Members of the Oakland A’s minor league coaching staff chose a unique method in order to get a talented young hitter back on track during spring training, and the prospect has carried that over into a successful first half of the season with the Beloit Snappers.
Oakland’s 12th-round selection in last June’s draft, Luke Persico, struggled through the early part of spring training and coaches noticed one big reason for it.
“I got off to a slow start, but worked with Ed Sprague, Keith Lieppman and Jim Eppard before I came out here about getting into my legs more,” said Persico, who didn’t make an affiliate’s roster out of spring and remained in Arizona until a spot opened up four games into the season with an injury to Mike Martin.
“It’s kind of funny, we talked about skipping rocks and what that motion would look like. I kind of transformed that into my swing. It got me in my legs more and turned this 60/40 rocking thing and did some drills one day. I got a lot of focus and attention and it helped me transform my swing and helped me stay in my legs. I’ve taken off from there. Those guys helped me out and saw it immediately. That rock-skipping thing transformed everything entirely for me.”
Despite being an established college hitter from a Power-5 school in UCLA, Persico completely revamped what he did in the batter’s box this spring.
“I started with showing them kind of how I skipped a rock and they said to do that with a bat in my hand,” he said. “We worked with it and it gradually become a process of changing into my actual swing. I’d start on my front foot, shift my weight back and hit from my back side.”
Luke Persico BP video
Last season, Persico struggled mightily with a bat in his hands in the AZL and at short-season Vermont. In 54 combined games at the two levels, Persico slashed just .192/.263/.280.
Then there were the struggles to open his spring at Beloit, where he recorded just one hit in his first 22 at-bats. But Persico trusted in what his coaches had taught him and his fortune soon turned.
“It was tough starting out that way early in the year,” Persico said. “The first thought I had to put in my head was that I’ve got plenty more at-bats coming up so stick with the process. It wasn’t like I was striking out and was making good contact, but balls were getting hit right at people. So far it’s been good and I haven’t hit a wall again like that.”
Persico turned it around during the month of May when he slashed .319/.376/.445 and had one stretch in which he recorded multiple hits in six of nine games. He recorded four-hit games on May 5th versus Bowling Green, May 18th at Peoria and May 25th at home against Wisconsin. As a result, Persico’s batting average climbed nearly 100 points (from .219 to .317) in 14 days.
The hot stretch had Persico hitting balls hard all over the field, and on most any type of pitch.
“A successful at-bat is when I’m making solid contact and staying inside the ball,” he said. “I need to keep my hands in and barrel the baseball. As long as I know my barrel is getting to the ball and it’s on a line-drive trajectory, that’s when I know things are going well for me. It got to a point where I felt so locked in that any pitch looked good to hit. That’s when everything is going well.”
Matching up against high-level competition at UCLA during his three years in Westwood also helped Perisco weather the early storm in high professional career.
“I faced some pretty good arms in college,” he said. “I got off to a really slow start my junior year and ended up well. I knew how that process worked and how you’ve got to keep grinding it out. It’s easy to doubt yourself when you’re going through these long periods of time when you’re not hitting. As long as you ride it out and keep working hard, you’re bound to find your way out of it. I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had and that’s huge.”
If he continues to put up solid offensive numbers in a league in which pitchers often have the upper hand, Persico should put himself in position for a call-up to the hitter-friendly California League.
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