CLEARWATER, Fla. — During his playing days, Mike Schmidt often heard that he thought too much. But he wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, Schmidt says, “if it wasn’t for my crazy brain taking me to different levels.”
It is that thinking – a deep-rooted, mental approach to hitting – that Schmidt hopes to share during his week-long stint as a guest instructor at Phillies camp. Schmidt hosted a seminar for minor leaguers on Tuesday and chatted with the major leaguers on Wednesday. He won’t spend much time breaking down Maikel Franco’s swing or the timing of Rhys Hoskins’ leg kick. The mental side of hitting interests Schmidt more than stepping into a batting cage.
“I believe you have to be a thinking-man’s hitter,” Schmidt said. “I don’t believe in the see-the-ball-and-hit-it approach; just going to home plate, if he strikes me out he strikes me out, if I get a hit I get a hit. I believe in a plan for each day. I believe in feel.
“When things have gone a little awry in your hitting, you’re pulling off the ball, you’re underneath the ball, you’re swinging too hard — things like that. I believe in feeling those kinds of things and making immediate adjustments. If you don’t want to do that, I don’t think you’re on the right track toward reaching your potential.”
Schmidt’s session Tuesday at the Carpenter Complex was called “The Mental Aspects of Hitting.” Joining him was Phillies mental-skills coach Geoff Miller; they became friends this winter. Miller prompted Schmidt on issues that hitters face, such as cutting down on strikeouts or hitting with men on base.
Schmidt provided lessons from his career, describing how he mentally responded to those situations. He gave advice on ways to stay relaxed at the plate and how to attack each at-bat with a plan.
He chatted Wednesday with Hoskins, a guy who “likes that stuff, too,” Schmidt said. Hoskins has been praised for his approach to hitting as he advanced in the minors. Manager Gabe Kapler said Monday that Hoskins is able to stay relaxed and “nothing gets him off his plan.” Hoskins knows exactly what he’s doing, Kapler said, and that is “rare for a player that young.”
Hoskins is perhaps the team’s definition of Schmidt’s “thinking-man’s hitter.”
“He doesn’t like to cloud his mind when he’s in the batter’s box in the middle of a game, but I talked to him about an image,” Schmidt said. “As [the pitcher] is getting ready to wind up and throw the ball, you need to have a good, solid, mental image of where you want the ball to be, and where you want it to go. Then, when … he’s ready to deliver the ball, your body just reacts. Your mind and body react to the pitch, based on experience and such.
“I believe in imagery. I don’t know how many guys over in that [locker] room over there believe that, but I told them today and yesterday.”
He also met with Franco, who is less than a month from starting perhaps the most crucial season of his career. He showed promise early in his career but has yet to maintain it. Schmidt believes everything will come together for Franco, who, he said, has the talent to be “an MVP as easy as anybody this year.”
“He has to find that ability to put the ball in play with two strikes more often, the ability to tone it down a little — maybe get a little [Cincinnati Reds slugger] Joey Votto, like I have a swing for two strikes to put the ball in play more often to keep the rally going, get that RBI, those kind of things,” Schmidt said. “I think it’s going to take a mental commitment by Maikel to make that happen.
“You say, ‘How are you going to do that?’ Well, I’m not going to teach him, but he knows what I think, because we talk a lot.”