It is no secret that every team in baseball wants to create a system that allows them to be both competitive and sustainable. The best method for achieving that goal is the development of a strong farm system, one that consistently produces productive players and valuable trade chips.
Despite recently developing a number of big leaguers, the Yankees have made sweeping changes in their minor-league coaching ranks over the last year. With the hiring of new directors of hitting and pitching, Brian Cashman seeks “to transition our minor league program into the new world order and making sure we are using every tool in the toolbox.’’
Consider some of the new coaches to whom the Yankees are entrusting their talent pipeline:
In January 2019, the Yankees hired Dillon Lawson to be the minor league hitting coordinator. Lawson came with a lot of coaching experience at the collegiate level, where he experienced success at numerous stops along the way. As a hitting coach. Lawson saw his Southeast Missouri State team finish third in the nation in scoring.
His success there help gain the attention of one of the more technologically savvy organizations the Houston Astros. Lawson was a member of the Astros’ Class-A Short-Season coaching staff in 2016. From there he moved to the University of Missouri to once again work as a hitting coach. His time coaching at Missouri was highlighted in the recent book The MVP Machine, where their use of deliberate practice techniques, and numerous forms of technology like TrackM an cameras were able to improve the teams offensive performance within the toughest baseball conference in college.
Lawson made the news recently when he hired Rachel Balkovec as the first full-time woman coach for a major league team. Balkovec is the exact type of coach whom the Yankees will be looking to moving forward, as her educational background and ability to connect with players opened the door for her to work in a male-dominated world. She has two masters degrees in the science of human movement, and has worked inside the Astros and Cardinals organizations. Most recently she was working with Driveline Baseball conducting research related to the eye movements of hitters that she hopes to apply in her job with the Yankees.
On the pitching side the Yankees pulled in Sam Briend last June to be the organization’s pitching director. Briend also comes directly from Driveline Baseball, where he worked for three years as the player-development director. He has extensive work with concepts such as pitch design and shaping, and comes from an organization known for its direct implementation of technology into performance.
Part of Briend’s role at Driveline also involved studying and ensuring that athletes training at their facility incurred a lower injury rate than both the professional and college ranks. This could be key to the Yankees as many of their best prospects are hard throwing arms who will need some help and health to continue moving through the top levels of the minors.
Even prior to Briend joining the organization, the Yankees hired two former University of Iowa coaches, Desi Druschel, and Joe Migliaccio. Druschel, a pitching coach fits the mold of Lawson and Briend, as he was key in implementing TrackMan and other advanced systems into the Iowa coaching and development program.
Part of Druschel’s strength is that he has been able to experiment with and conduct trial-and-error at the college level to determine what works and what he can pass on. Migliaccio served as the High-A Tampa Tarpons hitting coach last season and had served on the Missouri staff before joining Iowa. His track through the coaching ranks was highly influenced by coaches who are active at blending technology and performance.
While there is constant turnover and transition in the minor league coaching ranks of all teams, the Yankees have gone all out over the last year to bring in some of the most respected young coaches in the sport. Cashman was quoted around the time of Sam Briend’s hiring that “...there are loads of technology and analytics and data which we are on top of. What we are not on top of, we will close the gap.’’
The Yankees’ system was proving successful at pushing talent through to the major leagues, but the organization is constantly seeking to improve. Time will tell if the new leaders in Briend and Lawson can establish their own track record inside of the Yankees organizational structure. If they are successful we could see the rapid development of talent over the next few years, and new Yankees stars will emerge.