Some of the most powerful men in baseball wear Toronto Blue Jays jerseys, and they routinely pound homers over the Rogers Centre fences. Alex Rios is long, lean and strong. Frank Thomas has mass and power. Topping the list is Vernon Wells, who is positively explosive. These three men and their physical attributes explain why the Jays are expecting to climb to the top of MLB in the always-important (and fan favorite) power categories: homeruns and slugging percentage. Developing the ability to punish opponents at the plate is in the hands of team strength and conditioning coach Donovan Santas.
Toronto finished the 2004 regular season dead last in the AL East, 33-½ games behind the first-place Yankees—not exactly what you’d call striking distance. Over the past few years, however, the Jays have become more than a nuisance to the mighty men in pinstripes and the formidable Red Sox, as they’ve powered themselves to contender status in the American League. Fueling their ascension are Santas and the Jays’ budding offensive output; over the past two seasons, Toronto has belted 364 homers, 692 doubles and 1,497 RBI.
Santas uses a simple approach to training for plate dominance: significantly increase general and full-body power in the weight room, which the Jays can transfer to significant numbers at the plate. “Our goal is to take the strength we’ve developed throughout the off-season and convert it into power with a series of movements in the weight room,” Santas says. “We want to force the players to recruit exponential amounts of muscle fibers from everywhere, and then apply them to one specific movement. That is hitting in a nutshell; you recruit motor units throughout your entire body to perform one task, one time, with maximum power. The more often they recruit, fire and excite these fibers and units in training, the more apt they will be to repeat it with the bat in their hands.”
The Jays’ ability to crush opposing pitchers is not developed with devices or simulated swinging. It’s all about real power. “You will never see us attaching cables, tubing or weight to bats and having the guys swing against resistance,” Santas says. “Those gimmicks can really mess up the fine motor control and timing of your swing. The exercise might slightly improve power, but it’s not worth sacrificing the ability to make contact with the baseball, which is why I keep all of our power training general in nature.”
Santas’ training involves a progression that starts with a simple movement, then gradually and strategically takes the Jays to an advanced level. “A proper progression is very important,” Santas says. “A lot of times, young players try to jump right into something that’s advanced, because they see it working for other people. Although it does work, they aren’t strong enough for that part of the progression yet, so it will result in injury or ineffective results.”
Twice a week in the off-season and once a week in-season, the Jays power up with a series of plyometric based exercises, divided into upper-, lower- and full-body drills to ensure that every inch of their bodies is geared up to punish at the plate.
Alex, Frank and Vernon plan to reap big physical rewards and even bigger numbers from Santas’ program. Use the following exercises to see how your power numbers compare to this triumvirate of clout.
Med Ball Chest Pass with Step
• In athletic stance, hold med ball at chest level
• Step forward with left foot and perform explosive chest pass to partner
• Receive partner’s throw; repeat for specified reps
• Perform set with right foot forward
Sets/Reps: 3×3-5 each foot
Power Region: Full body
Santas: You can make this exercise strictly upper-body if you eliminate the step and stand with your feet together.
Explosive Scissor Jumps
• Assume lunge position with left foot forward
• Explode upward for maximum height
• Switch leg position midair so you land in lunge position, with right foot forward
• Immediately perform next rep
Power Region: Lower body
Santas: This is great because it’s plyometric and functional at the same time; you have to land in a split stance and jump again.
Around the World
•Stand facing wall, about 8 to12 inches away, holding med ball at right hip
•Keeping hips square, repeatedly bounce ball off wall as fast as possible for specified reps
•Repeat exercise with ball at right shoulder, overhead, left shoulder and left hip
Sets/Reps: 2×5-10 at each position
Power Regions: Core
Santas: This is great for rotational power. Since you are close to the wall, it’s a very quick movement—for speed and power.
Lateral Box Jumps
•Stand right of 12- to 18-inch box
•Lower into quarter squat; explode up and left
•Land softly on center of box
•Step down; repeat for specified reps
•Perform set from left of box
Sets/Reps: 2×4-6 each side
Santas: This is a plyometric exercise that improves lower body power.
Plyo Push-Up Progression
Perform each level for three to four weeks before moving on to the advanced variation
Power region: Upper body
Santas: These are great plyometric exercises for the whole upper body. You also get some eccentric work when you lower into the movement.
Level 1: On Wall
• Stand about two feet from wall, with hands on wall at chest level
• Bend elbows until chest is at wall
• Explode by driving body away from wall
• Return hands to wall; repeat for specified reps
Level 2: On Bar
• Position bar in squat rack so it is waist-high
• Assume push-up position on bar so that body forms 45-degree angle with floor
• Lower until chest barely touches bar
• Explode up by driving body away from bar
• Have partner catch you, then guide you back into push-up position
• Repeat for specified reps
Level 3: On Floor
• Assume push-up position on floor
• Lower until chest barely touches floor
• Explode up for maximum height
• Land in push-up position; repeat for specified reps
Level 4: On Med Ball
• Assume push-up position with left hand on floor and right hand on med ball
• Explode up and slightly right for maximum height
• Land with left hand on med ball and right hand on ground
• Repeat back and forth for specified reps