When infielder Drew Swift stepped to the plate in the top of the fifth inning in Sunday’s road finale at USC, he worked himself into a 1-0 count before staying with a pitch on the outer half of the plate, spraying the ball to right field to help spark plug a four-run fourth inning.
He followed it up in the top of the ninth frame, this time, yanking a leadoff double on a frozen rope down the left field line, tallying his seventh extra-base hit and showing his ability to hit to all fields, while also displaying a little bit of pop with the bat.
But his ability to string together consistent quality at-bats and sport a .286 clip more than halfway through the season did not always come easy.
After a forgetful freshman campaign where he hit just .201, the calm and overly-mature-for-his-age sophomore grasped the concept that it was time to shake things up. Early in the fall season, hitting coach Michael Earley delivered Swift a sales pitch on what he believed would improve his offensive production.
It was time to change his swing, an area of uncharted waters for the second baseman.
“I had some little adjustments during high school, but this is mainly the first big change that I’ve had in my swing,” Swift said.
To go through a complete overhaul with one’s swing is far from easy to do, and at times can be even more difficult to translate to game action, requiring laborious effort. Swift, however, never questioned it once.
“When [Earley] came up with what he wanted to change, I was fully into it, I was ready to get better,” he said.
His hitting coach had nothing but high praise for his drive to improve, stating that he never doubted the process for a minute.
“Absolutely not,” said Earley when asked if Swift was ever reluctant to change his swing. “He’s on board with anything. You could tell him the wrong thing and he’d know it’s wrong, and he’s still going to do it because he’s just that kind of character kid.”
Once both recognized that the motivation and mental side of the course were in the right spot, it was time to get down to the mechanics and fundamentals of the swing. Focused on what areas needed the most growth, Earley felt that Swift had some unlocked power in his repertoire that they were striving to tap into.
“It was more of getting him into a power position. Getting him more to his back side, creating more separation between his hands and his front foot so he had more leverage,” Earley said.
Swift reiterated a similar message.
“That was the main thing, loading and getting to the backside. I wasn’t generating enough power last year,” he said.
Often getting too far out on his front foot in his first season — that caused him to lose a healthy portion of that said power — he and Earley worked on specific drills throughout the fall and winter to ensure that he was corralling that power and getting the needed leverage with the proper weight transfer, as Earley described.
“There’s one that’s called offset flips,” Swift said. “He’ll come in, he’ll flip it in at a diagonal angle, and I just work on going the opposite way and keeping my hands inside.”
Earley, however, likes to crank up the drills to more than just the diagonal tosses.
“In practice, I try to be more disruptive,” he said. “I’m throwing from behind him or on the velocity machine or breaking ball machine, because in a game you’re not always comfortable so we try to be as uncomfortable as we can so in the game it’s more game like and a little bit easier.”
As evident, the work has paid off for the Sun Devil second baseman, who is well on track to surpass his hit total from last season.
All of this culminated together has equated to an improved sophomore season. Swift got off to a scorching hot start, hitting .406 through the first ten games of the year. He currently places sixth on the Pac-12’s top offense in doubles and on-base percentage, while also sitting pace to significantly cut down on his strikeout total from last season.
“He’s really worked hard on [his swing], give him credit for that,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “I think he’s more of a threat, he’s understanding he’s a little bit more confident in the box, but just the fact that he gives us a little bit more production because of the competitiveness. He’s confident.”
That confidence and ability to stay back on balls has also propelled him to surpass his extra-base hit total from 2018 (in fact it happened in one game, just six days into the young season) while flashing the ability to more effectively hit the ball to all fields with success.
Swift is still far from his potential in Earley’s mind:
“I’ll tell you this right now he will hit a home run or two before the season is over, you can mark that down right now,” he said with a smile on his face. “He’s getting in a better position to hit which is creating more power.”
The maroon and gold infielder also broke a grin when asked about his potential to drill one out of the yard.
“I’ve definitely got to get one or two,” Swift said with a slight chuckle. “Especially since everyone in the lineup has got one, so I’ve got to get one. I will.”
His opportunity to showcase the new and improved swing only gets larger with the lights shining brighter. Three different top-ten opponents will arrive at Phoenix Municipal Stadium over the next seven weeks of the regular season for Pac-12 weekend series (Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford).
Both the ASU righty and his hitting coach understand that these programs, and this conference, possess better arms than what they saw through the first month of play, and it will require Swift to be a little more focused and dialed in.
Lack of focus, he does not. Swift’s calm but clear self-confidence is sky high, not allowing one challenging baseball season or the need for a swing change steer him off course.
But the confidence his coaches have in him, specifically Earley, may even be a step above.
“I think it’s good to build up to that and I think he’s on the right track and is going to do a great job.”