The running game in baseball has declined over the last several decades, much to the ire of some fans who long for action on the base paths. After a highly successful college coaching career where his teams consistently ranked among NCAA leaders in stolen bases, the Yankees hired Matt Talarico in September 2019 to serve as a hitting coach while building his baserunning program into the fabric of the organization. Matt recently spoke with Pinstripe Alley about developing and coaching his baserunning system and shared his thoughts on the “deadening” of the baseball at the major league level.
Talarico got his start immediately following his playing days in college, where he was expected to coach all over the field.
“Coming from college... you do whatever the team needs at the beginning” said Talarico. “At 22 I was a hitting coach, primarily that has been my job... then out of necessity some of the baserunning stuff started building and building so I was doing those things along with hitting, infield and baserunning. Those were kind of the three things that I poured everything into.”
Coaching in every area did not come naturally from the start, as Talarico began to identify areas of his game that he coached better than others
“So when I got into coaching, one of the things that was really challenging was, and I often talk about, I believe that some people, myself included struggle teaching things that they’re good at,” said Talarico. “People didn’t tend to help me with baserunning, they didn’t tend to help me with bunting, or things that I could do well. I didn’t hit for a lot of power so I learned a lot about hitting. Right away in college coaching I felt comfortable in a cage. I had ideas and solutions right away, it became very clear in my first year that it was not the same with base stealing, base running specifically.”
Given the task of coaching up his teams baserunners, Talarico leaned on a mentor whose son was very familiar to Yankees fans after spending his entire 14-year major league career in the American League East.
“I had to make a decision and start defining some things I believed in and then I had mentors in Mike Roberts, first and foremost” said Talarico. “His son Brian Roberts was a Yankee, by the grace of god I got to know Mike and he took me under his wing a little bit and we talked about different philosophies... Brian Roberts [who stole successfully 79.6 percent of the time in his career] is very much somebody I modeled and stole from what he did as a player. You start to do that at the college level and you start to see where openings are and then you trim away the fat. Keep chiseling away a little every year and it becomes more refined... When you see what we do now its not the first year of pro ball, its 15 years of chiseling.”
Joining the Yankees was an easy decision for Talarico when he was approached by the team in 2019.
“The chance to work with Dillon Lawson, so that was a big deal for me, I know who he is, how good he is, and its not even just him but the people he had brought on” said Talarico.
The Yankees are looking for Talarico to implement his system in a grassroots manner, but he does not have a direct role with the major league club at this point.
“Double-A, Low-A, High-A we are starting to get a little more aggressive, and then get really aggressive in the Dominican Republic and the GCL [Gulf Coast League].”
Talarico was very impressed by the players he worked with during the Yankees instructional camp held in the Dominican Republic this winter.
“Once I was there you really see the groundwork had been laid, Ryan [Hunt] was down there too, and I think that we are very fortunate to have the types of personalities that we have” said Talarico. “I mean the 16 position players that we had, those guys were on a mission to get better, so the culture was really good. They picked up on things quick and they are open to challenges and to compete against each other, and you have fun watching them so it was a great experience.” Talarico continued “I got to know some guys on a whole new level. I couldn’t always rely on a translator so I got to know guys and now we talk more consistently and the talks are a little more genuine, we build a lot through that. Its neat to see the ways that some of these guys get things done. There are no excuses and they jump out and do their work.”
With the groundwork being laid, Talarico described what we might expect to see at the lower levels of the system this coming year.
“I always tell this to coaches when they would come to see us play in college” said Talarico. “You might see the coolest thing you’ve ever seen or you might not know what we are talking about. You might not notice it, and that is a sign that things are going well... It depends on who gets on, how often we get on, how the pitcher likes to hold guys on first or second. It depends on the catcher and all of that stuff. I wish I had a great answer for you but it just depends. We are going to teach guys to have a role, we are going to teach guys that there are more openings out there than we give credit for, I think often we look and see the ending of a play and say oh we shouldn’t have ran there, or we should run more, but we don’t look at the beginning of the play, where we want to be low risk, high reward.”
Prior to the cancellation of the 2020 season a rule change for the lower levels of the minors would have eliminated the left-handed “balk” pick off move, but Talarico does not want a rule in the minors distracting from his overall goal.
“A little bit of me was excited to see what we are capable of doing without any rule changes” said Talarico. “Being a competitor there were positives and negatives with that announcement. I think more teams will look to be aggressive at those levels, more so than already. We still want to create a system where guys can steal bases up through the higher levels of baseball. I’m not interested in having the world record holder at Low-A. I want to have the best guys at the higher levels that we can build on every year. Not much will change for us as far as our attitude and how we go about it, because that is our end goal, to build real weapons that are sustainable... On the surface it looks like this is going to be great, it’s going to be a field day. It’s a bit of a challenge in that we still have to work on good weapons and building base stealers that’s our job. Higher level base stealers, we want guys who can steal bags in the World Series... That takes work and it isn’t easy.”
Shortly before our conversation, the story broke that Major League Baseball would be “deadening” the ball in the coming year. Without seeing many details, Talarico shared his opinion from both a baserunning and hitting coach standpoint.
“I do think if something happened like that then people are always looking for different ways to score, and I’d like to prove that in any setting and that’s kind of the goal” said Talarico. “My initial reaction if you want to know the truth came more from the hitting side… Timeout, the problem isn’t that fans are sick of home runs, it’s that pitchers all throw the ball 105 mph and spin the ball at incredible rates. What do we do to make the ball harder to throw, lets figure that out.”