The idea got rolling when outfielder Hunter Lay came back to Lansing Community College after he trained at Driveline over the summer, looking like a whole new hitter.
“When Hunter got back to Lansing, everybody was like, ‘Holy crap we knew this guy could be good,’” Driveline trainer Conner Watson said. “‘But he’s obviously way more polished now and cleaned things up.’”
Noah Bright, Lay’s teammate and roommate at Lansing, had his interest sparked when Lay came back for the fall. So too did Lansing head coach Steven Cutter, who approached a group of guys about following Lay’s lead.
“I talked to Coach Cutter, and he’s like, ‘Well shoot, we’re done playing fall games, why don’t you just head down there now?’” Bright said. “We had a good conversation about it. I was like, ‘Yeah why not?’ He pretty much opened it up to anyone else that wanted to go. So we packed our stuff up and headed out.”
Bright was one of six Lansing players who crammed their gear into a pair of cars and drove 28 hours over two days to Driveline’s Arizona facility to train over their winter break. He was joined by Lay and Jabin Bates, each of them hitters, as well as Lukas Brewer, Isaac Toole, and Matthew McKeon, all pitchers.
Brewer wasn’t sure what to expect when he drove down. He thought maybe Driveline would put him in a one-size-fits-all velocity program, gain a couple ticks on his fastball, and be on his way. He didn’t realize how personalized his training would be.
“After talking with the pitching coaches, we decided the best course of action to make me a better pitcher was to train my stuff, not my velocity,” he said. “It was a really good experience. I knew that I had some deficiencies, just because I had never had a proper assessment. So going from being a raw pitcher to having the technology to push me in the right direction was pretty eye-opening.”
Brewer’s motion capture showed he moves really well, so he and Driveline trainer Stephen Hart jumped right into pitch design.
He had always had good stuff, but none of his pitches really complemented each other. After his work with Hart, his arsenal includes off-speed pitches with more separation and yes, he’s throwing the ball harder now – he used to sit 88-89 with the heater, and now he’s sitting 90-91.
Bright had experienced some of the same technology Driveline used in the past, like HitTrax and K-Vests. But he didn’t know how Driveline would utilize them.
Whereas with Lay, Watson focused on ball flight goals and with Bates it was about swing decisions, the focus for Bright was his load – or lack thereof.
Bright is a strong guy who knows his way around a weight room, but wasn’t generating nearly enough power in his swing.
“For him, it was cleaning up his load because he was basically hitting from a no-stride all the time,” Watson said. “It was like, let’s actually use the strength you have by loading properly so you can not only hit the ball in the air to the pull-side, but also dead center and maybe even the oppo gap.”
Along with added power, Bright said he feels like the toe tap has helped immensely with his timing and made him way more adjustable at the plate.
That work has translated to the batter’s box this spring, as the guys have transitioned into online training with Driveline – Bright is OPS’ing 1.064 in 89 at-bats this spring, and is actually trying to catch Lay and Bates in that respect. Lay’s OPS is currently at 1.074 and Bates’ at 1.110.
None of that surprises Watson.
“They came in and just crushed every day,” Watson said. “It was so awesome having them in the facility. They came in every day and set the culture, and I didn’t have to worry about that.”
Brewer has seen a similar jump this spring. With his new bag of tricks on the mound, he’s 4-0 with a 1.25 ERA in 21.2 innings.
More importantly, he’s feeling like a true pitcher for the first time in his life.