A very Yankee look to the Red Sox coaching staff
|11.29.12 at 10:24 am ET|
In retrospect, the fact that Greg Colbrunn emerged as what Red Sox manager John Farrell referred to as the clear choice for his hitting coach should have come as no surprise. After all, Colbrunn spent the last six years working for the Yankees.
Colbrunn spent 2007-12 on the staff of the Single-A Charleston RiverDogs, New York’s Single-A affiliate, spending all but one of those years (2010, when he was the manager) as a hitting coach. He represents the latest addition to a staff with deep roots in the Yankees’ minor league system.
Pitching coach Juan Nieves got his start in coaching with the Yankees in 1992; he spent five years as a pitching instructor in New York’s minor league system.
Third-base coach Brian Butterfield‘s late father, Jack Butterfield, was a Yankees director of player development. Butterfield got his start in coaching with the Yankees, working as a coach and manager in the minors with them from 1984-1993 before getting promoted to their big league coaching staff under Buck Showalter in 1994.
First-base coach Arnie Beyeler‘s first coaching jobs came with the Yankees from 1997-99 before he joined the Sox in 2000 as the manager of the Lowell Spinners.
Bullpen coach Gary Tuck spent time as both a big league and minor league instructor in three stints with New York between 1989-2004.
Of the members of the staff to date, only bench coach Torey Lovullo and Farrell himself never served as coaches in the Yankees’ system, though it is worth noting that Lovullo shuttled between the big leagues and Triple-A with the Yankees in 1991 — a year when he presumably would have crossed paths with Butterfield, who was a roving instructor in the organization at the time.
“That’s a good group there,” Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman. “I look forward to seeing those guys again.”
While all of the members of the Red Sox coaching staff have ties to the Yankees, Colbrunn’s impact on the organization was felt most recently. As the hitting coach of players who are typically in their first full season in professional baseball, the 43-year-old had an opportunity to make a formative impact on players as they tried to understand what it meant to be professional hitters and to develop an approach at the plate as well as a pregame routine.
In Charleston — where Colbrunn has lived since his days as a big league player, thus explaining why he was inclined to pass on other jobs at higher levels in the minors when they became available — Colbrunn had a chance to work with virtually every top Yankees prospect to come through the system over the last six years. His influence was palpable.
Colbrunn was just beginning his coaching career in 2007 when he encountered young Yankees outfielder Austin Jackson in spring training. A 2005 first-round pick, Jackson posted modest numbers in 2006 while spending all year with Charleston, hitting .260/.340/.346/.686. Though his numbers were little better in 2007 with Charleston — he hit .260/.336/.374/.710 — his work with Colbrunn laid the groundwork for his subsequent maturation as a hitter.
“In spring training we talked a lot,” Jackson told the Post and Courier. “He’s been there. He’s been through the grind. He knows what he’s talking about. He knows hitting. He knows pitching.”
More recently, Newman cited Colbrunn’s work with Jesus Montero (who hit .326/.376/.491/.868 as an 18-year-old in Charleston in 2008) and several top Yankees prospects such as Gary Sanchez (who hit .275/.343/.500/.843 under Colbrunn as an 18- and 19-year-old), Mason Williams (who hit .304/.359/.489/.848 as a 20-year-old this year) and Tyler Austin (who hit .320/.405/.598/1.022 as a 20-year-old this season in Charleston).
“All those guys have gone through Colby’s fingers, so to speak, and he’s done a nice job with all of them,” said Newman. “He’s got a great temperament for the position.”
Indeed, it was the combination of Colbrunn’s big league experience and temperament that made him a clear frontrunner for the position of Red Sox hitting coach, just as had been the case when the Yankees decided to hire him as a minor league instructor six seasons ago.
“We looked to find people that had great communication skills, that had a very solid personal experience level to tap intoand the more we did our homework and found out things indirectly [about] Greg, it became clear that he was a strong candidate,” said Farrell. “As we went through the interview process, it became very clear that not only does he have a wealth of knowledge as far as hitting goes, but the ability to relate in that interview process, we felt like that would certainly carry over to dealing with our hitters. His fundamental approach or approach to hitting is aligned with what we value. All things considered, this became a very clear choice as we went through that process.”
He’s passionate about the craft of hitting, of instilling the values of grinding, disciplined at-bats and the value of strong on-base percentages, while trying to work with hitters on both the mental and mechanical sides of the craft. He spent a year as a manager in Charleston in 2010, but decided that the undertaking wasn’t for him — he wanted to dig deeper into the nuts and bolts of hitting instruction.
“Those pitching instructors and hitting instructors at the player development level have huge potential impact. He liked doing it,” said Newman. “It’s not that he couldn’t be a manager. He did a nice job. He’s got a great temperament for that. But he’s got a passion for the hitting business, and I think he felt — as did we — that he had a substantial impact on those young players.”
Given that passion, both the Sox and Newman feel that the transition from the lowest level of full-season minor league ball to the big leagues will be a relatively smooth one for Colbrunn. While he acknowledges that there are different challenges and job requirements he will face — for instance, video advance scouting of opposing pitchers doesn’t enter the picture at all in Single-A — that task may actually be less daunting than was his move from the big leagues down to A-ball.
“I spent so much time in the big leagues and then coming down to a-ball, my expectations about players and their talent, it took me halfway through my first year, I had to realize I was dealing with first-year guys and just getting them to show up in the cage every day and the same path on a daily basis was the hardest thing,” said Colbrunn. “In the big leagues, guys have work ethic, they can hit. It’s just about keeping them going good. getting them strong, getting them to build their confidence and keeping them locked in for as long as you can.”
It is a task that Newman, for one, believes that Colbrunn will be up to handling.
“Given his background and the amount of time he spent in the big leagues, his experience at that level, it was probably more difficult going from being a major league player to coaching that level of player,” said Newman. “Having dealt with those young players and the things they have to go through, I think that will help him in his current role. He’s got kind of an in-depth understanding now, after the time he spent, for what these guys go through. Even with the Red Sox, he’ll be dealing with some young hitters.
“But he’s close enough to his career that he still has real firm memories of how difficult the game is and what major league hitters need from a hitting coach. He knows that well,” Newman added. “He’s really a superior person and a first-rate hitting coach.”
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