Things have changed a lot with the Red Wings very early in the season: 13 of the original 25 members of the Opening Day roster remain, including just six position players.
The new faces create a challenging situation for first-year Red Wings hitting coach Tom Brunansky. The Twins’ recent roster movement includes demoting Danny Valencia, Clete Thomas, Sean Burroughs and Chris Parmelee and assigning Wilkin Ramirez and Pedro Florimon from Double-A New Britain.
Despite the new players’ differences in age and experience, Brunansky says that there is always a simple constant: working on hitting.
That covers the physical aspect, though. As a former major leaguer who hit 271 career home runs, his approach concerning players like Valencia and Parmelee, for example – who were sent down in the midst of struggling – is cautious and empathetic.
“With Parm and Danny that come down, I give those guys a little bit of time, little bit of space,” Brunansky said. “I know how I felt, and it’s obviously not a positive experience for these kids, so I give them a little bit of time to get past what they need to get past and when I feel they’re kind of past the time of getting over it, then we’ll go to work.”
Valencia, 27, was the Twins’ 2012 starting third baseman; but hit just .190/.204/.290 in 27 games before his demotion. He spent all of 2011 in the majors.
“I can’t say I was blindsided,” Valencia said after the Red Wings’ 4-2 loss Thursday. “You have to perform to stay up there.”
Twenty-four-year-old Parmelee skipped Triple-A after an outstanding 2011 September call-up and made the Twins out spring training in 2012. The first baseman hit .179/.250/.262 with three RBI in 27 games in Minnesota.
Parmelee and Brunansky have a history from when they worked together in New Britain; a beneficial advantage for both parties. Brunansky admits, though, that not having prior experience with Valencia puts them both at a disadvantage at the start.
“We’re still in the infancy stages here,” Brunansky said. “I’ve had relationships with Parm, so it’s probably a little bit easier for me to work with him as it is with Danny, because I don’t have much with Danny. So it’s kind of our engagement stage, if you will….I bounce things off him and he says things to me, just trying to get an insight into what his approach is and where his mind’s at.”
Although Brunansky didn’t work with Parmelee much in spring training this year and has missed, as he estimates, 300-400 at-bats since their time together in New Britain, Brunansky says that having an existing relationship with him is “huge.”
“Instantly we had our way that we work together,” Brunansky said. “So when we got back down, it wasn’t where I took Danny and said, ‘Danny, we’re (at) ground zero, and I’m trying to feel what you feel’…With Parm, we were already past that.
“I like to use the term where we’re building a foundation brick-by-brick. With Parm, I’ve already got the wall; we’re just trying to patch it up. With Danny, we’re laying the cement right now. We’re trying to get the first layer down.”
Like Valencia, Brunansky had little experience with Ben Revere. Upon his initial demotion, he was specifically instructed to listen to Brunansky and keep getting at bats as an everyday player with the Red Wings.
The outfielder started the season slowly but by the time he was called up to Minnesota May 17, he’d raised his line to .330/.360/.340 in 23 games, including .405/.432/.405 in 10 games before leaving Triple-A.
Brunansky knew specifically what he wanted to work on with Revere: reducing hand movement so he wouldn’t get beat on certain pitches.
“It’s like a chain,” Brunansky said. “We (Twins’ management) talk all the time, so we have things we want to accomplish in hitters…My job was trying to find a way for him to not have so much movement in his hands. So we kind of messed around a little bit and got him to the point where he felt the barrel in his hands a little bit more. Once the hitter feels something, it’s easy to repeat. And it goes from there.”
Once they started working together, Revere called the experience “phenomenal.” In three games with the Twins, he’s 3-for-10 with a triple and two doubles
It’s hard to say if Brunansky’s work has taken effect in a short period of time; but if Revere ends up returning to Rochester, the two will be far past the cement-laying stage.
The new faces that Brunansky has to analyze as both batters and personalities are an example of the variance that he must adjust to: From 24-year-old Parmelee who’s a Triple-A newbie to Sean Burroughs who’s 31 and has spent parts of seven years in the majors.
A minor hitting coach expects that players come and go and progress made with one could be halted instantly with a new roster move. It’s the nature of the job.
But because Brunansky is well-respected by his team and is empathetic to players because of his experience as a major leaguer, the adjustments are not as drastic.
As Brunansky says, he’s still just trying to get guys to hit better, no matter what.