Mason Robbins sprayed hits around the outfield. Right. Left. Center.
He’s just getting warmed up.
Soon enough he starts to elevate. Farther the balls fly, clanking off the tall maroon wall of Claude Passeau Field.
The hitting display came four months after the former George County and Southern Miss slugger concluded his fourth professional season. The former 25th round selection of the Chicago White Sox started in the rookie-level Pioneer League in 2014 and has climbed to the Southern League’s Birmingham Barons, Double-A affiliate to the Windy City’s American League team.
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Last Tuesday’s workout was the first time Robbins has hit live pitching outdoors since last September. It’s part of his long offseason routine building up to the start of spring training.
He takes a full month off — “I don’t want to do anything. Just hunt, watch TV and play with my dogs,” he said — and then begins to ramp up his preparation.
“I don’t do anything drastic those first few weeks when I start working out. I just try to get my body feeling good and right,” Robbins said.
By late November Robbins starts hitting the weight room and then a month later he’s hitting off a tee and pitching machine several days a week to get to this point, where he’s littering the outfield during live batting practice.
“I want to make sure that my swing is as basic and simple as it can be,” he said. “Then I start working my way toward what I want to get to.”
He’s not making any massive changes to his swing this year, but he does want to improve his plate discipline while adding more power; tough tasks for anyone, but that’s the goal.
“I want to try and get the most power out of my swing while maintaining the contact rate of not striking out a lot and making getting more walks,” he said. “That’s the big thing this offseason. At the house we’ve cranked up the machine and I try to make sure I get the best pitches I can hit.
“Anything out of the strike zone I don’t even think about swinging at.”
Robbins posted an all-star campaign in 2016 with the High-A Winston-Salem Dash, hitting .314 with five homers, 62 RBIs and a .767 OPS. The performance earned the 24-year-old a promotion to Double-A. While he was a reliable hitter, his numbers backed off a bit and he finished with three homers and 36 RBIs while hitting .265 with a .603 OPS. Robbins did see a drastic refinement in his strikeout rate, cutting down from 16.4 percent of his at-bats to just 9.7. And while his walk percentage also improved from 2.6 to 4 percent, Robbins said there’s still room for improvement if he’s going to make another jump. He believes if he’s more selective in 2018, his walk and strikeout rates won’t be his only statistics that spike.
“I want to get more out of my swing than what I had last year,” he said. “Turn singles into doubles and doubles into home runs. That’s the key.”
Robbins was disappointed not to get a non-roster invite to Chicago’s spring training when it was announced Jan. 22, but he’s still optimistic he can force the White Sox’s hand and make 2018 a big year.
“I’m not a bonus baby and I didn’t sign for what my brother did, but I’ve always told myself if I hit to the best of my ability I’ll get that chance to be in the big leagues,” he said. “That’s the great thing about baseball, there’s a million different ways you can get to the big leagues and a million different swings.
“Not everybody’s the same. You just have to find what fits you and what works best.”