Since the start of the season, the Cyclones hitters have been told to be aggressive and to approach each at bat with a plan, and so far, the plan has panned out.
The Clones are first or second in the league in all major statistical categories — team batting average (.290), RBIs (158), hits (305) and home runs (31) — while also having the fifth-least strikeouts in the league.
In other words, when a Cyclone steps up to the plate, pitchers better be ready for a battle.
Right-fielder Cory Vaughn, who started off slowly, but now leads the league in home runs with nine, repeated a mantra he picked up from coach Benny Distefano.
“A moving bat is a deadly bat,” said Vaughn. “As in, ‘If it’s across the plate, just let it fly.’ ”
And that is what Vaughn has done, raising his batting average to .291 and playing more consistently.
Distefano said he preaches the gospel of “controlled aggression,” and tells his players to look for a fastball and swing hard.
“Look, we’re taking them to a level they’ve never been,” said Distefano, explaining the challenges of his job. “We want them to be in a good position to hit the fastball — that’s how you get into the major leagues.”
And early into the 2010 season, the Clones — especially the hitters at the top of the lineup — have been clocking fastballs all over the park.
None of the players could point to the secret to their success — but the way they repeated Distefano’s catchphrases hinted that the team is buying into the guidance of the managerial team led by former Mets second baseman Wally Backman.
“Having a plan at the plate lets me clear my mind — I don’t have to think about anything else,” said shortstop Rylan Sandoval, who is tied for the league-lead with 10 doubles and is second in homers with six. “It’s my approach that has improved more than anything — I’m not afraid when I got two strikes.”
Jeff Flagg, the team’s slugging first baseman who is tied for third in the league with 36 hits, said that the team’s success at the plate allows them to stay relaxed.
“All year, our offense has been able to pick each other up when we’re struggling,” he said. “That creates trust, and you don’t stress too much.”
That relaxation is present off the field as well.
At batting practice, the players were loose, cracking jokes, giving each other pointers on their swings, and asking Distefano for advice.
The hitting coach said the team’s performance had kept individuals players from feeling the pressure — an ideal situation.
“It’s a sign the chemistry is going good — and a sign of a good ballclub that is being consistent,” Distefano said.
Consistently crushing the ball, that is.