Pasco, Wash. — Not many players who make a third trip to the Northwest League are legitimate prospects. But not many players have the size and natural power of Luis Asuncíon.
The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic made his stateside debut in 2016, bypassing the AZL to head straight to Tri-City. At 19, he wasn’t young for the league but was still adjusting and posted a sub-.700 OPS. The team has worked with the big righty to unlock more of his power, and have moved him to first base, where his profile as a right-handed hitter and thrower is tough, but made more workable by his size and athleticism.
Now completely fluent in English (he spoke without a translator for our interview and only had to put up with my lousy Spanish once) and embracing his role as a leader on the team, Asuncíon is hitting the ball with authority more regularly this year, posting an Isolated Power rate that’s hovered around .200 through the first half of the year.
We caught up with him in Tri-City to talk about his development.
MadFriars: How are you feeling about the conversion to first base?
Luis Asuncíon: Well, it’s always good, first, that I still have a chance to play baseball. That’s all we care about. It’s better than I thought I was going to do, I’ve been making plays at first base that have been impressive for me. I feel really good, just trusting the process.
Did you make any transition at all last year, or was this new this year?
Luis Asuncíon: It was the start of the year, in January and I was practicing in the outfield [in the Dominican Republic] and they asked me what I’d think if they started working me at first. I was like, ‘I don’t have any problem with it, I just like to play, it doesn’t matter where.’ So that was the plan, they just told me they’d play me sometimes at first and sometimes in the outfield so I don’t lose that. So I had a couple months to get used to it.
What’s feeling natural and what’s still feeling like you have to think through it over at first base?
Luis Asuncíon: Some ground balls and some plays, it’s where I need to be. In the outfield, we don’t have that as much – we just throw the ball and that’s it, the play’s over for us. The way that we throw too, like the mechanics, is different too – now I need to be shorter with my arm and it’s completely different from the outfield. But I’ve started to feel comfortable with the time that’s going and the games played. I’m feeling more comfortable every day.
Who’s been working with you the most at first base?
Luis Asuncíon: It was Kevin Hooper. He worked with me a lot. [AZL Manager] Aaron Levin has worked with me since the Dominican – he was the first one who started working with me at first base. All of them have been giving me advice about first base.
Offensively, have there been a lot of mechanical changes that you’ve made, or is it just a matter of feeling good and having your timing at the plate this year?
Luis Asuncíon: A few days, I was struggling with my timing – I think it was my rhythm. I’ve been trying to change little stuff to keep my rhythm again. Mechanically, I don’t have many changes from last year, but I’ve been more consistent since the beginning of the year – just trying to see my pitch and hit the ball hard.
When you’re in a funk, is it about seeing the ball?
Luis Asuncíon: It’s more timing. When I’m on time with the pitcher, I can see every pitch clearly. I can recognize every pitch. When I’m out of rhythm, anything he might throw me, I’ll swing because I can’t recognize it and get out front. I think everything’s a fastball and it’s not. I just keep working hard at that to get back to it.
It’s a very different club than you had up here last year. What do you see as your role with this club, and what’s different in how you see yourself?
Luis Asuncíon: Last year, we had a lot of younger guys and this year, we have more college guys. It’s better for me because they know a lot of stuff. We all can help each other. I can help because I’ve been here before and have some experience with the other teams, their fields, how the ball flies, stuff like that. I’ve been trying to tell them how things are in this league. But they have experience because they come from college or played in the AZL, or even higher than here. I think it’s better sometimes because we’re not as young. Everybody has a role here trying to help each other.
Have there been specific things that Pat O’Sullivan has asked you, as your batting coach, has asked you to do differently, whether in your batting practice, your video work, however you prepare?
Luis Asuncíon: Well, like I was telling you about my rhythm, he tried to help me a lot with that to get me back to the hitter I know I can be. He’s having me watch videos from when I had good timing and was hitting the ball well, and watch videos of my favorite players to compare myself. He’s always pushing me.
As a guy with levers as long as yours, who are the players you watch on video to see mechanics?
Luis Asuncíon: Well, my favorite player for a long time has been Giancarlo Stanton. I’ve always watched a lot of videos of him forever. I really like the way he hits, so I’m trying to be the closest thing I can be to him. It’s a long way to be there, but I’m trying to be closer to him every time.
I think they’ve still got you listed at your height and weight from a few years ago. What are you now?
Luis Asuncíon: My weight is 225 and I’m six-foot-five. Every single year, I’m trying to get a little bigger, a little stronger, get my body ready for a longer season for when I move somewhere else and I’m ready for it. So I’ve really been working hard in the offseason to get my body ready.