Montgomery, Alabama —— Cade Gotta has always swung the bat differently from everybody else.
“I grew up playing a lot of baseball but I never had too much coaching when I was younger, no real technique training, and so this is what came out of it,” the Tampa Bay Rays outfield prospect told Baseball Census late last week about his extremely unorthodox approach at the plate. “I’ve always kind of done things that way. It’s never been anything that I’ve consciously tried to do, but it’s worked for me.”
A 25-year-old right now patrolling the outfield for the Montgomery Biscuits, Tampa Bay’s Double-A affiliate, Gotta has beaten the odds to this point in his career by proving that, yes, such an unconventional swing can work in pro ball. A month-long stint in Triple-A Durham earlier this year and a career minor league slash line of .276/.343/.411/.754 both point to Gotta’s ability to succeed with his swing. That the Tampa Bay Rays have steadily moved him up their minor league ranks ought to tell you that they, too, are unbothered by what on the outside looks unbalanced and quirky. Maybe that’s because, when you cut through the quirks, Cade Gotta’s swing keeps the core idea of what every hitter should do at the plate: hit the ball hard.
“I go out there every single at-bat trying to find a fastball to hit as hard as I can, and if I get something off-speed, I try to adjust and hit that as hard as I can,” Gotta said. “Of course, I’ll always make adjustments. I’m always working to build my swing so that it’s as functional as possible. Getting to a good load position where I can fire at any pitch is something that I’ve always been working towards. But I still do a lot of things that are traditional in swinging the baseball bat, even if it looks a little bit different.”
Cade Gotta is right about that. As awkward as his high leg kick may look, as hard as he may lunge forward toward the pitcher, and as much as he can flail making contact with two strikes just to stay alive, the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder does some very simple, critical things with his unique swing. For one, above-average bat speed helps his leverage at contact. A great swing plane that has the bat head in the zone a long time doesn’t hurt, either. And an attitude of intent—that is, Gotta wants to crush every pitch—makes him a threat to any fastball, anywhere near the zone, in any count.
It’s a fascinating swing to watch develop in real time:
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Watch him hit for a while and maybe you’ll understand what I think is a perfect comparison for Cade Gotta: big league outfielder Hunter Pence. The quirky, herky-jerky mechanics both before and during each man’s swing are fascinating to watch; the ticks, and the habits, and the trying-to-feel-it-out vibe you get is something few other ballplayers do at this level, most opting for a highly-regimented, repetitive batter’s box routine. But for Gotta, just as is the case with Pence, his approach and swing may look different a month from now. Adjustments are critical at (and above) the Double-A level, of course.
“I’m always trying to build,” Gotta acknowledged. “I’m always trying to get that Major League swing, and get a swing that’s good enough to compete with the best. So yeah, it might look different a month from now. I am forever making slight adjustments with my swing to make it as functional as possible.”
‘Functional’ is an interesting word to use for the swing. Hitters want to make their swings as efficient as possible, or as mechanically sound as possible, or maybe sometimes as simple as possible, but “functional” suggests a different goal all together: who cares how it looks if the function of the swing gets the job done. When you think about a baseball swing more like that, and less like a piece of art that ought to be perfectly duplicated every time as dictated by the muscle memory of thousands and thousands of repetitions, suddenly you understand how Cade Gotta sees the game.
Come to think of it, it’s almost like he’s been hard-wired to see the game a little bit differently for years now. Undrafted out of high school, Gotta made his way to Riverside Community College in southern California. With a weird swing, a lot of amateur baseball under his belt, and little formal training before Riverside, the Tampa Bay Rays prospect didn’t attract much attention when it came time to jump from junior college baseball to a four-year school. And so Gotta went off to San Diego Christian, a tiny NAIA school, to continue his baseball career—even while knowing then that he was good enough to play with a bigger program.
“I went into that small school with a chip on my shoulder knowing that I was better than a lot of guys playing at big schools,” he said. “And now every day I’ve tried to continue to prove that I can play with the best players in pro ball.”
Different players are motivated in different ways, and by different things. Texas Rangers pitching prospect Collin Wiles is motivated by wanting to prove his organization was right in drafting him several years ago. Milwaukee Brewers prospect Austin Rubick is motivated by the love of his family and hometown that buoyed him after the toughest year of his life.
It’d seem Cade Gotta is motivated by his doubters, then, and the more skepticism you raise about his unorthodox approach at the plate, the better—because he’s already got his sights set on something bigger than being known for his swing mechanics alone.
“I just want to play baseball for a long time,” Gotta said. “I don’t care about results I can’t control, I just worry about getting better. It’s really a lot of wasted energy to worry about things that you can’t control, and that makes you a worse player. I want to be the best player that I can be, and I know that controlling myself is the only way I can do that.”
Controlling himself—and swinging the bat like a self-made man. As Gotta knocks on the door to the big leagues, it’s all a credit to his ingenuity and raw ability to have made it this far in what’s usually such a rigid, unchanging baseball world. Every swing he takes is another I told you so to everyone along the way who may have been skeptical about his unorthodox swing working in professional baseball.
Swing on, then, Cade Gotta. Swing on.