Marcus Thames is rumored to be on the short list to be the Tigers’ next manager. While Yankees GM Brian Cashman said he doesn’t anticipate making any changes to the coaching staff, Thames accepting a managerial position would obviously change that. If Detroit hires Thames, who will replace him as the Yankees new hitting coach?
Considering the organization overhauled their training staff last offseason, Cashman may opt to hire a coach who is familiar with the Yankees’ current roster and organization as a whole. The most obvious internal candidate is the team’s current assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere. Promoting Pilittere would help the Yankees maintain a degree of continuity and consistency when it comes to hitting.
If the Yankees were to promote Pilittere, who professes to have “a really, really excitable personality type” in this article by Lindsey Adler of The Athletic, the team would benefit from balancing out his personality with an assistant coach who has a more even-keeled demeanor.
The Yankees could also choose a different path, viewing Thames’ leaving as an opportunity to redirect the organization’s approach to hitting development and instruction. During the 2019 offseason the Yanks brought in athletic performance experts like Eric Cressey, and hired coaches like Matt Blake (pitching), Rachel Balkovec (hitting) and Tanner Swanson (catching), who are all MLB outsiders without professional playing experience.
Although it’s hard to know for sure, Cashman’s remark that he doesn’t anticipate making any coaching or training staff changes in the 2020 offseason suggests the organization is satisfied with the work of their new coaching hires. If that’s the case, steering the Yankees’ hitting instruction in a similar direction could appeal to Cashman and the Yankees’ decision makers.
Cressey has advanced degrees in kinesiology and exercise science; he’s a big shot in the world of athletic performance coaching. Blake, the Yankees’ pitching coach, worked with Cressey at Cressey Sports Performance and is on the forefront of integrating technology into pitcher development. Aligning the Yankees’ hitting instruction programs under a similar philosophy would make a lot of sense, now that Cressey oversees the Yankees’ training and conditioning programs and Blake directs the pitching.
There are several individuals affiliated with Cressey and his instructional programs whom the Yankees might consider as potential hitting coach candidates. They include:
- Chris Antariksa (hitting coach with the Dodgers)
- Will Middlebrooks (former MLB player, hitting coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance – Florida)
- Doug Latta (hitting trainer from Bally Yard based in Northridge, CA)
The Yankees’ next hitting coach also needs to be someone who the players like and trust, since hitting coaches typically work hands-on with the team all day long. As a teenager, former first and third baseman Kevin Youkilis was skipped over during recruitment and scouting processes. Youkilis strikes me as an interesting candidate because his background mirrors the way the Yankees have capitalized on players such as Luke Voit and Gio Urshela, whose abilities were overlooked by other teams. Moreover, in this episode of Cressey’s podcast “Elite Baseball Development,” Youkilis expresses a clear interest in applying data and high-speed video to refine younger players’ hitting mechanics.
The Yankees could also consider a number of renowned hitting instructors in the private sector who are well-versed in using technology and data to help hitters improve. If the Yankees prioritize coaching candidates who understand batted-ball and swing data, and also how to convey that information to players in a way that makes sense to them, expect the team to look at baseball training institutes in the private sector to find a new hitting coach.
If the Yankees choose to go this route, Bobby Tewksbury, a renowned hitting instructor who pioneered the “fly-ball revolution,” is a candidate to consider hiring as Thames’ replacement.
The Cleveland Indians organization has gained a reputation in recent years for developing quality starting pitchers. Cleveland’s success with home-grown pitchers like Trevor Bauer, Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger didn’t go unnoticed by Cashman when the Yankees were in the market for a new pitching coach last offseason. Pete Lauritson, a hitting coordinator with the Indians’ minor league affiliates, is someone for the Yankees to consider if they want to emulate Cleveland’s success in developing strong hitters.
Along with baseball clinics in the private sector, college baseball programs have become an important source of coaching talent for major league teams seeking new and innovative approaches to hitting. If Thames gets hired by the Tigers, the Yankees could very well show interest in college coaches who would bring a new perspective to the team. Ryan Tuntland, a former third baseman for the Giants, currently serves as the director of hitting development for Ohio University’s baseball team. Nate Thompson, the hitting coach for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, is another name for the Yankees to consider.
Thames is well liked within the Yankees organization. His warm personality and ability to forge strong relationships with players will certainly be missed if he steps down to manage in Detroit. The coach who replaces him will need to be versatile in a number of ways.
A new hitting coach in New York must be versatile enough to connect with veterans and younger guys; versatile enough to help sluggers like Luke Voit make adjustments and contact hitters like Brett Gardner maximize production; versatile enough not only to understand complex hitting data, but also to distill that information into bite-sized suggestions that a hitter can easily digest.
At the present moment, MLB teams have more pipelines and sources of talent to consider than ever before. Whomever the Yankees hire could say a lot about the direction in which this Yankees organization is headed.