MOOSIC, Pa. – Last spring was a rollercoaster for Mike Ford.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders first baseman was selected by the Seattle Mariners during the Rule 5 Draft in December 2017 but didn’t make the big-league club the following spring. He was returned to the New York Yankees on March 24, 2018.
Ford would have to travel from Peoria, Ariz., to Tampa, Fla., as the Yankees were preparing to break camp, making for a hectic final week of spring training.
Fast forward to this past offseason, when Ford received his first non-roster invite to spring training from the Yankees and broke camp with the RailRiders – both of which were pretty much expected. But then Ford got out to a red-hot start, clubbing five home runs to pair with a .457 batting average in his first nine games of the season.
“Good start to the year. Just have to keep it going,” Ford said. “I kind of knew I’d be here going into spring training, so it’s a little bit different from last year. I didn’t know if I’d be in Seattle, this coast, the other coast. Just kind of being comfortable knowing where I’m going and just kind of relaxing and playing my game.
“It would have been nice to stay over there, but having to come back was a lot of transitioning.”
Ford’s impressive nine-game stretch to open the season is a 180 from a year ago when he batted .253 with just two home runs in 23 April games and was sidelined with a hip injury in early June.
Despite the recent success, the first baseman hasn’t made any significant changes to his approach at the plate — just a couple tweaks to his swing.
What Ford has tried to do is become a “complete hitter.” He’s always hit for power, but now the left-handed slugger is driving the ball all over the field.
“One of the things that he’s doing is his barrel-to-ball contact has been exceptional, and part of it is, he’s not just trying to pull the ball. He’s hitting it all over the field,” RailRiders manager Jay Bell said. “With what he’s accomplished – or what he’s doing right now – he’s hitting the ball to left-center field gap, and whenever he’s getting a mistake breaking ball, he’s hammering it. There are times that he’s hunting the fastball in also and he’s putting the barrel to the ball on that one too. It’s just one of those things where he needs to make sure that he continues to do exactly what he’s doing and not get too comfortable. Make sure he goes through the same routine every single day and does his best to maintain what he’s doing.”
“Being humble and confident is a very important part of this game,” RailRiders hitting coach Phil Plantier added. “Just being able to just recognize what’s going on in an at-bat, how another team is attacking him and doing what he needs to do that at-bat to be successful, and that’s using the whole field, controlling the strike zone and taking what they give him. When you do that, you tend not to yourself out, and we try to do that. That’s obviously a big part of the game.”
Ford is also hitting lefties much better this season. After batting .220 in 108 at-bats against left-handing pitching 2018, he’s batting a blistering .500 in 12 at-bats so far.
It’s an area of Ford’s game that has caught the eye of both Bell and Plantier.
The nice thing about what he’s doing right now – and because we’ve faced a lot of lefties – he’s hitting lefties extremely well, too,” Bell said.
Ford has added yoga to his training regimen this offseason. (Martin Griff)
Ford did make one change this offseason, however. He wanted to enter camp slimmer and lost some weight thanks to a new training regimen, which included yoga.
“I think it’s huge,” Ford said. “Just put a lot of time into it. Trained differently with yoga and conditioning. It’s felt great so far.
“I just feel freer in my hips and upper-body. Just a little bit more loose. I can do a little bit more with my hips.”
The slimmed down Ford hasn’t only seen an uptick in play at the plate, but has also been better at first base.
He has just one error in five games at first base this season and has already turned a double play.
“This year, he came in with a purpose, defensively as well as offensively,” Bell said. “I’m excited to see what kind of year he puts together.”
With a handful of roster changes already made and the RailRiders down four projected opening day starters, the RailRiders have had to rely on Ford during the early goings.
And this hot start will not only help the RailRiders get to where they want to go but will help Ford out too.
“The lineup’s going to change as the season goes – it’s just a part of being in Triple-A – and I think the guys are doing a really good job just focusing on their own individual needs, what they need to do each day to be prepared for their development and that day’s game,” Plantier said. “We’re only 10 days into this, so it’s very important guys don’t look at the scoreboard, don’t look at the numbers and just focus on having a good at-bat, having a good plan for each plate appearance and trusting it.”