Thriving Reddick buys into new take on hitting

Thriving Reddick buys into new take on hitting

Thriving Reddick buys into new take on hitting
OAKLAND -- Consider $50 a large sum for a Double-A player bringing home roughly $1,000 a month.

But for A's outfielder Josh Reddick, it was a small price to pay for a lesson that enabled his path to the Majors.

Reddick, a free-swinging 22-year-old at the time, had long enjoyed tremendous success with an aggressive approach embedded in his game since Little League days in Georgia.

"My dad brought me up to see ball, hit ball and not really worry about walks," he said.

That mindset served him well at South Effingham High School and, after being drafted by Boston in the 17th round in 2006 following a year at Middle Georgia, in the early stages of his professional career. Yet the Red Sox wanted more out of the outfielder. They fed him constant reminders about being more selective, more disciplined in the zone.

Reddick, having hit above .300 with an on-base percentage on the north side of .350 in each of his first three seasons in the Minors, was confused by their push to alter something that had worked so well. But he obliged, with help from Dave Joppie, hitting coach for Boston's Double-A Portland club who also spent 11 years as a coach in Oakland's system.

"Josh is very gifted with the ability to find the baseball with the barrel of the bat," Joppie said. "He has tremendous hand-eye coordination. That being said, at times he would get himself in trouble thinking he could hit just about any pitch that was thrown anywhere close to the zone, going after pitches he probably couldn't handle."

Portland manager Arnie Beyeler urged the outfielder to see four pitches per at-bat and to take until he saw a strike.

"I just kept forgetting about the first strike," Reddick recalled. "So he pulled me into his office and told me, 'If you keep doing that, we're going to fine you.' "

The next night, in his second at-bat, Reddick forgot again and swung at the first pitch. He got a hit, but Beyeler kept his word.

"He called me into his office again and said, 'Bring in $50 tomorrow,' " Reddick said. "After that, I learned quick."

Said Joppie: "It wasn't punishment. The goal was not for him to draw walks. It was just to get him to understand where we were trying to go with this. I assured him I was a firm believer in it, and to his credit, he was very open to it. Maybe a bit frustrated, but as time went on, he found himself being rewarded.

"I knew that if something was to happen to a Boston outfielder, Josh would be getting called up. I couldn't tell him that at the time, because we had to accomplish this feat first. And we did."

It was that 2009 season, straight from Double-A, when Reddick got his first call to the Majors. He proceeded to start a game in all three outfield spots from Aug. 1-4, hitting three doubles and a home run.

Reddick spent the next two years getting the call from Boston eight times until, finally, at the end of May last season, it was for good. He hit over .300 in his first month on the job. By season's end, he had settled on a .280 average in 87 games, to go along with seven home runs and 28 RBIs -- and 19 walks.

"The thing he had to realize was, 'There's my window,' " said A's hitting coach Chili Davis, who worked extensively with Reddick while holding that same role with Boston's Triple-A Pawtucket club last year. "It doesn't come along, not in an organization like Boston, very often for Minor League players."

Reddick's stay in Beantown was again interrupted in December, though -- by Beane, Billy Beane, the A's general manager who snatched him and two other players from the Red Sox in exchange for All-Star closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.

At the time, talk was made of how the A's essentially dealt the base-hit-friendly Sweeney for a replica in Reddick. But Reddick, whose 6-foot-2 frame carries just 180 pounds, is quickly changing minds, with a controlled swing that offers quite a bit of surprising power.

It was a late development in Reddick's game, helped along by the wood of the bat after retiring the aluminum. And while the task now comes at ease, Reddick likes to note that he didn't hit a home run in a game until he turned 17 while playing in a summer league.

"I didn't know how to react, so I ran around the bases holding my fist up," Reddick said, laughing.

Sure enough, he was hit in his next at-bat.

The origin of his power only adds to Reddick's already intriguing development process as a hitter. Now 25, he has not only secured his place as a mainstay as Oakland's right fielder, but in a new-look lineup that has the former slap hitter batting third -- a job, Davis says, always reserved for the smartest, best all-around hitter.

In Boston last year, he never hit higher than fifth.

"Knowing the A's offensive philosophy of how they develop hitters inside and out, and watching Josh get traded to the A's, who obviously value the selectivity and the on-base percentage and the slugging percentage, to see him go over there and be their No. 3 hitter, that speaks volumes about the work he's put in," Joppie said.

Davis calls him a five-tool player and doesn't want the left-handed hitter to be attached to a free-swinging tag.

"He's aggressive, let's leave it at that," he said. "Jemile Weeks and Coco Crisp, at the top of the order, are going to set the table for him. He could be the difference-maker or the rally-killer for this ballclub. And because of that, he's going to be in the spotlight. People are going to watch you, but they're going to critique you, too."

Reddick is just fine with that, even while still learning on the go.

"My approach at the plate is always changing," he said, "but it's always focused. Hitting third, it's going to depend on what Jemile and Coco do. If they see maybe a combined five or six pitches, I'm going to take at least one pitch, and if it's a ball, might take another pitch."

A younger Reddick wouldn't recognize himself these days.

"Not at all," he said, grinning.

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.