Elijah Lambros sits low in the batter’s box with his knees bent almost 90 degrees, a unique batting stance for a 6-foot-2 outfielder.
This wasn’t always the case. Lambros arrived at Maryland as an unpolished hitter without a refined approach. His swing featured flaws he had previously concealed with superior talent at lower levels but became glaring when he reached college.
After one season with just 33 at-bats at South Carolina, he departed in search of a hitting coach who could help him tap into his raw power.
He found one in Maryland’s Matt Swope, the Terps’ veteran hitting coach who has helped many players using a philosophy he picked up in Europe. Together, the two tinkered with the outfielder’s mechanics and tailored them to Lambros’ body.
The changes worked — the center fielder touts a .306 batting average and is third on the team in home runs.
“I didn’t really get a whole lot of development my whole career. I had been wanting somebody to just come on and coach me,” Lambros said. “I just needed to grow so much mentally, mechanically. Swope gave me that.”
For Lambros, that meant getting lower in his stance. He has “front extension legs,” Swope said, meaning his front leg would get too far in front of his body during his swing. He could mask that misstep in high school – when pitchers were far slower – but it was quickly revealed against college arms.
The issue was prevalent when Maryland took on Ole Miss in February. Lambros remembers hitting multiple weak pop ups to the shallow outfield and went 2-for-11 in the series.
Lambros’ body naturally wants to jump toward the baseball as it flies toward him, he said. Sometimes, he nearly threw his head at the ball to get his eyes level with the pitch – a bad habit that kept him from watching the ball to the plate.
“I see that thing and I just wanna smash it,” Lambros said.
Swope and Lambros discovered he performs better when his weight is on his heels. Bending his knees, rather than standing upright, helped him achieve that. The change allowed him to maintain a strong center of gravity and keep his eyes on a steady plane.
“This whole year has really been a developmental year for me,” Lambros said. “I’ve learned so much, failed so much and grown so much. Even when I feel good, Swope’s like ‘try this’ and then I just feel even better. I’m seeing the ball even better, squaring balls even better.”
Swope, who starred for the Terps in the early 2000s, has helped players in similar ways for more than a decade at Maryland. He became the program’s director of operations in 2013, the hitting coach in 2018 and is now the Terps’ associate head coach.
Swope helped Lambros realize his talents through motor preferences, a philosophy that fits players with techniques based on what their body is naturally comfortable with. The coach learned about the concept at a lab in Switzerland and he has since applied it to Maryland hitters.
Swope separates hitters into various classifications: Are their feet pronated, which is when a person’s weight is mostly on the inside of their foot, or supinated, when it rests on the outside? Does their power come from their hips or shoulders? Which eye do they see better through? From there, he personalizes his training and coaching plans accordingly.
“It’s changed my life,” Swope said. “It’s allowed me to open up and really coach the individual.”
The coach’s capabilities have brought players to Maryland. Graduate transfer Matt Woods joined the Terps for the same reasons as Lambros. Even major leaguers like LaMonte Wade Jr. and J.D. Martinez, of the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively, seek out Swope for coaching they can’t get anywhere else.
“He’s been my right-hand guy for 11 years,” Terps head coach Rob Vaughn said. “There’s a lot of coaches that are smart but don’t communicate well and he’s turned into an elite level communicator. He’s a massive asset to our program.”
For the first time in his baseball career, Lambros faced adversity and was desperate for a solution. Swope and his wealth of hitting expertise provided it, just as he’s done for dozens of hitters before.
It took a desire to be coached for Swope’s array of knowledge to have an impact. Lambros was willing to be dissected in a way he hadn’t been before. That openness allowed methods from another continent to improve his swing.
“It’s tough for any freshman to have success, it doesn’t matter where you’re at,” Swope said. “There isn’t gonna be a lot of time for development. Here, we’ve created a niche and a culture where that’s our product. We take pride in our development.”