Hitting coach Jake Hirst arrived in the Yankees organization ahead of the 2019 season after coaching at a small college in Illinois. He has worked as a hitting coach in the Gulf Coast League, through the pandemic canceled season and then most recently with the High-A Hudson Valley Renegades. During his time with the Renegades, he oversaw the development of some of the Yankees’ top prospects such as Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe and Austin Wells. He recently took the time to speak with Pinstripe Alley about his path to the Yankees organization and some of his experiences within the organization as he heads into his fourth year as a Yankees hitting coach.
Hirst grew up in Iowa, developing a love for the game that came with playing at the youth, high school and college levels. These opportunities also presented the opportunity for him to start a coaching career that would lead to the professional ranks, even if that was not his intention at the time.
“... What’s beneficial about Iowa is that we play (High School) baseball in the summer. There are only a couple of states that do that. So actually, I was pretty lucky because while I was at Central College… I finished my freshman year of college and they asked me to come back and coach. They usually needed freshman and sophomore level coaches. It was there that I started my coaching career, and I didn’t really expect it to go anywhere. I was doing it as a way to keep training. I’d go to practice and then just jump in on the drills or I’d just train afterwards.”
While finishing up his degree at Central College, Hirst earned his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certificate as he applied for both baseball specific and strength and conditioning coaching jobs. After landing a coaching job at Augustana College he contacted a hitting coach for the Houston Astros named Dillon Lawson who was working with the team’s local affiliate the Quad City Bandits at the time.
“I had originally reached out to him about trying to recruit Astros players for my thesis project, which was looking at some biomechanics of the swing. Long story short, that opportunity ended up falling through, but him and I ended up connecting at a hitting conference later that year and we had more in-depth conversations and it basically turned into an interview. One thing led to another, and I was signing a contract with him. More than anything I think it was the sports science background, like looking at research and understanding the strength side of it… it was some of the foundational stuff based on building blocks and things to work with.”
Moving from the relatively small Augustana College to the New York Yankees entailed a bit of an adjustment for Hirst when he arrived for his first spring training in 2019.
“There are a lot of moving parts, and the schedules are pretty jam packed. People have different responsibilities whether its each department needs to be here at a certain time, or each coach needs to be doing this. Early on, it was just getting the flow for a day. It was a lot of time management and learning the language of how the Yankees ran a camp or a spring training or a day in the GCL or whatever it was.
“Honestly, one of the biggest hacks I ended up doing — and Joe Migs (Migliaccio) and Dillon Lawson do this all the time — they are setting tons of alarms. It’s almost like a fail-proof, if an alarm goes off three minutes before you need to be somewhere then you’re probably going to be there. If you think you might be late to somewhere set an alarm, or if BP is going to go long, set four alarms for each group. If you follow me around for a day, you’ll probably hear about 10 alarms go off.”
Hirst has continued to work for Lawson, who was recently promoted to become the Yankees’ MLB hitting coach. Along the way, Hirst has learned a lot from Lawson’s mentality and work ethic around the team.
“Dillon has been an incredible mentor and is an incredible leader, and a close friend. First and foremost, Dillon taught me to invest in people and invest in environments. He has shown me that if you find great people and give them the freedom to utilize their strengths, give them a really good framework to work within, then results will follow. I think he does a really good job bringing on people that don’t necessarily have the same strengths, one person’s strengths basically pick up for another person’s weaknesses…
“I learned a lot from just watching Dillon in the cage, his cage presence is really just impressive... the way he is able to quickly build relationships with players is second to none. He knows when to push, he knows when to back off. He really gets to know each hitter that steps in the cage, a lot of that comes from just how well he prepares. He just doesn’t leave a lot to chance, and he prepares better than just about anyone I know.”
With Dillon Lawson moving up to take the hitting coach role at the major league level, Joe Migliaccio, who most recently served as the Double-A Somerset hitting coach, was recently announced to take over Lawson’s previous role as the organizational hitting coordinator.
“Joe and I came in the same year that Dillon came in... Both being new guys we learned a lot together, so Joe and I continue to be close friends. I truly expect most everything to stay the same and everything to continue to improve the way it has been. I know Joe and Dillon have worked together for a really long time and honestly, they have a lot of similarities in the way that they handle people and the way they communicate whether it’s with players or with other coaches, I’m very excited to have Joe step into that role because they are both very meticulous people. They plan well, they are creative people, they look to the future and they both know the game very well. So, Joe stepping into that role, from the inside it made the most sense, for sure.”
Check back on Monday, as we will have more of this interview with Yankees minor league hitting coach Jake Hirst. In part two, we will discuss his impression of the automated strike zone, the communication between levels within the minor league system and a few potential breakout candidates who are flying under the radar heading into the 2022 season.