Part of Dan Duquette's restructuring of the Orioles' player development system was his hiring of Mike Boulanger as the O's minor league hitting coordinator. Boulanger will oversee the batting coaches and instruction of all the hitters on the O's farm. Boulanger brings plenty of experience to Baltimore as both a minor league coach and manager and has ties to both Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.
From 2000-2002, Boulanger was a minor league manager when Duquette was the Red Sox GM and he later served as Triple-A hitting coach and manager for Showalter when Buck managed in Texas. Boulanger had a record of 497-496 in nine seasons with Minnesota and Boston as a minor league manager, taking three teams to the postseason. Boulanger spent the past five seasons as the Rangers' minor league hitting coordinator.
"Our first bullet point this year is on-base percentage," Boulanger said by phone from his home in Oklahoma. "Sometimes people take that to mean just taking pitches, but it's trying to get a good pitch to hit and that involves a lot of time and teaching about how we will try to do that, how we will try to shrink the strike zone. But if you truly buy into trying to get a good pitch to hit, you will see some pitches.
"At the end of the day, if you have nine guys buying into that, the other team will throw a lot of pitches and you'll get into their bullpen. By the time they get to the big leagues, that learning curve is so steep at the major league level that you'd like to think that all these things are in place. Now they can just try to deal with the speed of the game at the big league level."
Before Boulanger can help the organization's hitters, he has to form bonds with the Orioles' minor league hitting coaches.
"The first thing on my plate is the coaches there, some I know of and some I know. There has to be a trust factor and the first thing is getting the coaches with me all on the same page as to how I want things explained and how we go about fixing problems on hitters," he said.
"Spring training will be about me getting to know our hitters, but also the coaches in terms of what is expected, what they will be held accountable for, and if we are doing the very best we can each day, things have a way of working out."
Boulanger said there are some basics that he believes in and will teach throughout the Orioles' farm system.
"There are five things that I teach; I call them the five steps," he said. "Each guy is different, though, some have a leg kick, some a toe tap. So I'm not talking style, but we teach rhythm and timing, separate to see the ball, stay square which is huge, transfer your weight and have a good finish. Those five are the backbone of what we teach. It depends, on a case-by-case basis, how we go about explaining one of those or all five to an individual. But those five have to happen.
"You look at a young hitter and the first thing, rhythm and timing, is where it breaks down right there sometimes, so you can't move along to staying square because they are consistently late and something is going to break down in their swing. So at the younger level, for gosh sakes, let's make sure we take care of steps one and two.
"As long as we are working on one of those five areas with our hitters, then I think we are on the right track. But if we are doing something that doesn't pertain to one of those five areas, then I question why we're doing it."
Boulanger said he has not worked closely before with Orioles big league hitting coach Jim Presley, but cited Presley as his boss and said the two men must also be on the same page.
"I'll go down early to spring training and we will meet. I told Jim, 'Tell me what you want to emphasize,' and we will do what he wants done."
As for working with the minor league coaches that will report to him, Boulanger said he authored a 100-page handbook several years ago with the Rangers that lays out some of his thoughts on drills, terminology and other aspects of the game for a batter.
"It talks about things like how we are going to teach: moving a runner, how we'll teach hit-and-run, what's our terminology (with runners on) first and third or second and third. It covers a lot and it's for coaches about their responsibilities and what they are accountable for," he said.
"It also has level-to-level development. At each level, there are some things that have to be accomplished and none of it is mechanical. At the lower levels, understanding all these situations we talk about and maybe a player can't execute them all. But if they can recognize them and I see them trying, that's a plus for me. Now when they get to Double-A or Triple-A, no longer can they just recognize it, they have to get it done."
Boulanger sounds excited to get started. When we first talked last week, he spoke about how will ask Orioles minor league batters to have productive team plate appearances. You can read more on that here.
"We are here to help Baltimore win the World Series. I can tell you this: When I showed up over in Texas 10 years ago, we weren't real good. I'm not saying it's all me or anything like that, but we were at the bottom. We got better and better and about five years ago I felt like our hitting was about where it needs to be. We got some pitching and we were a real good ballclub," he said.