|Friday, July 5
Updated: July 6, 2:32 PM ET
Konerko fast becoming a premier hitter
By Tom Candiotti
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's Note: ESPN analyst Tom Candiotti writes a weekly scouting report. Here is the former knuckleballer's book on Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who was recently named to play in his first All-Star Game.
Konerko is emerging as a superstar. With the White Sox, he has always played second fiddle to Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez -- that is, until now. By being selected to this year's All-Star Game, Konerko will be instantly recognized as one of baseball's premier sluggers.
I briefly played with Paul when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997, his first season in the majors. I watched him take batting practice everyday with the early group of hitters. Early on, you could tell the kid loved to hit. His bat speed was terrific, and -- like it does for most talented sluggers -- the ball made a little different noise when he connected.
Konerko loved to work, a trait that has remained a high priority for him. He was always asking questions during games, trying to learn as much as he could. Obviously, he has applied his knowledge along with his talent.
He has really learned how to hit off-speed pitches very well and actually seems to hit right-handed pitchers (.343) better than lefties (.292). Usually, young hitters struggle with big-league breaking pitches, and Konerko was no different. But he made the necessary adjustments of keeping his balance and his hands back on off-speed pitches.
He also learned how pitchers were trying to pitch him. Now he has complete plate coverage, can turn on an inside fastball as well as anyone in baseball, and can launch off-speed pitches to any part of the baseball diamond.
Pitchers can't just keep pitching him the same way. He is an intelligent hitter, so a pitcher must stay away from falling into a pattern with Konerko. Because he anticipates pitches well, successful pitchers need to vary their pitches.
Konerko is an aggressive hitter and doesn't like to take a walk (24 in 316 at-bats), so he will go out of the zone to try and hit. I have seen him have trouble with straight changeups on occasion, usually in fastball counts, but I have also seen him smash a changeup.
Pitchers need to use all quadrants, going not only east and west but also up and down with their pitches.
This season has been no fluke. Expect great numbers from Konerko for a long time.
ESPN baseball analyst Tom Candiotti won 151 games pitching in 16 major-league seasons.