Second base prospect L.J. Mazzilli credits a recent hot streak to Yogi Berra’s advice. Really.
After getting off to a slow start in April (.232/.279/.305 over 25 games), Mazzilli has found his stroke in May (.290/.416/.435 in 18 games). Even better, since May 7, the Mets’ fourth-round pick in 2013 is hitting .341/.473/.477 with three doubles, a home run and, crucially, 11 walks against nine strikeouts in his last 13 games. That’s helped the Savannah Sand Gnats to a four-game lead for first place in the South Atlantic League Southern Division.
L.J.’s father, former Met and Yankee Lee Mazzilli, recently visited Yogi Berra in his nursing home. Yogi asked about L.J., who Lee reported was going through some “bumps in the road.”
Yogi told Lee to tell his son, “If you see it, hit it. If you don’t see it, don’t hit it.”
Not surprisingly, L.J. responded to the Hall of Famer’s advice.
“That really fired me up,” he said. “I was feeling a little bit down, then he made it seem so simple and non-chalant and I said, ‘All right, sounds good to me.'”
Back at the nursing home, Lee poked a little bit at Yogi, a man who was famous for being a free-swinger in his day
“Yogi, you were notorious for hitting bad pitches,” Lee said.
Yogi, who walked in 8 percent of his MLB plate appearances, had an answer, for Lee.
“They weren’t bad to me,” Yogi said.
Mazzilli’s walk rate is up from 7.3 percent of his plate appearances with Brooklyn in 2013 to 11.6 percent so far in 181 PA with the Gnats. His strikeout rate is holding and down a tick, from 17.6 percent last year to 16 percent this season.
Of course, long distance advice from a Hall of Famer isn’t the only thing that can help a young hitter. Gnats hitting coach Valentino Pascucci points out that Mazzilli has been better recently about being stronger with his top hand. This keeps his swing shorter, and on a more direct path to the baseball. Moreover, it creates better contact and more line drives because he gets “on top” of the ball. When his top hand dips, his barrel drops, which creates length and more popups.
For Mazzilli, this physical technique starts with reminding himself that when he’s successful, he’s “not trying to do too much.”
The mental becomes the physical.
“I get in hitters’ counts sometimes, or I’m sitting fastball and I get kinda anxious at the plate, and I’ll try to do too much” L.J. said.
But a desire to do more, means he produces less.
“That’ll actually slow me down at the plate rather than being more calm, letting the ball travel and trying to be quick with my hands and barrel it up and not try to place it on the field,” he said. “Just getting the barrel right to the ball, hitting it hard wherever it’s pitched, and taking what you get from the pitcher and then hopefully it’ll find a hole.”
A little mechanical work (staying short to the ball with a strong top hand) and a little guidance from a baseball icon have L.J. Mazzilli hitting.
How’d it feel getting instructions from Yogi?
“It’s amazing,” L.J. said.