These times without baseball are quite unusual to Darick Hall, since it seems that the sport’s schedule usually goes on no matter what circumstances arise.
“None of us could’ve ever thought that it would’ve been like this, because baseball is usually played come hell or high water,” he said last weekend by phone. “You know, it could be raining all day long or snowing and, more times than not, baseball will be played.”
Hall, a 24-year-old first baseman, was in spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies as a non-roster invitee when Major League Baseball suspended its season due to the outbreak of COVID-19. He had spent weeks getting ready for a season that would not start on time, and may never start at all.
“Slowly I went from like really ramped up and prepared for the season, mentally and physically,” Hall said, “to like back in offseason mode.”
Currently, the left-handed hitter is spending his time in Arizona with a home gym, a batting cage and a training partner that attended his high school and junior college. He’s using the resources available to him to stay fresh and to keep improving.
A main way that Hall works on his game at home is by hitting off of a pitching machine. He has a machine that can send him pitches at game speed. He’ll often set it so that it delivers him a mix of game-speed fastballs and offspeed pitches. This helps him work on adjusting to each pitch and still be able to get solid contact on pitches that he may be a bit fooled on.
“Obviously, I load at the same time every time. I just let my eyes and my body adjust to what the ball is doing,” Hall said. “That’s something that I think helped me the last two offseasons. It’s really game-like, and it’s just a good drill to practice being a hitter.”
Hall continues to prepare for a potential 2020 season to build off a successful 2019 campaign, his first full season in Double-A. Last season, Hall had a .798 OPS in 132 games for the Reading Fightin Phils. He hit 20 home runs for the third straight year, racked up a career-high 38 doubles and nearly doubled his career-high in walks. He hit a home run off New York Yankees pitcher Luis Severino while the ace was on a rehab assignment, as well as a double off Yankee Jordan Montgomery. The slugger was also named an Eastern League All-Star and won the league’s home run derby:
Hall showed improved plate discipline last season in addition to his extremely impressive power. That’s a skillset that catches the eye of many, including that of Phillies minor-league hitting coordinator Jason Ochart. Ochart, who also serves as director of hitting at Driveline Baseball, had seen Hall play in college and remembered him when he joined the Phillies organization last year.
“[Hall] was someone that, when I got the job, I went to spring training and watched him take batting practice. And it was like, ‘Woah,'” Ochart said by phone last week. “It’s different. He hits the ball so hard and so far, and it’s not something you see every day.”
“… There’s probably five or six people in all of baseball that can hit the ball as hard as him.”
While the raw power has always been there for Hall — he’s hit 84 home runs in his four seasons since being drafted in 2016 — a more disciplined approach was a major key for him in 2019. He was able to significantly improve this aspect of his game about two months into last season.
“I used to think if a ball looked good, I’m just going to swing,” Hall said. “See it and hit it, right?
“But really, I had to really tighten up my zone, and realize just because I could hit a ball, doesn’t mean that’s always good enough. I need to get a pitch I can drive here, and not just do it one at-bat — try to do it four a game.”
Ochart noted how this shift in Hall’s approach fit into the organization’s hitting philosophy from last season of punishing strikes. He said that knowing his strengths and having an idea of what pitches he might see helped the young power hitter. Hall had a more advanced plan at the plate than just swinging at any pitch he could get his bat on.
“When you talk to big leaguers and veterans and kind of compare them to a lot of the younger players, you really notice a drastic difference in the gameplan,” Ochart said. “Those big leaguers that have been doing this a while, they always have a plan. Even if it’s simple, they have some sort of plan when they get to the batter’s box.
“… As you talk to younger players, often times they don’t. Their plan is like ‘get a hit. I’m just trying to get a hit.’ At some point in the development process, they need to learn to think through the at-bat and be a little more clever in their strategy. I think that last year Darick really saw a big jump in his ability to do that for himself.”
Hall was extremely pleased with his results that came from that plan and approach at the Double-A level. Attacking the pitches he knows he can hit and taking pitches that he can’t do much with is a strategy that he wants to continue to use going forward.
“I think that’s something that finally clicked for me, and since it worked I’m even more of a believer in it,” Hall said. “That’s kind of what my goal was in , was really to hone that exact thing in. I was able to do it. It took me a little bit. Even though it clicked, there’s going to be times that you falter — that’s just every hitter.
“But at least I know now that — I know I can do it. I know I can have an elite approach against elite pitching. And this was a year that I was hoping I could put it all together.”
While it is still unclear whether he’ll get the chance to put it all together in a 2020 season, Hall will certainly have more chances to show what he can do as a player once baseball starts back up.
He believes he’s in contention for a spot in Triple-A Lehigh Valley when baseball returns, but Hall is just focusing on the things he can do himself going forward.
“If I perform, I put pressure on them to make the moves,” he said. “If you perform, that’s what talks. Wherever they put me, I’m just going to do the best that I can do there, and hope that they see that and make the moves.
“I think that wherever they put me is in their best judgement, and I’m just going to play and do my thing wherever they put me.”
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