TAMPA — It turns out the Yankees’ blockbuster with the Twins did more for Kyle Higashioka than just open up more regular playing time — it also gave him a dedicated hitting coach.
The trade that sent Gary Sanchez to Minnesota ended up with the Yankees’ Josh Donaldson, who Higashioka has modeled his swing on since 2015. When Donaldson arrived at Yankees camp two weeks ago, Higashioka came to him to start thinking about hitting mechanics because they speak the same language.
“It was worth it, I would say,” said Higashioka.
So have the first results.
Higashioka drilled his fourth home run in his sixth game of the spring Tuesday at Steinbrenner Field as his surge of power continued with a 14-2 win over the Phillies.
“He has power,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He works hard on his hitting and doesn’t just want to be known as a great defensive catcher. He also wants to do his thing offensively.”
If Higashioka can carry that power over to the regular season – and do so with more consistency than in the past – it would be a welcome bonus on top of the value he already offers defensively.
In 2015, while Higashioka was in his eighth year in the Yankees’ farm system and still only at High-A, he decided to revamp his swing. Donaldson was on his way to an MVP with the Blue Jays this year, and because he was of a similar build to Higashioka, the catcher decided to use him as an example.
“The way his body and his mechanics work, I was struck by the amount of power he can generate for an average sized major league player,” Higashioka said. “I realized I couldn’t do the big leg raise and all that. But the underlying principles were the same.”
The new approach led to a breakout season for Higashioka in 2016 that landed him in the majors through 2017.
Higashioka has shown spurts of that power in the Bronx — including hitting 10 homers in 193 at-bats last season — but he’ll have an opportunity this season to show what he can do with an expanded role when Sanchez is no longer there.
“I know he enjoys this opportunity,” Boone said.
Now 7-for-15 this spring, Higashioka is also taking advantage of Donaldson having lockers a few lockers away from him at the Yankees clubhouse.
Higashioka said he didn’t discuss swing mechanics with Donaldson before they were teammates — especially not last season, when Donaldson called Gerrit Cole about his use of sticky substances.
“Because of the whole thing, you know, I shouldn’t greet him or anything on the plate,” Higashioka said. “But I think we’re past that.”
And if Higashioka’s momentum goes astray during the season, he’ll have a teammate to help get him back on track.
“The approach is where he really excels,” said Higashioka. “There aren’t many guys in the game who think about the shot like he does and about picking and picking times to do damage. He’s so mentally smart about hitting that it’s just a huge advantage to have him.
“Just having him around will be good for me.”
Additional reporting by Dan Martin
https://nypost.com/2022/03/29/kyle-higashiokas-power-surge-inspired-by-josh-donaldson/ Kyle Higashioka’s energy boost inspired by Josh Donaldson