Braves’ Terdoslavich likes to hit and talk hitting

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Joey Terdoslavich is off to a strong start in Grapefruit League play after working to shorten his swing and get back to hitting the ball to the opposite field. (AJC file photo)

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – If Terdo is not a coach one day, I’ll be surprised. Really surprised.

In fact, of all the players I’ve covered on major league teams over the past couple of decades, seldom have I come across one I felt more comfortable saying would someday be a hitting coach — or a manager or head coach at  some level — than Joey Terdoslavich.

Joey Terdoslavich is off to a strong start in Grapefruit League play after working to shorten his swing and get back to hitting the ball to the opposite field. (AJC file photo)

Joey Terdoslavich is off to a strong start in Grapefruit League play after working to shorten his swing and get back to hitting the ball to the opposite field. (AJC file photo)

Whenever the Braves’ aspiring corner outfielder/first baseman is done playing professional baseball, it’ll be a natural move to coaching for the tobacco-dipping, baseball-talking kid from Sarasota. I say this because he’s a throwback, a guy who lives and breathes the game, talks it constantly (when not discussing the New York Jets), and spends entire offseasons working hours and hours every day on one or two aspects of his swing or approach.

Also, there’s the hard fact that he’s 26 years old and has just 103 plate appearances in the major leagues —  .225/.320/.292 slash line — compared to 2,294 PAs in 553 minor league games over five seasons. Meaning, there’s at least a decent chance he’s not ever going to make the kind of ridiculous money that accomplished major league hitters make during their big league careers these days, the huge sums that tends to lessen the desire for those types of guys to come back as hitting coaches, since it would involve taking a massive pay cut while working more hours per day than most of them did as players.

Not that Terdo won’t get a chance to become a major league regular at some point, or at least a bench player with a steady big-league job. He continues to improve as a hitter, and a switch-hitter with such a sound approach and line-drive swing and decent power from both sides surely is going to get an opportunity, if not from the Braves then from another team via trade at some point.

If Nick Markakis, who’s recovering from December neck surgery and hasn’t played this spring, isn’t ready for opening day, Terdoslavich could get consideration as a temporary fill-in.

He’s not fast and not really a stellar defender, but that axiom about driving in more than he lets in could apply to Terdoslavich, who hit a three-run homer Sunday and entered Monday ranked among NL Grapefruit League leaders in batting average (.320, 8-for-25), slugging percentage (.600), doubles (4) and total bases (15), and leading in runs (7).

“He’s pretty good,” said first-year Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. “He told me he got in trouble last year when he got too pull-happy trying to hit for more power. He said he worked all winter just getting back the other way, staying the other way, both sides, and that’s what he got ingrained. So he’s really having a good spring, having good at-bats.”

Sure, it’s spring training and the stats don’t mean much, but it’s sure nice to see results when you’re competing for a job – Fredi Gonzalez said he’s in the mix for a bench job – and when you’ve worked on something as hard as Terdoslavich did this offseason. Specifically, the switch-hitter worked to shorten his swing and hit balls to the opposite field instead trying to pull like he did too often last year in a disappointing Triple-A season.

“I’ve always felt like I had a pretty short swing, but this year it feels like I can wait so long (for the pitch), because I have shortened it some,” he said. “Working on hitting the ball the other way, staying with that approach in BP (batting practice), the game. If a ball comes in, then obviously you’re going to turn on it. But the focus is to let the ball travel and hit it the other way, and Seitzer loves that. It’s not just slapping the ball the other way, it’s driving it.”

Terdoslavich has a .280 career average, .341 OBP and .451 slugging percentage in five minor league seasons, and had 74 extra-base hits (52 doubles, 20 homers) in 2011 at high-A and a .318 average with 18 homers and a .926 OPS in 351 PAs (85 games) at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2013.

All the work hasn’t helped him get much playing time in the big leagues to date. Just 103 plate appearances with the Braves in parts of two seasons, with 92 of those coming in 2013. Last season his production at Triple-A declined to .256 with 15 homers and a .722 OPS in 569 PAs at Gwinnett, where he spent the entire season. He had only 11 PAs with the Braves in a late callup.

Since he wasn’t assigned to play winter ball, he went to work on his swing almost immediately after the season ended. First hitting off a tee for six weeks, then with his dad, Joe, pitching to him in the batting cages and on the field of his old high school. Seitzer preaches opposite-field hitting, shortening the swing with two strikes – the kind of things Terdoslavich was working on this winter before the Braves hired the new hitting coach.

“It just happened to work that way,” Terdoslavich said. “Seems like a lot of guys are having better at-bats (this spring). I’m really happy with the way I feel right now, where I’m at.”

Seitzer, who was a .295/.375/.404 career hitter and two-time All-Star in 12 major league seasons, said he thinks that Terdo will get a chance at some point to play in the major leagues.

“Yeah, he’s got a great stroke,” Seitzer said. “He’s got a real good idea how to hit. So yeah, if not here, I think he’ll definitely hit somewhere.”

Talk to Terdoslavich a while and it’s easy to understand why he’s enjoying working with the new hitting coach, and vice versa.

“He’s told us a he likes to have guys battle, work the count, see pitches,” Terdoslavich said. “Obviously the more pitches you see, the more prepared you are. He puts an emphasis on battling in there. Don’t make an easy out, and just have good at-bats. Know what the situation calls for – when you have guys in scoring position, or you’ve got a guy at second with none out, it sounds simple that you’ve got to get the guy over, but there’s times that guys do it and there’s times they don’t. But he puts a big emphasis on that, and I like it.

“I like putting the ball in play, making them playing defense, moving guys over, getting guys in. Jonny (Gomes) the other day came up, got two strikes on him, hit the ball to center and got the run in….Put pressure on the other team. Work the count and put the ball in play. Hit the ball up the middle. (Seitzer) loves that. That’s what I’ve always thought, hit the ball the other way and drive the ball up the middle.”

Hitting with runners in scoring position and cutting down on strikeouts, two weaknesses of the Braves last season, are points of emphasis this spring.

“Those (RISP) hits are huge,” Terdoslavich said. “That’s why they keep a stat on it. … I don’t know the stat percentage, but I think if there’s a guy on third base with less than two outs, he should be driven in almost 100 percent of the time. Especially if the infield’s back. Just hit a ground ball, give yourself up. If there’s a guy on second and you’re hitting right-handed, don’t take the first pitch and pull it to the left side, look for something out over the plate and hit the ball the other way, and if you’re hitting left-handed, look for something you can pull to the right side. Obviously if you’re down by eight runs you don’t want to be doing that, but if you need to manufacture a run, especially early in the game … to get runs early in the game by manufacturing runs, that’s huge.”

Sounds a bit like a future hitting coach, don’t ya think?

 • Peraza sent down: Top prospect Jose Peraza was among six roster cuts made Monday. Here’s link to the story.

  • Bo vs. White Bear: The Braves are facing the Astros again today, which gives me an excuse to use a statistic I looked up this winter. Out of curiosity, I checked out how Evan Gattis’ first two seasons ranked in comparison to a variety of other hitters in the past 20-30 years. One in particular caught my attention. Bo Jackson.

Now, we can all agree that Bo was a preternaturally talented athlete who, if he’d not suffered the freak hip injury playing football, might have gone on to become a Hall of Famer in two sports. Certainly, any scout who saw him play baseball initially with the Royals, and anyone who played with or against him, will tell you that if he’d have focused on baseball from the get-go he had the potential to become one of the great power hitters of our lifetime.

So in some ways the comparison is not a great one to make. Nevermind the fact that Bo also had an extremely strong arm and range and likely could have been a Gold Glove outfielder, something that we feel safe assuming Gattis never will be.

Nevertheless, this stat is still worth noting, given what we know about Bo and his stunning power at the plate. In his first two full seasons in the majors in 1987-1988 (plus 91 plate appearances in ’86), Bo hit .238 with 49 home runs in 917 plate appearances, with 130 RBIs, 62 walks, 338 strikeouts and a .291 OBP and .451 slugging percentage in 265 games.

In Gattis’ first two seasons (213 games) in 2013-2014, he hit .253 with 43 homers in 723 plate appearances, with 117 RBIs, 43 walks, 178 strikeouts and a .304 OBP and .487 slugging percentage.

Oh, and Gattis was away with the Astros’ other split squad today, not here facing the Braves in fabulous Kissimmee.

• For no particular reason, I’d like to point out that it was about this time last year when Joe Sheehan at Sports Illustrated.com named three Braves —  shortstop Andrelton Simmons, right fielder Jason Heyward and closer Craig Kimbrel – to his 12-man All-Major League Baseball preseason team. No other team had more than one player on that squad.

• Let’s close with this rockin’ classic from Neil Young, and here’s a searing live version

Neil Young

Neil Young

“LIKE A HURRICANE” by Neil Young

Once I thought I saw you
in a crowded hazy bar,
Dancing on the light
from star to star.
Far across the moonbeam
I know that’s who you are,
I saw your brown eyes
turning once to fire.
You are like a hurricane
There’s calm in your eye.
And I’m gettin’ blown away
To somewhere safer
where the feeling stays.
I want to love you but
I’m getting blown away.
I am just a dreamer,
but you are just a dream,
You could have been 
anyone to me.
Before that moment 
you touched my lips
That perfect feeling
 when time just slips
 Away between us
on our foggy trip.
You are like a hurricane
There’s calm in your eye.
And I’m gettin’ blown away
To somewhere safer
where the feeling stays.
I want to love you but
I’m getting blown away.
You are just a dreamer,
and I am just a dream.
You could have been
anyone to me.
Before that moment
you touched my lips
That perfect feeling
when time just slips
Away between us
on our foggy trip.
You are like a hurricane
There’s calm in your eye.
And I’m gettin’ blown away
To somewhere safer
where the feeling stays.
I want to love you but
I’m getting blown away.

 

 


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