There are some familiar names on the short list of Minor League players with seven or more home runs thus far this season.
There's top Twins prospect Miguel Sano, who hit 28 homers last season and owns the early lead with nine this year. There's Joey Gallo (Arizona League record breaker with 18 roundtrippers in 2012) and George Springer (24 between two levels last year) among the handful with eight homers.
Then, there's Sean Coyle -- the 5-foot-8 second baseman repeating Class A Advanced Salem who left the yard only nine times in the Carolina League last season. After Monday, his total stands at seven, and he has shown no signs of slowing down.
Coyle hit a leadoff home run off Royals' No. 2 prospect Kyle Zimmer and finished 2-for-5 with two runs scored in Salem's 5-4 win over Wilmington.
The homer was the 21-year-old's fourth in his last five games, all of which have come after he missed a week due to a thumb injury. All in all, he has collected six in his last 10 games and seven total in 59 at-bats this season -- all of which have been solo shots.
Projected over the 437 at-bats he put together for the Red Sox in 2012, that would be 52 homers for the season on the current pace. Those numbers, as difficult as they may be to uphold over the course of a whole season, are certainly impressive for a player coming off a nine-homer campaign in which he put together a .249/.316/.391/.707 slash line.
The main adjustment? It's all been in the hands.
"It really comes down to some swing changes I made in the offseason," said the Pennsylvania native. "It's really kind of how I'm using my hands at the plate. I've worked on trying to incorporate them more into my swing and freeing them up to do some of the work. Once I get them into line, I've been able to swing free and easy without really having much difficulty, and that's been huge."
That being said, there were signs Coyle was turning it around toward the end of last season. In 54 second-half games, the second baseman put together a .297/.355/.451 split, improving by leaps and bounds over the .211/.285/.343 line he established in the first half.
Coyle, who admits he has a batter perspective both on and off the field at age 21 than he had at 20, believes that strong finish allowed for the momentum that carried him into a solid offseason and a stellar start to the new season.
"Everything seemed to click around the All-Star break," he said. "I went home and worked with a buddy on what I could do to simplify that swing. When things started clicking, I tried to carry my momentum into the offseason. That's when I got to talk to my brother [Rays prospect Thomas Coyle] and got to throw things off him. He's a pretty advanced hitter [Thomas Coyle is batting .342 through 21 games for Class A Bowling Green], and it's always great because he really helps me with the mental side of things."
The results have obviously been there so far, but interestingly, they've come from the leadoff spot in the Salem lineup, where the infielder has started each of his 14 games this season. Coyle never batted first last year, but has taken quickly to the position especially in the power department -- even if that hasn't exactly been his intent.
"It's good to get off to a strong start like that tonight, especially against a guy like Zimmer," he said. "They always say hitting is contagious, so once someone has a good at-bat, you hope it really carries into the next at-bat and so on. And that's what I've tried to do batting first.
"I wouldn't say I'm trying to hit homers or anything, though. I'm just using my hands, seeing the ball and trying to square up on something I can hit. The power just is something that comes along with my new approach and batting style, I guess."
Also contributing Monday was the organization's No. 5 prospect Henry Owens, who struck out eight and allowed two runs on three hits and two walks over five innings. The lanky left-hander improved to 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 26 innings over his first five Carolina League starts.
"He's got such good stuff," said Coyle of his teammate. "He can throw whatever he wants, whenever he wants. It's really fun to watch and really fun to play behind too. He'll just keep going after guys and making them give bad swings on balls. He definitely knows how to pitch."