Tom Candiotti

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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.
Paul Konerko
Paul Konerko has outproduced teammates Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez and leads the AL with 71 RBI.

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.

Strengths
First and foremost, Konerko loves to hit a fastball. It doesn't matter how hard a pitcher can throw it; he can hit it. When he entered the major leagues, Konerko was a strict pull hitter. But like every successful hitter, he has learned the benefits of hitting to the opposite field when the situation calls for it.

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.

Weaknesses
Early in his career, Konerko had trouble hitting breaking balls, especially curveballs. He still will chase curves out of the strike zone, but only because he now has confidence in his ability to hit them.

Best approach
Pitchers can't just attack Konerko with off-speed pitches anymore. To have a chance to get him out, a pitcher needs to pitch Konerko hard inside before going away. He likes to extend his arms.

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.

Overall
Konerko, 26, has a definite plan to his hitting that changes somewhat for different pitchers. He will never go up to the plate without knowing what to expect and will be anticipating how a pitcher or catcher will try to work him. He makes the necessary adjustments and works hard on his mechanics.

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.







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