Visalia, California —— It surprised me to hear that Bryce Johnson only started switch-hitting a couple years ago, in the middle of his college career. I had just gone through a full five-game (!) series between Johnson’s San Jose Giants and the host Visalia Rawhide last week in which the speedy San Francisco Giants center field prospect wreaked havoc on the left side of Visalia’s infield, showing exceptional hand-eye coordination to barrel the ball up to the opposite field and flashing plus speed out of the left-handed box to force close plays at first base. It seemed as though his lefty slap approach was tried and true, the result of years and years of honing and perfecting into a wannabe-Ichiro Suzuki-like final product.
But to hear Bryce Johnson tell it — that even now, he’s still just learning the ropes as a left-handed hitter in the California League — is all the more impressive. The Sam Houston State University alum has the feel and strength for some pull-side gap pop from the right side, but shows a completely different approach and outlook when he steps into that left-handed box. That makes for an interesting dichotomy on his scouting report and, perhaps, a notable future ahead in a very specific role with the San Francisco Giants.
To better understand his interesting trajectory to this point, Johnson shared with me quite a bit of insight into his development as a switch-hitter, the adjustments he’s continued to make now in pro ball, and how his relatively-newfound talent may work in his favor when it comes time to fight for a 25-man roster spot in San Francisco.
Bryce Johnson on learning how to switch-hit:
“I just started switch hitting. I’m going on about three years now. I started going into my junior year at Sam Houston State. I was only a right-handed hitter, but I’d always messed around with hitting left-handed when I was younger, and I always had a feeling I could do it. And then I talked to my head coach at Sam Houston, Matt Deggs, and he was like ‘let’s try this during the fall season.’ So that fall, I hit nothing but left-handed. Even against left-handed pitching, I got up there left-handed. And it took a while to get the timing down, it took a while to get going. But I worked hard the entire fall at it, every single at-bat, and then when the season came around, it felt just like it was natural. Machine work really helped me pick it up so quickly. I would crank up the velocity on the machines, really try to get that timing down, and then seeing as much live pitching as I possibly could sealed it.”
Bryce Johnson on making adjustments against pro pitching:
“My left-handed swing in general, and especially with two strikes, I’m really looking to go the other way, depending on how I get pitched. I know that if I put something on the ground the other way, that’s going to be a real tough play for the defense considering how fast I am. I want to make that play as close as possible at first base. Now, when I get into a hitter’s count left-handed, I can kind of sit back and really try to pull the ball to the gap, but most of the time, especially if I’m down in the count, I’m trying to go up the middle or the other way. Sometimes it’s actually easier to hit with two strikes when I’m left-handed. I have really good hand-eye coordination, and from the left side when I’m down in the count, that gives me the opportunity to just put the bat on the ball and put it in play, let my legs do the work down the line.”
“I’m already starting to see [pitchers having a specific plan]. I’ve had to mix in the bunt game a lot, too. Start to bring them in, and then when they try to beat me inside, keep my hands in and hit it right by them. Then they go back to playing me back, and I can lay it down. It’s still a process, we’re really just getting into the second half of the season now, so there’s still development, I’m still figuring out exactly what I want to do and what my plan of attack needs to be. But I know I’ll be fine if I stick to my game and just work off that.”
“I ask [fellow switch-hitter and San Jose teammate] Gio [Brusa] all the time what kind of pitches he sees up here, what sort of sequencing he’s been getting, what he remembers about certain pitchers. Most of the guys here, he knows what they throw, and how they try to set him up from both sides of the plate, so I really lean on him. He and I will hit in the cage together a lot and talk about our games plans, stuff like that. He’s really smart. He’s been a big help.”
Bryce Johnson on how switch-hitting may get him to the San Francisco Giants one day:
“The Giants are all about it. They want me to go forward full-tilt with it. They’ve told me to go for it, so it’s something I plan on doing for the rest of my career. And yeah, for sure, that [matchup potential] is in the back of my mind as far as getting a roster spot because of it. That’s why being able to come out here and really develop my skills more and figure out my lefty swing has been so important. It’s definitely put the future in the back of my mind. And when I learned I was coming up here [to San Jose], I was immediately like ‘wow, what an opportunity.’ I get to see really good pitching, it’ll really help me figure out where I am as a player, and show me what I need to be working on to get better. But I know I just need to keep developing and getting better, really from both sides of the plate.”
For more on San Francisco Giants OF Bryce Johnson…
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