Rancho Cucamonga, California —— You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but San Diego Padres outfield prospect Rod Boykin can hit the ball a long, long way. Don’t let him get extended; a long, lanky speedster from Alabama, if Boykin gets his arms fully extended on a pitch across the outer half, he’s liable to hit it off the batter’s eye. And with six home runs already in his brief (131 at-bat) time with the Lake Elsinore Storm to finish out this summer after a first half spent at Low-A Fort Wayne, Boykin is quickly making himself known.
“I’ve really been working hard for that power,” the outfielder told Baseball Census on Wednesday afternoon, smiling sheepishly after showing off considerable pop in a particularly good pre-game BP round. “I’m not a very big guy, and I can’t try to muscle up to generate power, so I have to use my bat speed more than anything. I’m trying to add weight, too. I’m really trying to add ten or fifteen pounds. I know that’s a lot, but if I really continue to eat right and workout, those things will take care of themselves. I think I can accomplish that.”
Boykin’s mind is in the right place, because there’s still considerable development to be done both in his body and his game in the coming years. Drafted at 160 lbs., he’s a good bit heavier than that now in his fifth professional year, but the outfielder still has a long ways to go before he fills out the way the San Diego Padres would like. Even as he’s grown into his body, though—and maintained considerable speed and athleticism while doing it the right way—it’s commendable that Boykin hasn’t tried to overcompensate and get his swing out of whack trying to be somebody he’s not.
“I really wasn’t that big at the beginning of my career, and I’ve slowly gained weight over time, so I am sure that’s helped,” the outfielder said, acknowledging how his over-the-fence power is finally starting to show up in game situations this year. “But really, it’s more swinging at pitches that I know I can do damage with. That’s key. A lot of people try too hard to generate power, and they try to do too much, and I think that hurts them. If I just stick with my game plan, and really only swing at pitches I can do damage with, I’ll be better off.”
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That self-awareness is, plainly, the key to Rod Boykin’s future in professional baseball. Long and lanky, it’s easy for him to go the other way and he looks to right-center field as his power alley—something of a unique tendency for a young right-handed hitter. But the flip side of that means he struggles with hard stuff on the inner half of the plate, and even with good bat speed, he’ll quickly need to learn how to turn on inside pitches with authority and still find the barrel. Nevertheless, there are a lot of hits in that right-center field gap, and Boykin is primed to exploit it.
“My biggest strength right now is hitting the ball back up the middle and to the opposite field,” Boykin acknowledged, noting he’s optimistic about becoming a 20-plus home run guy in the future while still retaining his speed. “I have such long arms, I really like to get extended, and anything outside is pretty easy for me to go out and get it. I know I can struggle at times a little bit with middle-in, and I know most guys are the other way around, they don’t look opposite field like this. But I think this can help me down the road, looking for pitches like that.”
For now, though, Rod Boykin must continue adjust to Lake Elsinore, where he’s slashing .298/.366/.534/.900 across 33 games entering play on Friday (add his first-half numbers in Fort Wayne, and Boykin is slashing .268/.343/.461/.804 with 17 doubles, six triples, and 12 home runs over 336 total at-bats this year).
“I saw a lot of fastballs in the first half in Fort Wayne,” the San Diego Padres prospect noted. “Lately here when I’ve been doing pretty well, it’s actually been on a lot of off-speed pitches, so I’m trying to keep adjusting to that right now. If I really prove I can adjust to that off-speed, I think I’ll be pretty well off.”
“Beyond that, I’m really working on trying to get my mindset right,” he continued, looking ahead to the rapidly approaching offseason. “Anybody can go to the weight room and work out, and get big, but baseball is mental. Even when I’m not playing well, I have to keep the right mindset. Not getting mad, not taking a bad at-bat out on defense, just forget about it and move on to the next at-bat with a great mindset.”
Just as it will go with Rod Boykin’s inevitable physical growth, that mental maturity should inevitably come with more hard work and time. For now, if you’re out early for a game and catch him taking batting practice… enjoy the show.