Connor Joe’s revamped swing leads to breakout season in Dodger blue
After completing the 2017 season, Connor Joe, an infielder for the Oklahoma City Dodgers, knew he needed to make changes to his swing.
Since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round of the 2014 draft — 39th overall — Joe had not experienced the same success that earned him that high selection.
So, when Joe, 25, got a call from Phil Plantier, a former Major League player and current hitting coach for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, he was eager to start working.
“Plantier lives in San Diego where I’m from. We have been family friends my whole life actually, I grew up with his son,” Joe said. “Phil and I spent a lot of time in the cage this offseason.”
While playing with the Pirates, Joe, a right-handed hitter, said they wanted his feet to be even in the box, or squared off, with a small leg kick — a change from his open stance while playing at San Diego University.
Working with Plantier this past offseason, Joe felt this stance made him unathletic in the box, which made it tough for him to take good swings on a consistent basis.
From the beginning, Joe and Plantier decided that starting open was the best way for Joe to get in an athletic position and ready to hit, similar to his stance at San Diego. But they added a component that Joe, and not many others, have done. Before the pitcher releases the ball, Joe brings his feet together in the back of the box. And once the pitcher releases the ball, he strides with his left foot, a more typical feature, and takes his swing.
“After a few hitting drills we figured out this is the way my body likes to move,” Joe said.
Even though Joe’s set-up and swing is unconventional, Oklahoma City Dodgers hitting coach Adam Melhuse said that Joe gets to a good hitting position early.
“Which is key, and allows him to see the ball a really long time,” Melhuse said.
But there was more room for improvement, Joe thought.
“I’ve always gone the other way well my whole career. That’s what the Pirates focused on with me. I actually struggled pulling the ball,” Joe said. “That is something else I worked on this offseason, getting the ball in the air to the pull side gap.”
Overhauling his swing and approach has led Joe to a breakout season in his first year with the Dodgers organization.
“To completely overhaul a swing, that takes a lot,” Melhuse said. “The success that he’s having is impressive. Sometime guys find when they’re in a rut, so to speak, they go back to the drawing board and then feel energized. I’m guessing, but it seems that’s what has happened with Connor.”
Playing with OKC and Double-A Tulsa this year, as of Aug. 21, Joe has combined to slash .292/.393/.516 with 16 home runs and 182 total bases — all of which are career-highs. In addition, Joe has also eclipsed career-highs in walks (54) and runs (59).
Joe says, along with his new swing, “having the approach of hitting the ball to the big part of the field” has helped him put together professional at-bats on a more consistent basis.
But Joe’s journey to the Dodgers was not as smooth as his newly revamped swing.
Going into his junior year at San Diego University in 2014, Joe felt optimistic about the upcoming season.
The summer prior, he had performed well at the Cape Cod League — regarded as the top summer league for college players — in Massachusetts.
Sure enough, Joe had a watershed year at the plate for the Toreros.
He batted .367 with a .462 OBP and nine home runs — earning West Coast Conference Player of the year honors.
Joe was also named a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes award, given to the top collegiate baseball player each year.
However, after being selected by the Pirates in the 2014 MLB draft, Joe’s professional career got off to an ominous start.
On the third and final day of workouts before the rookie ball New York Penn League began, Joe was running in the outfield. That is when he felt a tweak in his back.
“It ended up being a stress fracture,” Joe said, which forced him to miss the entire 2014 NYPL season.
In 2015 with the Low-A West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League, Joe was healthy again and able to play in 80 games, where he had a respectable .245 average and .366 OBP.
The next two years, Joe steadily increased the number of games he was able to play while becoming more comfortable within the Pirates organization, albeit without a significant jump in production.
But near the end of the 2017 season, the Pirates traded Joe to the Atlanta Braves.
“The trade from the Pirates to the Braves was definitely shocking. It was after the [July] trade deadline. So it was tough,” Joe said.
Joe’s stay with the Braves organization was short-lived. A month and a half later, after Joe played in 20 games for Double-A Mississippi, the Braves traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I got a call in September that I was getting traded to the Dodgers, which was really exciting,” Joe said. “You hear Los Angeles Dodgers and you think success.”
Now feeling more athletic at the plate, Joe has found the success that once made him a first round draft pick.
“It’s nice to have all that work in the offseason transfer into the game,” Joe said. “But It also has a lot to do with the breath of fresh air with the Dodgers.”