Jake Gatewood flew across the country. He spent several hours weekly in the car driving to and from hitting lessons. He read books and watched video of Manny Machado and Jose Cabrera -- whatever Gatewood felt was necessary to improve in 2017, he did.And so far, the results are paying
Jake Gatewood flew across the country. He spent several hours weekly in the car driving to and from hitting lessons. He read books and watched video of Manny Machado and Jose Cabrera -- whatever Gatewood felt was necessary to improve in 2017, he did.
And so far, the results are paying off.
Gatewood was named the Brewers' Minor League Player of the Month in April, is hitting .331 after a 23-game hitting streak for Class A Advanced Carolina.
So what has led to the hot start? A new swing, a more selective approach and, perhaps most importantly, self-awareness.
"I finally took ownership of myself," the Brewers' No. 25 prospect said. "I took ownership that I needed to get better. There were things I needed to work on and I had to go out and seek those things and really, really try to understand hitting as much as I could and [learn] what makes me successful."
It wasn't that Gatewood, whom the Brewers selected 41st overall in 2014, had struggled in his first two years of full-season ball, but he hadn't been great either.
After hitting .242 with a 31 percent strikeout rate in 2015-16, the corner infielder knew he wasn't living up to expectations and went looking for answers.
In addition to working with people in the Brewers organization, Gatewood flew to Indiana to work with hitting coach Benny Craig. When he was home in Clovis, Calif., he would drive roughly five hours roundtrip once or twice a week to work with hitting consultant Matt Lisle, founder of The Hitting Vault.
"I taught him how to use his body better, got him in a better launch position after [his stride], making sure he was using his legs and getting his hips firing ahead of his hands and lastly speeding up his bat path," Lisle said. "The biggest changes were a much better bat path and much better use of his lower half."
While the results have been apparent on the field, Lisle saw this breakout season coming months ago.
Lisle uses HitTrax to gather data with his clients, and when Gatewood came in for an assessment, he averaged an exit velocity of 95 mph and a launch angle of 10 degrees. After a few months of work, Gatewood was crushing the ball upwards of 110 mph with a launch angle of roughly 30 degrees.
Part of becoming a better hitter is learning which pitches to hit. Gatewood still has some swing-and-miss in his game -- he struck out 41 times in 132 at-bats (30 percent) through Friday -- but he also drew 19 walks in his first 35 games. In 2016, he walked 18 times in 126 games.
"In Instructional League I learned that I couldn't hit everything," Gatewood said. "My mentality had to change. As much as I wanted to hit everything that was in the zone, I had to figure out which pitches I could really drive and wait for those pitches."
Pitch selection, along with a better bat path and a more complete swing, has Gatewood on pace for the best year of his career. It's just one month into a long season, but the early returns are promising.
"Because of the tools that he has, he's so athletic, he's just been off the charts," Lisle said. "If he can continue to do this, he's going to be pretty good."
William Boor is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.