Austin Braddock is branching out to all fields.
Always considered a dead pull hitter, Braddock has discovered this season that hitting is a lot easier when you change your approach at the plate.
Braddock hit a two-run home run and a grand slam and earned his first pitching victory of the season Saturday in a 15-2 win against Winston Academy.
For his performance, Braddock is The Commercial Dispatch Prep Player of the Week.
Braddock allowed four hits and struck out seven in the game that was shortened to five innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.
“I really don”t consider myself to be anything,” Braddock said. “I just try to stay humble and let the Good Lord play things as they go out.”
Braddock, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore, transferred from New Hope High. He played third base on the junior varsity and the varsity teams last season at New Hope.
Braddock, who also played on Heritage Academy”s football team, said he is finding a better balance between academics and athletics this season.
He also is finding that balance at the plate.
Heritage Academy coach Steve Hancock said he stresses using the entire field to all of his players. He said most kids learn to pull the ball by the time they are 7 or 8 years old. Even though he feels learning how to hit the ball up the middle and the other way is an advanced skill, he said not a lot of players feel comfortable doing it or have the right mechanics to do it.
Hancock said Braddock has stuck with the fundamentals of hitting the ball the other way and has adjusted well.
“We really didn”t have to break it down that much,” Hancock said. “He could hit the ball the other way, and he could hit it with authority. He just looked for the ball middle in all of the time. If you”re looking middle in, if you get it, great. If you don”t, you can”t adjust to the outer half because your front side is already gone.
“We have kind of refocused middle part away in certain situations. He has two home runs to right field and one to center and one to left. He has had a double off the wall in right and he has lined some balls up the box. He has done a really nice job.”
Braddock, a right-handed hitter, had immediate success, hitting his first two home runs of the season to right field against Central Academy.
On Saturday, Braddock hit his first home run of the game to center field and then pulled his second one to left.
“I didn”t think it was going to be easy. I had a little doubt,” Braddock said, “but I am a hard worker, and I work on the things that coach talks about. It is real easy to hit the ball the other way now.”
Braddock said Hancock has helped him change his mind-set at the plate. He said he has helped him keep his hands back and look to drive the ball to the middle of the field and to the right side.
“Last year, it was easy to pull everything,” Braddock said. “I just had a big change this year. Now I pretty much hit everything to the opposite field. It is a lot easier to hit balls hard to the opposite field than it is to pull the ball all of the time.”
Braddock started playing baseball when he was 4 years old. He said his father, Brad, played baseball for two years at Northeastern Alabama Community College. He said his father helped him grow to love the game of baseball.
And ever since he can remember, Braddock said pulling the ball was something that came easy. Now that the Patriots (2-2) have been working so hard on hitting the ball the other way, he feels he hits the ball harder to the right side.
Hancock isn”t surprised by how quickly Braddock has adjusted. He said Braddock received good coaching before he reached the high school level and had solid hitting fundamentals.
This season, Braddock has added another element to his approach at the plate, which has been key to his success.
“Austin is a guy with an incredible amount of ability,” Hancock said. “When I first started looking at him, he handled the ball really well on the inner half of the plate. He tended to pop the outer half pitch up. I have had to stay on him in some of the drills, but if he gets into a little bit of a bad habit it usually takes only a day for him to get back right.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.