September 5, 2012 at 7:00 AM
Coming off a breakout full-season debut in 2011 with Greenville that catapulted him further onto the prospect radar, second baseman Sean Coyle needed a half-season of disappointing results and a trip back home to Pennsylvania to rediscover his swing and salvage his 2012 campaign with Salem.
“Right before the all-star break, my average was floating around .200, and I think that’s where it turned around,” Coyle said last month. “I got the all-star break to kind of hang out and get back to the basics of my swing, really just try to simplify things and go back to what had brought me success in the past. A little extra time to get those extra reps in without having to play those games, that definitely helped.”
To that point, Coyle’s season had been disappointing at best. In the first half of the season, he hit just .211/.285/.343 with five home runs. He and Salem hitting coach Rich Gedman frequently talked about Coyle’s effort level, and when he returned home, Coyle looked at pictures of himself hitting from as far back as high school.
“I’ve always had a simple swing, and I feel like [I had] gotten away from that,” he said. “I feel like I had been doing things a little bit different and having a more complex swing than I needed to have. I just kind of chopped things down and got back to basics.”
Coyle said he was not seduced by the power numbers he posted last year, but his occasional over-swinging stemmed from that fact that he “always had a tendency, when I start struggling, to swing my way out of it,” he said. “That’s going back to Little League. Whenever I talked to my dad, he’s like “Hey, what do you think you’re doing? You’re either overloading or over-swinging.’”
The trip home helped affirm the need for a change. He bounced ideas off his brother, Tommy, a 16th-round draft choice of the Rays this season and a 2012 New York-Penn League All-Star, as well as other players and coaches who have known his swing for years.
Gedman believed that Coyle’s effort level ultimately reduced itself through the everyday grind of the game.
“I think the second half is when you start to wear down,” Gedman said. “You really can’t give too much energy all the time. All of a sudden, you start paying attention to your swing, you start putting a couple swings together. You get a walk, you knock in a run, you play defense, you’re playing the game, and all of a sudden you’re doing enough things to feel good about yourself, and you’re not worried about the results. Before you know it, your average is .235, then it’s at .240, then you’re at .250.”
Coyle hit .297/.355/.451 after the all-star break, and ultimately pulled his numbers up to a level comparable with his Greenville stats. In 53 more at bats, Coyle topped last year’s batting average (.249 to .247), hits (109 to 95), and doubles (31 to 27). He also stole 16 bases in 16 attempts.
However, some of the shine is certainly off Coyle after his breakout campaign in 2011. Coyle doesn’t turn 21 until January, but he again averaged a strikeout per game (116 in 115 games) and showed trouble with breaking pitches, a developmental issue that will continue to be challenged as he climbs the ladder. Although his batting average wound up where it was last season, his on-base percentage dropped from .362 to .316 and his slugging percentage dropped from .464 to .392. Gedman believes that the lessons from this year will carry Coyle into the future and give him a chance to be successful.
“You’re never as good as you think you are, and you’re never as bad as you think you are,” Gedman said. “It’s about finding that daily approach and just understanding the game and feeling better about yourself, learning that you don’t have to be perfect. Just put a good swing on it, put a good at-bat together, and you’ll find yourself in a good position. He’s done that, and I’m happy for him because he’s worked hard to get it.”
Photo: Sean Coyle by Kelly O'Connor