“Just to clear the record, I’m not out there trying to hit home runs,” Levi Jordan laughed on the phone Monday, a day after hitting his seventh home run of the 2022 season. The former 29th round pick from Washington now has as many long balls in his last 42 minor league games (nine) as he did in his first 180 in the organization.
Wild as it is, Jordan was the Cubs’ best homegrown position player in the month of May — when he hit .371/.464/.729 — during a month where it seemed half the farm system broke out. Squeezed out of Iowa due to a glut of infielders and a lack of playing time in early April (despite hitting well in his six games there), the Cubs sent Jordan to Tennessee where he could have a regular lineup spot. Overall, he’s hitting a ridiculous .353/.446/.671/186 wRC+ at Double-A this year, with a 11.9% walk rate against a 10.9%(!) strikeout rate.
Surely, a return to Des Moines isn’t far away, as the 26-year-old has left no doubt that he’s conquered the Double-A level.
LEVI JORDAN WITH A 2 RUN BOMB TO TIE THE GAME IN THE BOTTOM OF THE 7TH!!! pic.twitter.com/aeYq6o0U3u
— Tennessee Smokies (@smokiesbaseball) June 1, 2022
In the meantime, I wanted to talk to Levi about the transformation that has taken place in his game.
In 2019, Jordan spent the year in Low-A, offering sure-handed and versatile infield defense to the title-winning South Bend Cubs, but hitting just .221/.289/.286 in 66 games. This is a common pro ball archetype: the good college infielder that can’t hit enough with a wood bat to get out of A-ball. For many, their professional career ends there, especially if there’s a pandemic thereafter that means you miss an entire year of pro ball.
But Levi came back a different player in 2021. There was pop in the bat; his line drive rate literally doubled. He would reach Triple-A and hold his own. He’s been even better, significantly better, in a 2022 season where the power has further up-ticked and the strikeout rate has been slashed. Jordan swears there hasn’t been a substantial change in his swing, despite the change in results (and contrary to what I’ve suggested in the past).
Jordan pointed to 2020 and the winter that followed, where he maintained access to a baseball facility and trained with former big leaguer Daniel Robertson and current Triple-A player Nate Mondou as the beginning of his evolution.
Bettin on me this year 📈 pic.twitter.com/qrg6p47ioc
— Levi Jordan (@levijordan_) March 11, 2021
“It wasn’t so much a mechanical adjustment or a swing fix, but moreso — the thing I credit [Daniel] the most with — is he made me believe in my swing,” Jordan said. “And he made me mentally get over the fact of any self-doubt in my swing or my baseball ability.”
However, three focuses that Jordan adopted over the last two years have helped make him a more complete hitter, and I want to tackle each individually, as I think it really speaks to modern hitting development just as much as it does Levi specifically.
Letting the Ball Get Deeper
“I feel like the reason I’m having better at-bats would be because seeing the pitch longer allows me to not chase as much and be able to swing at pitches in my zone.”
Jordan highlighted his strikeout rate for a stretch with Iowa last year — it was 36.8% in 25 games from August 4 to September 5 — as something that bothered him. And it was actually watching Alfonso Rivas’ approach at the plate that really gave Jordan something to strive for.
“He’s so good at being disciplined to his pitch in the strike zone before two strikes, and then once he gets to two strikes he’s disciplined to the strike zone,” Jordan said. “I always thought it was so impressive that he’s such a great hitter but he also walks so much.”
Jordan focused on getting shorter to the ball and more efficient with his swing, which would allow him to track the pitch a bit longer before committing to swing. This would allow him to not expand his zone and better isolate the pitches he can do damage on.
Increased Attack Angle
One area where Jordan credited Justin Stone’s hitting department aided him in becoming a better hitter was in making him aware of a pitfall that he was guilty of during his first couple years of professional baseball. It was a concept I was unfamiliar with: barrel dumping.
“From the position where the bat was on my shoulder, the first move was like to flatten out,” Jordan said. “My understanding of getting on plane was getting on plane as soon as you could. So I would flatten my barrel — which is also called dumping — behind me, and then I’m dragging the bat through the zone.”
The consequence of barrel dumping, especially felt in modern professional baseball, is the inability to catch up to riding four-seam fastballs at the top of the zone. The solution was to steepen (and shorten) the start of his attack, which would allow Jordan to combat velocity like never before.
“You don’t need to be on plane behind you. The only time that it matters to be on plane is through the contact window.”
When I watched video on Jordan in preparation for speaking to him, the thing that kept jumping out was his back leg. At just 5-foot-8, Jordan was doing such a good job generating power with his right foot, similar to how golfers like Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy do.
— Caleb Webb (@calebgwebb) April 7, 2022
“That was another idea Daniel and I had when we were hitting in that offseason,” Jordan said. “It was the understanding that your energy comes from the ground, and so as long as you can connect to the ground, the faster you can move your torso and therefore the bat.”
Jordan now does work in the batting cage to try and ensure he’s keeping his right heel on the ground as long as possible to maximize the ground force he creates.
With his offense during the last two seasons, Jordan has made the most difficult transition in professional baseball: going from an “org guy” to a potential contributor (something we talked about with Matt Swarmer earlier this week) in the eyes of the powers that be.
Jordan, 26, is a good, versatile infielder that destroys lefties, so his role as a ready-made bench piece is fairly obvious. This is a breakout reminiscent of David Bote in 2017, but the Cubs must open up playing time in Iowa for Jordan to prove his worth there. For players like Levi, the road to the Major Leagues is often winding and hurdle-filled, and he knows to keep his focus on the things he can control.
“I want to be a complete hitter. Somebody who can drive the ball to every part of the ballpark, hits the ball consistently, and every once in awhile you catch the middle of the ball and elevate.”
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Feature image via Jordan’s Instagram.