’s just about the whole mental part of being ready to hit and being in a good position. We have talked about that a lot, about being ready to hit and just being ready mentally. The mental approach, every situation changes from at bat to at bat, and even pitch to pitch. It’s all basically about being ready.
Aaron: As a coach and former professional player, what are the qualities you believe a hitter should develop?
Max: There is definitely a package that you look for in a player. Bat speed would be one, how they react to pitches, and their body type. It all depends on that individual. A scout might look at a player and think, “Is he a power guy? Will he remain consistent with the power? Does he have raw power?” I like to look at a player and see if he has what I have talked about before, and is he a line drive hitter that uses the whole field.
Aaron: I have always been a guy that likes to look at a given situation in a game and then guess the pitch based on the pitcher's style, what was thrown prior, the batters aggressiveness ext. Does an actual batter run through those kinds of things in the batters box or does he just guess, or react to the spin on the ball as it comes from the pitchers hand?
Max: I think that if a hitter is guessing that is going to create havoc, and not allow for consistency. We don’t teach kids to be guessers, although there have probably been some hitters that have been fairly successful at guessing a pitch. I think its just knowing the pitch that you can hit if you’re in a good hitters situation. Where if its middle-in or middle-away, you need as a hitter to know which pitch you can handle and then look for that pitch until you get two strikes, and once you get two strikes you then react to the ball and not get so locked in to a particular pitch. We always talk about if a player is using just 1/3 of the field he may get some hits, but its not going to be that consistency we have been talking about as when they use the whole field. Basically you don’t have a lot of time to be reacting to a pitch when you’re guessing. Look for a pitch in the zone, and look for a fastball and then adjust off of the fastball.
Aaron: What does that mean when you say adjust off the fastball?
Max: If you’re looking off speed and a pitcher throws a fastball it’s virtually impossible to hit that fastball. If I look fastball and am ready in a good hitting position and my front foot is down, I can then adjust off that and be able to hit the off speed pitch, versus the other way around. I would say that the majority of hitters are fastball hitters. This is why I say, look for the fastball.
Aaron:. Do you have any final comments about success in hitting? What does it all boil down to?
Max: Players are taught to keep it through the zone. You know a good number of the players are able to have success hitting for average. It appears that they are bailing out of the box, but the bat is still remaining in the zone. It goes to show you that everyone has a different style and if you’re swinging the bat making good contact, you have a chance to be something special. That is what it’s all about.
Much like the players he coaches on the Warriors Collegiate team, everything that Max Venable had to say was inspirational and helpful. Venable’s unwavering passion for the game has shown through in his coaching and mentoring skills. The partnership between Max Venable and Jesse Foppert has brought our players to a new understanding of the game, culminating in a winning season for everyone.
--This blog post was written by Aaron M. Smith of the First Base Foundation.