Zach Reks, Power Hitter?

In 2015, Zach Reks wasn’t even playing baseball. In 2013, after transferring to Kentucky from Air Force, where he played just one season, Reks was denied to even try out for the Kentucky baseball team, with an assistant coach telling him he was too small. Reks stayed at Kentucky, but later decided to take a year off school, and began working at a Toyota manufacturing plant. But Reks spent his spare time working out and hitting, and was eventually approached by a different assistant coach, who encouraged him to try out for the team. He made the team, earned a starting spot, and eventually became one the team’s best hitters.

Reks was later drafted in the tenth round by the Dodgers in 2017. As a 23 year old senior, who would turn 24 in the offseason, Reks had little leverage, and only received a $1,500 signing bonus. Reks hit the ground running, and got promoted twice in his first professional season, becoming the first member of his draft class to reach High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Across those three levels, Reks hit .317/.394/.371 with two homers in 167 at bats. Reks was sent back to Rancho to begin his first full professional season, but after just ten games and a 1.124 OPS, he was quickly promoted to Double-A, once again becoming the first in his draft class to reach the level. The former Wildcat spent the rest of 2018 there, where he put up a 108 wRC+ in 78 games, which is his lowest wRC+ at any level over the course of his minor league career. Coming into 2019, Reks had clearly impressed and outperformed what was expected of him, but still wasn’t really taken seriously as a prospect. Despite a solid hit tool and good approach at the plate, Reks had hit just seven homers over his season and a half of pro ball, and had a defensive profile that likely limited him to left field or first base. And generally, it’s pretty hard to project as an impact player with that kind of profile.

Something needed to change, and in 2019, Reks has delivered arguably the biggest surprise among Dodger prospects. He leads all Dodger minor leaguers with 18 homers, with nine each at Double-A and Triple-A. Unsurprisingly, his strikeout rate is up, but so is his walk rate, with a BB/K ratio greater than 0.5 at both levels. He’s also raised his fly ball rate, which now sits at 33% across the two levels, the highest of his career aside from that aforementioned ten game sample at High-A in 2018.

So, how is he doing it? Reks seems to have made some mechanical adjustments that have unlocked a new ability to hit for power. Let’s compare his swing on two different homers, one from September of 2018 on the top/left, and one from June of 2019 on the bottom/right (please excuse the quality of the photos).

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 11.53.28 PM.pngScreen Shot 2019-06-14 at 11.54.26 PM.png

We can see clearly that Reks has made some adjustments, even before the pitch. His stance is now much more compact, he’s gone from an straight or even slightly closed stance to an open one, his hands now start lower, and the bat begins nearly vertical, whereas his previous starting position had the bat almost completely horizontal. His newer stance looks a lot more like what the Dodgers have encouraged with a bunch of other players and prospects. Now, let’s look at his load position.

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 11.53.53 PM.pngScreen Shot 2019-06-14 at 11.54.39 PM.png

While his beginning stance differs a lot, his load position isn’t very changed from last season. He’s a little more into his legs in his newer stance, which should help with his balance. However, the biggest change here is that he’s simplified his overall pattern of movement, as he no longer needs to move as much to get to his load position. Next, let’s take a look at his position at the point of contact.

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Firstly, ignore the pitcher’s leg in the screenshot on the left, as it was unavoidable. Next, ask yourself: which of these two positions looks more conducive to hitting the ball hard? While the picture on the left is a testament to Reks’ ability to barrel the ball, considering he turned that low-and-in pitch into an opposite field home run, he’s not nearly in the power position he is with his new swing. Finally, let’s look at his finish.

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 11.54.05 PM.pngScreen Shot 2019-06-14 at 11.54.51 PM.png

Unsurprisingly, where his previous stance finishes more upright, his newer stance finishes lower to the ground and with his legs spread further apart. It’s the conclusion of a swing that looks substantially different from the one he used just last year, and one that has allowed him to multiply his previous career homer total by two and a half, all while becoming the first member of his draft class to ascend to the highest levels of the minors. In the process, he’s put himself on the prospect radar as a possible late bloomer, and seen a drastic change in his results. Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione noted in the article linked in the first paragraph that Reks always had elite hand-eye coordination, which combined with his new power swing, could take him and his incredible story to the major leagues.

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