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Can Mac Williamson follow the Justin Turner path to late breakthrough?


Can Mac Williamson follow the Justin Turner path to late breakthrough?

SCOTTSDALE — Late last September, with the Giants in Los Angeles for their final series of the year against the Dodgers, Mac Williamson and Tim Federowicz struck up a conversation about hitting mechanics. Federowicz told Williamson that he had benefited from working with Doug Latta, a private instructor based not far from Dodger Stadium. 

Williamson got a phone number for Latta and the next day they spent an hour discussing hitting philosophy. That night, Williamson went 3-for-3 and hit a home run off Clayton Kershaw. 

“You know how superstitious baseball players can be …” Williamson joked this week as he described his new swing in the clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium.

Superstition aside, it should come as no surprise that Williamson then signed up to work with Latta over the offseason. He liked what he heard that September day — regardless of the later results — and he knew it was time to get his career in gear. If Williamson is finally able to break through, another Dodgers star besides Kershaw will have an imprint on his story, too. 

One of Latta’s most prominent success stories is Justin Turner, the third baseman who was released by the Mets at the age of 29 and then became a heart-of-the-order terror in Los Angeles. Williamson is trying to embrace many of the same markers in his revamped swing. The low hand placement. The high leg kick instead of the small step forward. The balance. The soft landing of his front foot. He’s trying to be shorter and more direct to the ball and keep his bat in the zone longer, which hopefully will allow his natural power to be on full display. 

“In the past I’ve been really active with my shoulders and hands late in the swing instead of just going and attacking the ball,” he said. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

Williamson’s swing has been a source of frustration for Giants coaches in recent years. As he took batting practice one morning last summer, a member of the staff looked out at the field and groaned to beat writers. “Lift the ball,” he said, waving his hands animatedly at the field. 

Williamson hit the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time last season, cutting off what he can do so well. In A-ball, he hit 25 homers and 31 doubles and looked like a future slugger in left field for the big league club. At Chase Field two years ago, Williamson hit a 460-foot blast that left a mark on the batter’s eye and teammates shaking their heads. But those successes have been few and far between overall. 

Williamson is a .226 hitter with nine homers in 212 scattered at-bats over three big league seasons. He turns 28 this season and is part of a crowded outfield competition. The writing on the wall is clear. 

“I’m not getting any younger,” Williamson said. “At some point you’ve got to have some success and figure it all out.”

The early results are encouraging. Bruce Bochy praised Williamson’s swing after the first weekend of games, when he hit a homer — coincidentally, against the Dodgers — and had a hard single. The new hitting coaches, Alonzo Powell and Rick Schu, have continued to help Williamson make adjustments. The previous regime did not take any offense to Williamson seeking outside help. 

“He looks good,” said Hensley Meulens, who has moved from hitting coach to bench coach. “You can see the timing getting better and better. A lot of guys are doing that now, seeing their own guys in the offseason. If it’s going to help them it’s going to help us, so I didn’t have a problem with it.”

Williamson worked with Latta in the offseason while simultaneously training in Southern California with Matt Duffy, one of his closest friends. While a Turner-like breakout at some point would be great, he has set the immediate goal far lower. He knows he is likely headed to Triple-A Sacramento given the current outfield mix and the fact that he has one minor league option remaining, but he’s ready to keep working there with hitting coach Damon Minor. 

“I feel really good but it’s still going to take some time to clean stuff up,” he said. “There are a lot of years of habits that I’m trying to break, so it’s not going to happen in a few weeks. The goal is to be the guy I want to be in a month or two.”

Steph Curry's 30th birthday party was so epic that the Warriors cancelled Tuesday's practice

Kevin Durant/Instagram

Steph Curry's 30th birthday party was so epic that the Warriors cancelled Tuesday's practice

Steph Curry turns 30 years old on Wednesday, but with the Warriors playing the Lakers, his friends and family decided to hold the party for him on Monday night.

Most of Curry's Warriors teammates attended the bash. Things must have gone late into the night because the team cancelled the planned practice for 11am on Tuesday.

Special guests included E-40, Paramore  and Lecrae. Curry himself took a turn on the mic and belted out a few bars.

Based on the videos from the party, it appears Curry may have gotten a small yacht for a present.

Don't feel bad that you weren't invited. There were enough videos posted on Instagram Stories by Steph, his wife Ayesha, his sister Sydel, his brother Seth and E-40, among others. Check out some of the best here:

Counting down top plays of Steph Curry's career before 30th birthday -- No. 2

Counting down top plays of Steph Curry's career before 30th birthday -- No. 2

Programming note: In the lead up to Stephen Curry's 30th birthday on March 14th, we will be unveiling the top plays of his historic career. Check back Wednesday for the No. 1.

Curry No. 2: Epic 35-foot game-winner in OT vs Thunder on Feb. 27, 2016

The Warriors are locked in an epic battle against an Oklahoma City team featuring Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and it looks bad when Curry leaves in the third quarter after rolling his left ankle.

He not only returns but also conquers, scoring 46 points, including 12 3-pointers, punctuated by pulling up from 35 feet to sink the game-winner in OT. It is the biggest shot of the regular season.

[RELATED: Counting down top plays of Steph Curry's career before 30th birthday -- No. 3]