Fueled By Adjustments and Opportunity, Luke Raley is Raking With the Rays

Luke Raley
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Raley has been one of the best hitters on baseball’s best team this year. Playing primarily against right-handed pitchers, the 28-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder has ten two-baggers and 11 home runs to go along with a .258/.343/.570 slash line and a 154 wRC+ in 172 plate appearances, An outstanding athlete for his size — he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds — he’s legged out a pair of triples and stolen eight bases in ten attempts.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that he’s come out of nowhere, but the Hinckley, Ohio native did enter this season with a meager resume. Selected in the seventh round of the 2016 draft out of Division II Lake Erie College by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Raley had a .538 OPS in 72 plate appearances with the NL West club in 2021; he had a .584 OPS in the same number of plate appearances with the Rays last season. He was anything but a sure bet to make the Opening Day roster when he reported to spring training.

How has Raley, whom Tampa Bay acquired last March in exchange for Tanner Dodson, emerged as a productive hitter at the big league level in his ninth professional season? I sat down with him recently to find out.


David Laurila: How much of your success this year is a matter of opportunity, and how much is from improvements you’ve made to your game?

Luke Raley: “I think it’s a mixture of both, honestly. I kind of knew what I needed to work on going into the offseason, and I focused hard on them. And then, obviously, the more opportunities you have, the easier it is to get into a groove. So it was adjustments, and the opportunity certainly helped.”

Laurila: What were the needed adjustments?

Raley: “I needed to be more efficient to the ball, so I did everything I could to minimize movements at the plate. I brought my hands closer to my body, more into my launch position, instead of having them away from my body and then having to get them there. I also banged my leg kick and went to just a straight stride, which I felt could help me keep keep my head more still and recognize pitches earlier. Those are the two big ones, my hand placement and minimizing my leg movement.”

Laurila: Edgar Martinez mentioned having the hands close to the trigger position when I talked hitting with him a few years ago. It simplifies the action.

Raley: “That was kind of our thought process. It’s something that we even talked about last season, but we felt that was a big adjustment to make midseason. We decided that going into the offseason it was going to be my goal to kind of slot my hands in a better position. That would make me a little bit quicker to the ball.”

Laurila: Have you tinkered with your hand position over the years?

Raley: “Hundreds of times. I mean, it’s an ever-evolving thing. Different leg movements make different hand movements as well. I felt like with the leg kick, to get everything synched up, my hands needed to be further away from my body. By minimizing my leg movement, I was able to minimize the movement of my hands.”

Laurila: When had the leg kick been introduced?

Raley: “Right after I got drafted by the Dodgers, in 2016. Basically, I came into the little mini spring training they have for the new draft guys, and they said, ‘We want you to start using a leg kick.’ I said ‘OK,’ and started going from there.”

Laurila: Does what you’re doing now feel natural?

Raley: “Yeah. I would say that it feels more natural. It’s something I’d done since I was a little kid. All the way through college, I was more of a just a straight stride. Going back to it was an easier transition than going to a leg kick, which was something I had never done before.”

Laurila: One thing a leg kick does is act as a timing mechanism. What is your timing mechanism now that you don’t have one?

Raley: “So my first move, what starts everything, is basically pounding my left heel into the ground. That keeps me grounded. It’s a small move, but if you watch, you can see that I almost tap my left heel down into the ground. That starts my whole movement.”

Laurila: How did that come about?

Raley: “I felt that I was getting too far on the balls of my feet and not in the best base position that I can be. I started doing it as a drill and was like, ‘Wow, this feels good.’ From there, it kind of just transitioned into the start of my timing for my swing.”

Laurila: Has your swing path changed at all?

Raley: “Not really. I mean, that’s something that… you don’t necessarily say, ‘OK, I’m going to change my swing path.’ It more comes with where you’re starting, where you’re throwing your swing from, essentially. So it’s definitely not something I focused on. It might be a little different, though.”

Laurila: Watching you in BP, I wasn’t seeing line drives so much as I was seeing moonshots. Is driving balls high in the air what you’re looking to do in games?

Raley: “That’s more of a BP thing. At the same time, when I first got drafted, I was a heavy ground ball guy, and that’s something I needed to change. I would rather miss under the ball than miss on top of the ball. That’s my thought process. In BP, I’d rather hit one super high in the air and barely get it out of the infield than hit a hard ground ball. Once the game starts you have to just go out there and compete, but that’s what’s going to translate best into the game.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Raley: “I would say that confidence is a big part of hitting. And you build confidence with opportunity. The more opportunity you get… even if you’re struggling, you can still build confidence by taking good things away from each at-bat. I’ve changed my mindset into thinking that making an out isn’t always negative. You can find a positive in your at-bat and grow from that.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Will Brennan, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Paul Goldschmidt, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Connor Joe, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Lars Nootbaar, Logan O’Hoppe, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Spencer Steer, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Spencer Torkelson, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Alex Verdugo, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Joey Votto, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Mike Yastrzemski, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis

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