After not renewing Marcus Thames’ contract after the 2021 season, the Yankees needed to bring in a hitting coach. They decided to promote from within, filling the position with former minor league hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson. Lawson will be tasked with improving a middling offense that finished in the middle of the pack in many metrics and stats as basic as total runs scored. It’s important to know and understand what he brings to the table, philosophy-wise.
Lawson has a unique way of doing things and has gotten a lot of experience and knowledge. He has been with the Yankees since 2018, but here is a peek at his resume before that:
- Assistant hitting coach at Lindenwood University (2007-09)
- Assistant hitting coach at Morehead State University (2009-12)
- Assistant hitting coach at IMG Academy (2010-11)
- Assistant hitting coach at Southeast Missouri State University (2012-15)
- Houston Astros minor league hitting coach (2015-2016, 2017-2018)
Our own Dan Kelly interviewed another Yankees minor league hitting coach, Joe Migliaccio, and he had nothing but good things to say about the way Lawson works. He is known for using tech resources to spot what’s working and what’s not, and makes sure his message is understood by the hitter. Additionally, he is not about to teach something that hasn’t been proved.
Migliaccio told Kelly a story that involved the former explaining his coaching philosophy to Lawson, and after giving him a very detailed feedback, Lawson asked Migliaccio if he could prove that it worked. “I just kind of looked at him and was like, what do you mean? ‘Can you prove what we want to teach them is the ideal way?’ I was speechless, at that point I just changed my entire philosophy, and was like, ‘Oh, OK, now I understand!’ (...) I’ll never ask a player to do something that I can’t prove works. I think that is crucial to the way that we develop players,” he said.
So the Yankees have a progressive hitting coach who is very careful about the information that is being passed on to the players. His methodology has worked wonders with lots of minor leaguers in the system. Just this past season, several prospects took a huge step forward offensively: Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, Hoy Park, Trey Amburgey, and many others, just to name a few. The Yanks’ minor league teams were fantastic in 2021, and offensive performance was great across the different levels.
Eli Fishman of Pinstriped Prospects recently reported that Lawson has embraced the “hit strikes hard” philosophy. But what does that mean? Minor leaguer Eric Wagaman explained that the idea is not to just hunt for a pitch the hitter can inflict damage to, but instead, the hitter should be able to punish all types of strikes — fastballs, changeups, breaking balls. “It doesn’t have to be a cookie in order to do some damage with it,” Wagaman stated.
Lawson, according to what minor league coach Aaron Bossi told Fishman, doesn’t want hitters to change their approach at two strikes to be more defensive. “It’s being able to put your best swing on every pitch,” he said. “It’s not, we’re at two strikes, so we’re giving up just so we can put a ball in play. It’s, we’re still picking a good pitch to hit and we’re going to put our swing on it.”
The Yankees, in the quest to get their hitters prepared for everything that may come, completely overhauled batting practice. Instead of having the hitter know which machine they will be hitting off (high-velocity or breaking balls), they now randomize the process so the batter simulates in-game situations.
Lawson emphasizes plate discipline and exit velocity. The Yankees have really embraced not only analytics, but also technology — they have their minor leaguers wear Blast Motion Sensors, a tool that gathers “launch angle, bat angle, bat speed, swing plane, hand speed, and rotational acceleration, among others.” It’s a great tool to analyze the swing path.
It’s impossible not to be excited at the kind of impact a guy like Lawson could potentially have on reviving the careers of Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andújar, and Gary Sánchez while helping hitters like Joey Gallo and DJ LeMahieu get back on track. He seems to have the tools, resources, and knowledge to make a very good first impression in 2022.