When he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the deal that sent Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves, Martin Prado was regarded as a player who does “the little things right” by his new manager, Kirk Gibson.
He saw a lot of pitches, spent hours on end in the batting cages, featured a line-drive swing, always put the bat on the ball, hit to the opposite field and moved baserunners over as well as anyone. Among the league leaders in contact rate, Prado never swung for the fences and was considered as good a situational hitter as any.
The 29-year-old’s selfless reputation elicited great anticipation from the organization and its fans, who were largely happy to part with a player in Upton who they saw as a virtual antithesis of Prado. Though an All-Star and former MVP candidate, most perceived Upton as a player who struck out in important situations and standardized a home run cut with every at-bat, often chasing unhittable, out-of-the-zone pitches to no avail.
Yet, just a few weeks into the season, it was apparent that Prado’s striving to fulfill the unselfish renown which preceded him.
“He put a lot of pressure on himself to try to impress,” Gibson said of Prado’s adjustment to his new team. “He tried to do too much.”
Specifically, Gibson referenced Prado’s tendency to push the ball to opposite field, rather than pulling it for power.
“He got into a bad habit where every time a guy got onto second base,” said Gibson. “He was trying to force the ball to the right side of the diamond.”
Prado is hitting .258 in at-bats that end with him hitting the ball to opposite field this season.
In contrast, the utility man has a .353 batting average in at-bats where he pulls the ball. He has 20 extra-base hits — and all 10 of his home runs — in pull at-bats. Additionally, 18 of his 29 RBIs this season have come in a similar fashion.
Gibson noticed such and tried to get to the cause of the discrepancy.
“I sat down with (assistant hitting coach) Turner (Ward) and we looked at his at-bats and looked at his extra-base hits from last year and a lot of them he was pulling down into the leftfield corner,” he said.
“And the opponents realized that and they kept throwing him inside.”
Until recently, Prado was seen taking a lot of defensive swings on inside pitches, weakly pushing the ball to the right side, as he was unable to square the ball up.
After the Diamondbacks’ coaching staff analyzed the issue and pointed it out to Prado, it became apparent that a simple tweak could yield tremendous results.
“Finally, when they throw it in there, he’s turning on it and making them pay for it,” Gibson pointed out.
Over the last 30 days, Prado is leading the Diamondbacks in nearly every offensive category. He’s batting .365 with a .988 OPS, 17 RBI and 12 runs scored in that span.
His manager thinks it may have been a fix-all.
“It’s just all coming together for him.”