By: Matthew Osborne
To compare the Smokies’ offense and Mount Vesuvius would not be too much of a stretch after the month Tennessee has had in July.
In total, the team has hit 36 home runs and driven in 94 runs. The additions of Javier Baez, from High-A Daytona, and Justin Bour, returning from a hairline fracture in his left wrist, have helped the Smokies to a 14-10 record this month.
Smokies hitting coach Desi Wilson contributes the offensive eruption to a season long work ethic from the team.
“More than anything, guys are getting good pitches to hit. I try to stress hit the ball hard,” Wilson said. “Some guys – (Justin) Bour, Javy (Baez), (Christian) Villanueva, (Rubi) Silva, they are just getting good pitches to hit and they are driving the ball. I don’t get too caught up in home runs; I get caught in hitting the ball every at-bat. Fortunately, these guys have been working it the whole season, the hard worker is paying off.”
Since the last game of the Jacksonville series, Bour and Baez have combined to hit 12 home runs in seven games. Bour leads the team in home runs this season with 14 and is knocking at the door of the Southern League home run lead, while Baez leads the entire organization with 27 long balls; he hit 17 in Daytona.
Wilson has spent the 2013 season teaching his players the proper way to hit. He doesn’t want his players to swing for the fences every at-bat, but to be selective and get a good pitch.
“The power players, you know they have power, it’s just trying to get them to understand how to hit,” Wilson said. “Take what the pitcher gives you and not try to do too much as a hitter. They aren’t trying to hit home runs, they were trying to get a good pitch to hit and fortunately, they’re enough to get a pitch over the plate and they capitalized. I’m just trying to teach them to be a complete hitter.”
Smokies manager Buddy Bailey thinks his entire offense has shown the offensive prowess, not just his two star batters.
“A lot of credit goes to our hitters, the offensive numbers with the extra base hits, home runs, and top guys in the league,” Bailey said. “We have from four or five guys that are top two or three of a variety of those categories. Our hitting and our offense has been really, really good.”
Going into Sunday’s game against the Birmingham Barons, Arismendy Alcantara ranked fifth in the Southern League with 51 RBIs. Matt Szczur ranked third with 109 hits, while teammates Silva and Alcantara followed behind in fourth with 103.
Alcantara, Villanueva and Silva were all among the leaders in doubles. Alcantara led the league with 28, Villanueva was second with 26 and Silva came in fourth with 23. They all three were tops in the league with extra base hits; Alcantara and Silva were tied at the top with 43 and Villanueva was in third with 42.
One stat that Alcantara was among the league leaders that isn’t all the best to lead in was strikeouts. But Wilson wasn’t as concerned with that, as long as waiting for a good pitch was involved.
“With the patience, there are going to be strikeouts because they aren’t swinging as much early in the count,” Wilson said. “People don’t understand that you are going to have high strikeouts, but I see patient at-bats, selective at-bats, looking for their pitch. Some guys are hitting home runs with two strikes, that’s contributing to the work they put into it.”
As a team, the Smokies rank seventh in the league with 752 strikeouts this season.
Bailey and Wilson have seen their team develop to the sluggers they are now. The addition of Baez and the return of Bour have only helped. Alcantara, Villanueva, Silva and Szczur have been the mainstays of the 2013 season for the Smokies.
A team that is competing for the a playoff spot has used an offensive eruption in July to propel itself to the top of the Southern League North Division, but according to its hitting coach, power isn’t the most important part about offense.
“Take what a pitcher gives you when you are going well, take your walks, lay off pitches out of the zone,” Wilson said about one of the top offensive teams in the league. “That’s part of the process. You know they have power, but with power, you have to learn how to hit as well. That’s the most important thing.”