As Rhett Wiseman launched the Vicente Campos offering towards the Skyliner roller coaster on Monday night, it gave the Senators a 4-2 advantage and him the outright lead in all of minor league baseball with eight home runs on the young season.
To say the 24-year-old outfielder has been hot is an understatement.
Earlier in the day, the Eastern League announced that he was named the Player of the Week after hitting .424 (14-for-33) while driving in 13 runs and compiling a 1.061 slugging percentage through the season’s first ten games.
It would have been tough two years ago to picture this kind of performance from Wiseman when he struggled in his first taste of High-A ball. He matched his home run total of 13 from the previous season and still eclipsed 20 doubles, but the outfielder scuffled to a .229/.283/.391 slash line in 123 games with the Potomac Nationals.
The next spring the Nationals minor league hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich began working with Wiseman on changing his swing.
“Troy and I did a lot of work incorporating my lower half into my swing more than it had ever been used since my college days,” Wiseman said. “When I first got to pro ball, I had a tough time adjusting with how my body worked with balls that moved different ways, in and out with late action.”
The Massachusetts native came to the Nationals with a strength-based swing that relied on his upper body to generate his swing and the power behind it.
“He’s such a strong and full max effort guy with his swing,” Gingrich said. “Usually those guys that are max effort do it all with their upper body. So when he would swing his whole body would go forward throughout the swing process.”
Here’s video of Wiseman taking batting practice during his junior season at Vanderbilt:
Wiseman took to the change and slugged 21 homers during his second go-round at Potomac in 2018. But there was still a lot of work to be done on the consistency of his at-bats and covering the entire strike zone.
“It took him a decent amount of time for him to feel it,” Gingrich said. “Last year he was able to get where he could pull a lot of balls but still be in his legs. But pitches on the outer half he would come out of it.
“This year in spring training he finally got to where it clicked. He could let the ball travel, and he was behind everything, When that happened, everything synced up. I like to use the word ‘connected.’ His lower half and his upper half are working the same.”
The physical adjustment has initiated a series of positive developments down the line. Wiseman is now able to trust his hands and use his legs to generate power. That, in turn, allows him to wait longer which helps him with pitch recognition. And all of that adds up to a better approach and mindset on each pitch of an at-bat.
“When you’ve done something your whole life, it takes time,” Gingrich said. “It just took him a little longer to figure out how to stay connected using his legs and still feel like he’s behind it to generate the same amount of power with an easier swing.
“He picked up on using his lower half quickly, but there was still always a rush to go get everything. That has taken him the year to let him feel like he can stay there and let the ball come to him, and be short, and stay connected.”
A prime example is this at-bat against Hartford reliever Jordan Foley where Wiseman was able to sit and wait on the outside pitch instead of jumping out on his front foot and rolling over it.
Before this season, Harrisburg hitting coach Brian Rupp had only seen Wiseman in spring trainings but knew the left-handed power hitter was searching for answers.
“He’s a strong kid that wanted to add lift to his swing,” Senators hitting coach Brian Rupp said. “When he would do that, he would come out of his legs and spin off everything. So a big focus of his was to really preset that weight on the backside and drive that back knee towards the ground.”
For illustration, here’s Wiseman at contact on that above double off the center field wall.
“I thought his purpose every day when he hit in spring training to try and stay up the middle is starting to carry over,” Senators manager Matt LeCroy said. “He’s in a better position. Balls that he should hit, he’s actually attacking them. You can tell with his success, he’s right on it.”
There is still a lot of baseball left this season. Wiseman is going to have the usual ups and downs. Opposing pitchers are going to change the way they pitch to him, and he’s going to have to make adjustments to that. But so far, the changes he’s made at the plate have paid huge dividends with early results.
“By him feeling like he’s staying in position and lets the ball travel to him, he now makes a better selection of what pitches he swings at,” Gingrich said. “That is still is a work in progress with him. But from where he was to where he is now is so much better with his strike zone knowledge, and the pitches he swings at early in the count because he’s a very aggressive hitter.”
“He’s much shorter and much quicker to the ball now than he was,” Nationals’ assistant general manager Doug Harris said. “His balance is better. He’s using his legs better. But I think the biggest change for me is his ability to use his hands.
“If you saw his swing the first year or two, it’s a totally different swing now. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a kid change his swing as dramatically as he has. It’s impressive.”