DENVER -- An offseason workout heavy in swimming has Rockies outfielder Yonathan Daza excelling in the deep waters of the Majors this season.
Daza, previously praised for his glove but questioned about his hitting, has earned consistent starting opportunities with the Rockies since Kris Bryant went down with a back injury in April. Daza went into Saturday's game against the Royals batting .365 with a .404 on-base percentage through 22 games.
A high-average hitter in the Minors (.318 in 693 games), Daza batted a respectable .264 between 2019 and '21 -- he was not called up in '20 -- but did not produce the forceful contact that warranted regular starts. Daza showed up noticeably thicker in his shoulders and upper back this year, and the extra muscle has reflected in his at-bats.
“I felt if I got stronger, the balls I hit were going to get through to the outfield,” Daza said. “I need to get better every year at that.”
In addition to the standard weightlifting for baseball, Daza said, his trainer in Venezuela, Aquiles Monteverde, introduced him to exercises in the pool. There was running and weighted activity in the water, but Monteverde -- who worked with former American League Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve and former longtime MLB utilityman Martín Prado in their younger years -- had him do freestyle swimming for power.
Perhaps Michael Phelps needn’t worry too much about Daza surpassing his Olympic marks -- “I’m not really good,” Daza said, laughing -- but the full-body movements in the water worked quite well for preparing him for the grass and dirt.
“It was the first winter I’d done that,” Daza said. “Altuve and Prado moved to the United States, but when they were young like me, just getting started in the Majors, they would go back home and work with [Monteverde]. It’s a good workout.”
Daza’s is a success story from an unusual offseason. Because of the lockout, teams could not monitor players the way they had in the past. Manager Bud Black praised Daza for taking control of his next career step.
“We challenged him to get a little bit more physical -- get a little bit bigger and stronger, and not have it affect his defense, which it hasn’t,” Black said. “His speed plays. He’s got range, gets great jumps and reads. The physical part has helped him a lot.”
Swimming to build baseball muscle makes sense.
“We have done it with players in the past -- you just have to keep an eye on the volume of it,” Rockies director of physical performance Gabe Bauer said. “How much they’re doing, how much throwing they’re doing and what time of the offseason they’re doing it. If it’s early in the offseason, it’s a great part of the strength phase -- you keep your shoulders in shape when you’re not throwing the baseball.”