Orioles Off-Season Coaching Additions
It’s not unusual to have to replace good coaches at season’s end. Other managers and other teams want capable teachers and mentors in their system, and it’s hard to fault guys for taking a promotion that moves them around the country and pays okay too. This offseason, the Orioles have done a little shopping themselves.
Since I’m generally not well-versed on which coaches are which, what they do, or how they add to the team, a look at the newest coaching additions would be worthwhile. It’s hard to say, for instance, if a good former player makes a good coach, or if good coaching can cure bad talent, but knowing who’s running the show and their backgrounds can indicate how the team plans to move forward.
Discuss the Orioles coaching additions on the BSL forums.
In chronological order:
The Orioles announced their signing of David Wallace on October 29, 2013. Wallace is joining the club as the pitching coach, replacing Rick Adair (and Bill Castro, after Adair took a leave of absence), who had served the team in that capacity since 2011. Wallace’s hiring was a bit of a surprise because he seemed content in Atlanta as the team’s minor league pitching coordinator.
The Orioles’ new pitching coach has (very brief) professional experience as a pitcher, making a total of thirteen appearances in relief for the Phillies and Blue Jays. Wallace recorded 12 strikeouts, held a 7.84 ERA at the Major League level, and finished his career with an 0-1 record. As the saying goes, “those who can’t do, teach,” and Wallace is well-respected for his ability to bring along young pitchers.
Wallace has experience as a pitching coach: he acted as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Dodgers from 1987-1994 before becoming the team’s pitching coach in 1995. He left the Dodgers in 1998 and joined the Mets for the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Wallace joined the Red Sox in 2003 as their pitching coach and then left Boston for the same job in Houston in 2007. In October of 2007, he went to Seattle as a special assistant to the general manager. In 2009, he became the Mariners’ minor league pitching coordinator. He left Seattle for a job as Atlanta’s minor league pitching coordinator in time for the 2010 season. Wallace briefly served as the Braves’ pitching coach in 2011 while Roger McDowell was serving a suspension. Additional coaching positions that are either not specifically pitching-related or are for individual minor league teams are sprinkled throughout Wallace’s career.
Many will be happy to hear that Wallace intends to tweak his approach to each pitcher individually, something that may be missing from the organization’s current development strategy. He is credited with helping to develop Pedro Martinez, Hideo Nomo, and Chan Ho Park, among others. By no means does this short list indicate the sorts of pitchers that Wallace works best with, but it’s worth noting that Martinez and Nomo both held fastballs that topped out in the low 90s, a pretty average speed for such great pitchers. Park was a hard thrower, occasionally reaching the triple-digit mark. The Orioles’ current stable of young pitchers is headlined by Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, both of who throw fastballs in the upper 90s.
In Atlanta, Wallace had a hand in the development of pitchers like Mike Minor, a high first round pick who has turned into a very good pitcher at age 25 (1.09 WHIP, 120 ERA+, and 3.1 WAR in 2013, career 1.1 HR/9) and Julio Tehran, who spent 2 years in the Braves’ farm system before Wallace showed up and was just among the top considerations for NL Rookie of the Year (1.174 WHIP, 121 ERA+, and 3.2 WAR in 2013, career 1.1 HR/9). Now obviously, those two were highly-regarded prospects before Wallace even met them. If he can have the same influence on the Orioles’ young and talented pitchers, Wallace might be better for the team than any high-profile free agent this offseason. If he can get the Orioles to move away from allegedly trying to force every pitcher’s mechanics to fit a certain mold, he’s worth the hire.
Time for some wild speculation: Wallace’s ability to coach young pitchers in-game was sought by this team knowing that Matt Wieters is not long for Baltimore. Wieters does a good job of studying opposing batters and acting as an in-game coach, at least as far as fans can tell. If the team is making medium-term preparations for an inexperienced catcher taking over after a trade of Wieters, Wallace is potentially a good replacement of in-game management from the bench instead of behind the plate.
The first major change on the farm was the addition of Jeff Manto as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator. Manto has received high praise from those in the Orioles organization for his mechanics and mental approach to teaching hitters.
Manto served as the hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2006-2007 and joined the White Sox in the same role for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The end of Manto’s tenure with the White Sox was hopefully not indicative of the coach that the Orioles are getting: Chicago’s American League franchise finished 2013 last in SLG and second-to-last in OBP. Manto oversaw the development of a handful of successful hitters to spend time in Pittsburgh, though. He coached Jose Bautista, Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and Rajai Davis during his two years with the Pirates. While only Bautista is the only superstar at the plate, the rest of that highlight crew has had successful, productive careers.
Interestingly, in addition to Nate McLouth, Manto taught former Oriole catcher Ronny Paulino. Paulino played with the Orioles in 2012, backing up Matt Wieters.
In an interview with Steve Melewski, Manto made a point to say that he wanted hitters to know who they were. He meant that he doesn’t want guys swinging for the fences if they’re best suited for singles. Manto also pointed out a need to understand the strike zone and improve hitters’ on-base percentage. The outcome of the 2013 White Sox notwithstanding, this is either an approach or an outcome that has been visibly lacking from the Orioles development program. If Manto can improve the Orioles’ young hitters’ ability to stay within themselves and take walks, his addition could be very beneficial to the long-term viability of the organization.
Wild speculation: there isn’t really any. It’s hard to suggest that a minor league coach means sweeping changes for the organization. He’s there to teach a skill that’s always needed and valuable at all positions. If I had to go out on a limb, I’d say that his hand in developing Doumit, a catcher in name only, is a plus for the Orioles hoping to bring a lesser athlete along the replace Matt Wieters’ production when he likely leaves via trade or free agency. While Wieters’ offensive production at the Major League level has been disappointing for some, he’s certainly better than many other catchers. For a team that needs every ounce of production that they currently get from their players just to remain over .500, it would be a major blow to lose the power that Wieters brings to the table. Manto may be there to help soften that blow, but suggesting that he was brought on for such a specific reason would be ridiculous.
Further raiding the Braves’ stock of pitching coaches, the Orioles signed Dom Chiti to serve as the team’s bullpen coach not long after Wallace’s hiring. The bullpen coach acts more or less like the pitching coach, but stays in the bullpen to oversee the warmup routines of relief pitchers. Chiti and Wallace’s history in Atlanta portends for an immediate positive for the Orioles, as both have had a hand in raising Atlanta’s stable of young arms.
Chiti was a special assistant to the GM in Atlanta, but has experience as a bullpen coach in Texas. He also spent time coaching in the Venezuelan Winter League and scouting for the Orioles and the Indians. Chiti’s breadth of knowledge and experience will likely be used for more than just warming up arms. The Orioles saw firsthand the power of an incredible bullpen in 2012, and it doesn’t surprise me that they would seek a well-regarded bullpen coach to hopefully put a crew together that is consistently good. Chiti’s experience coaching in the Venezuelan Winter League will hopefully be a bonus for international scouting.
In some respects, it can feel like the Orioles are built from the ashes of the Texas Rangers. Like Buck Showalter, Chris Davis, and Tommy Hunter, Dom Chiti has a past that runs through Arlington. Chiti acted as Buck’s bullpen coach in 2006, Showalter’s final season with the Rangers. He’s thought of pretty highly, and seems to have made enough of an impression on Buck during their time in Texas that Buck would want him in Baltimore.
The Orioles were briefly connected to relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit, one of the 2006 Texas Rangers’ bullpen relievers. Their interest may have been due at least in part by his relationship to Showalter and Chiti. Other pitchers receiving work in that Texas Bullpen include Adam Eaton, CJ Wilson, Scott Feldman, and Edinson Volquez, all of whom have had at least steady careers as starters. It’s hard to credit one person in the development of a pitcher – it takes an incredible amount of luck – but at least Chiti successfully oversaw the earliest Major League innings of some average-to-good pitchers.
More wild speculation: Dom Chiti will help at least one current starter transition into a role in Baltimore’s bullpen. The team claims to be looking for a closer, but those guys ask for a lot of money. Since the Orioles roster a number of pre- or early-arbitration young pitchers that may not have a spot when and if Bundy, Gausman, and Rodriguez successfully make it into the rotation. The Orioles gave up a lot for Norris and pay Gonzalez close to league minimum; it wouldn’t surprise me or anyone else that closely follows the team if they tried to transition one or both into the bullpen, particularly into a closer role.
The position of minor league infield coordinator might be less visible than two pitching coaches spending most of their time in Baltimore, but it may be no less important. Dave Anderson will oversee the development of minor league infielders, including teaching organizational philosophy and coordinating the instruction of infielders all the way down to the Latin American programs.
Like Dom Chiti, Anderson is a former member of the Texas Rangers, though his tenure in Arlington ran from 2009-2012. For the Rangers, Anderson acted as the major league infield coach, third base coach, and first base coach. Anderson won a World Series with the Dodgers, for whom he played third base and shortstop, and is considered an excellent instructor.
For my final round of wild speculation, I’m not going to go too far out on a limb: the Orioles plan to continue to develop talented defenders, counting on the infield to cover for the issues of the team’s young pitchers. With JJ Hardy passing older than 30 and Manny eventually turning into an expensive, albeit worthwhile, infielder,1 I’m sure that the Orioles are hoping to develop 2 or 3 solid future defensemen to shore up the Future Orioles.
The Orioles made some pretty significant coaching additions during this offseason. While it’s difficult to find any criticism of the new hires before they even take to the dugout, these all seem like good hires. All three coaches are considered good instructors and teachers, and can hopefully help the Orioles to bring along more of their draft picks.
This offseason, I’ve been pretty outspoken about the fact that I don’t think giving up draft picks should be a major consideration for the Orioles when signing free agents who received qualified offers. The franchise hasn’t yet shown the ability to consistently produce Major League-caliber talent, but maybe these three can turn it around.
For my last piece of wild speculation: the Orioles are starting on a different route to quality. The stars and scrubs method has made them an appealing destination for quality coaches, but now the franchise is bumping up against the need to spend a lot more to win a little more. Knowing that their budget will be limited for the foreseeable future and that their hopes for contention rest on the shoulders of their young players, the front office has decided to invest more heavily in development and coaching now. Plus, with Davis and Wieters moving closer to free agency or trades that would return at least some minor leaguers, the organization needs to be prepared to put them in Camden Yards and have them perform well as soon as possible.
It’s probably not an accident that the Orioles’ hires reflect two of Earl Weaver’s three tenants of a winning baseball team. Pitching and defense are as important now as they have been, and the franchise wants to shore up one while maintaining the premier quality of the other. If each of these coaches works out the way the team hopes, Orioles fans could be in for a few years of solid player development and in-game strategy. Of course, coaches only make an appearance when something goes wrong, so we might also be calling for their jobs after a few mistakes. Here’s hoping that 2014 is the beginning of an era of the former rather than the latter.
1 PLEASE EXTEND HIM