Pelletier becoming more comfortable at the plate
In his final at-bat at Bowman Field of the Williamsport Crosscutters’ previous homestand, Ben Pelletier had a sneaking suspicion he was going to see an 0-2 breaking ball. He had already seen two of them from Hudson Valley pitcher Alan Strong and was prepared for another one.
Pelletier’s season has been largely about growing more and more comfortable with facing breaking pitches from pitchers. As the most consistent presence in the middle of the Cutters’ lineup since opening day, Pelletier has had to make an adjustment to how pitchers approached him as a run-producer.
Part of that growth has been recognizing breaking ball situations like the one he faced Sunday against Strong. Turns out, his instinct to look for a breaking ball at 0-2 was correctly. Pelletier drove the ball over the left-field fence for a solo home run which was the capper on a five-run inning and a Williamsport win over the Renegades.
“I put a good swing on it and it went out,” Pelletier said following the game.
It was a simplistic way to explain what was far from a simplistic at-bat for the 19-year-old Canadian. He’s either third, fourth or fifth in every game he’s played this summer for Pat Borders’ club. And just by being in those spots he’s commanded the respect of opposing pitchers who have attacked him with more breaking balls than he’s seen in his three seasons in the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor league system.
“I think I see more and more junk every day,” Pelletier said. “I started the season seeing fastballs. But I’m seeing more off-speed than I did last year or the years before. I have to get used to it a little bit.”
Despite his age, Borders has been confident with Pelletier as a middle-of-the-order player all season. He’s typically been surrounded by older college players from this year’s draft like Alec Bohm and Madison Stokes.
But Pelletier has responded well to the challenge. Entering Thursday’s series opener against West Virginia, Pelletier was slashing .268/.325/.450, which is plenty respectable for a teenager playing in the New York-Penn League. But dig a little deeper, and Pelletier is having a better season than just the compilation of those numbers.
From June 29 through July 29, the outfielder hit .330 with 14 extra-base hits, four home runs and 17 RBIs. The power which has been so evident during batting practice has begun to shine through just like it did against Strong in the seventh inning Sunday.
His solo home run had an exit velocity of more than 109 mph, which was only the second-hardest ball he’s hit this year. He had a home run at Bowman Field earlier this season with an exit velocity over 110 mph.
“He’s got a different kind of pop,” Borders said. “The ball jumps off his bat a little different than most. That ball (Sunday) he hit particularly well.”
Borders has never been afraid to put some of his youngest players in the middle of the lineup in his four years as Cutters manager. A year ago Jhailyn Ortiz became one of the best hitters in the entire farm system after hitting third for Williamsport all summer. Darick Hall, mashed nine home runs as a 20-year-old in 2016, and Jose Pujols played in 66 games for Borders in 2015 as a 19-year-old batting either third or fourth in each game he played.
Pelletier hasn’t just seen growth as a power hitter where his four home runs are already a career high. But his growth as a hitter in general has been fun to watch.
His line drive percentage has increased from 12.8 last year to 20.5 this year. His groundball rate has decreased from 52.6 last year to 40.2 this year. And he’s also hitting the ball to the opposite field in 29 percent of his plate appearances, up from 21.9 percent a year ago.
Becoming less of a pull hitter has allowed him to become a more complete hitter. And in conjunction with his penchant to not only recognize, but attack, off-speed, it’s led to an increase in his offensive production almost across the board while also improving his isolated power mark to a career-best .181.
“He carries himself a little bit more mature,” Borders said. “Initially, you want to keep him around that spot, but not put him in there right away. But he’s gotten used to the type of attack you get in that hole because it commands a little bit of respect. His growth has been pretty good over the course of the season so far.”