ST. PETERSBURG — Taylor Walls has a lot to think about during games.
His dazzling defensive play at shortstop is often the product of his extensive preparation and anticipation of numerous scenarios before each pitch. He analyzes the game situation and draws on the scouting reports for both his Rays pitchers and the opposing hitters to plan what he’ll do depending on how and where the ball is hit.
His ongoing efforts to improve at the plate, having worked daily with the hitting coaches to add nearly 30 points to his average since mid-June (but still hovering under .175) are complicated by being a switch-hitter. His (natural) right-handed and left-handed swings are nothing alike, so the required adjustments are totally different. Under the pressures of big-league competition, he has had to train himself to keep them separate.
Add his competitiveness and drive to win, and Walls said he felt he needed a release, as well as a way to build and maintain confidence.
Working with Rays mental performance chief Justin Su’a, Walls last month started journaling, taking a few minutes at the end of each work day to transfer his thoughts to paper.
“I try to do it daily after the game so my mind is clear when I leave the field,” Walls said. “I can come back (the next day) and just kind of browse through it and remind myself of what the plan is today, what the approach is to early work, what I’m going to do during the game.
“It kind of just freshens my mind up, gives me confidence and just keeps me motivated and in a good mood day in and day out.”
Walls’ writing prompts are three basic questions:
What did I do good today?
What did I learn from today?
What am I going to do better tomorrow?
Walls — who goes “old school” by putting pen to paper in a Moleskine notebook that Su’a gave him, printing in a style he calls “scribble scrabble” — said the length of the answers is based on his performance.
“Every day is different,” he said. “Usually, it’s probably a couple sentences a question. Other days it takes up the whole page. So it depends. If I feel like I had a bad game to where I really need to try to think about the positives I had that game, they’ll be longer to try to build a little more confidence.
“The days where I feel pretty good, it probably doesn’t take much. It’s easy to have confidence when you’re doing well. It’s hard when you’re doing bad. So that’s kind of how I guess it tends to be.”
Some sample entries he shared with the media:
“I did a good job of not letting the frustrations from my first (at-bat) not carry over to my other at-bats.”
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“I learned I need to focus a little more on getting a good pitch early in the count when I’m ahead.”
“I’m going to be ready to hit from the first pitch (of the at-bat) on. I’m going to visualize the pitch I want, focus on my anchor and be aggressive.”
Walls, who acknowledges it took a while to get comfortable journaling, isn’t the only Rays player who writes down his thoughts.
Brandon Lowe has been doing it since his junior year at the University of Maryland, logging how he feels at the plate in certain situations, the impact of specific adjustments, which suggestions help. He recently switched from notebooks to a “reMarkable” digital tablet and pen set that allows him to write rather than type, which better suits his learning method.
Many pitchers also keep journals, some with general thoughts, others with specifics on how they got individual hitters out.
Taj Bradley, the Rays’ top pitching prospect, said this spring he now carries three small notebooks in a cross-body satchel his mother bought him for Christmas.
One is for his assessments of his outings, after which he lists his “pros” and — rather than cons — “learning steps.” Another is for off-field lessons and observations. The third is to collect motivational quotes he comes across while reading or listening to podcasts.
Walls said he finds the exercise “more of a confidence-builder” than anything.
“As a hitter you fail so much,” he said, “it’s hard to sometimes come in day in, day out and have that same confidence you need to compete at this level.”
Su’a, though, said it should be more of an educational experience.
“I saw where he said it’s a confidence-builder, but it’s really to be a better decision-maker, to be more in the present,” Su’a said. “He really wanted to focus on learning from each game. You want to learn from your successes and your failures, and just be a learning machine.”
Walls has plenty of material to work with.
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.