Ryan Sweeney Working to Improve His Power Numbers, Earn Playing Time in Outfield With Red Sox

Ryan Sweeney Working to Improve His Power Numbers, Earn Playing Time in Outfield With Red SoxFORT MYERS, Fla. –– Ryan Sweeney is listed at 6-foot-4. His 223-pound frame is straight chiseled. His 37-inch vertical leap during physicals was the team's highest total.

Despite that combination of height, strength and athleticism, Sweeney has belted only 14 career homers during his six years in the majors. His career high for a season came in 2009, when he unloaded six round-trippers.

But over the past two seasons, he's only left the yard once per year.

"I don't think he knows himself as well as he should, especially as a hitter," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "Seems like on the outfield, he has a very good sense of who he is. I'm not sure he has a great sense of who he is at the plate yet."

When Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington acquired Sweeney in December, he praised the outfielder's swing for Fenway Park. As a left-handed hitter, Sweeney's stroke was ideal for Fenway's dimension's, Cherington said.

Valentine has noticed the 27-year-old's potential. During batting practices at JetBlue Park, the skipper said Sweeney has crushed balls –– including some that would sail over the park and land in the bullpen.

That, of course, has been the story of Sweeney's career.

"I've always been able to hit BP like that for some reason," Sweeney said. "It's just transferring it over to the game which has been the issue. Whatever that is, hopefully I figure that out some day."

He's trying to solve that question with Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. At points this spring, the pair has discussed tweaking Sweeney's grip on the bat, his rhythm at the plate and lifting the ball higher.

Although it was against inferior, collegiate competition, Sweeney showed a hint of progress on Saturday. The outfielder unloaded a three-run homer over the right field fence against Northeastern, punctuating a 4-for-5 effort.

"I thought that was a good little confidence builder for Ryan," Valentine said after the game.

Just don't expect Sweeney to transform into a bonafide slugger overnight.

"I'm not going to try and hit homer every time up and dip and rip," Sweeney said. "I'm more of a line-drive type of guy. Like [Saturday], it was a 3-1 count so if I can get in a good hitters count where I can take a bigger swing at it but not lose sight of what I need to do as far as my swing, I will."

The presence of Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz –– also left-handed hitters –– could be valuable to Sweeney's development. Sweeney said he's already studied their styles and has spoken with Gonzalez on mastering his swing.

Hitting at JetBlue Park should also prepare him for the dimensions at Fenway, an asset Sweeney acknowledged. As spring training goes along, he'll be taking baby steps little by little.

"I don't think anybody is trying to change me," Sweeney said. "I've played for a while now where I'm not 18 or 19 years old, and back then I changed my swing every week. Now I have a better idea what I'm trying to do, but now it's just being reminded of certain things in my swing that I need to do every day that I need to work on, and they're doing a good job of helping me figure that out."

That way, he can shed his stereotype of being a defensive specialist.

Have a question for Didier Morais? Send it to him via Twitter at @DidierMorais or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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