The trash talk should be fun at spring training.
Meanwhile, six of the eight coaches on manager Brandon Hyde’s staff participated in FanFest and were introduced to the media. John Wasdin and Howie Clark recognized some of the faces because they already were part of the organization, the former switching from minor league pitching coordinator to bullpen coach and the latter returning as assistant hitting coach.
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression and I’m giving passing grades to hitting coach Don Long, pitching coach Doug Brocail, first base coach/outfield instructor Arnie Beyeler and field coordinator/catching instructor Tim Cossins.
Brocail spent almost eight minutes responding to two questions. He’s passionate about pitching. Beyeler corrected the mispronunciation of his last name by saying he’s “Don’s brother.”
Long endorsed the fear factor, wanting opposing teams to stay in a constant state of worry about the Orioles lineup and its potential to do damage.
Cossins handled a bench coach question with just the right tone.
Long comes to Baltimore after five seasons as Reds hitting coach. Asked to describe his “approach” to the job and what he brings to the table, he replied, “I think it’s building a culture and really creating an environment where we’re relentless in what we do and how we prepare and how we work and how open we are to getting better.”
“Every hitter has his own identity,” Long continued. “Things they’re good at, maybe some challenges they have, but we really want to build a group identity. We want to be known wherever we play as a team that’s really tough. ‘We don’t want to pitch to them.’ Very challenging to pitch to. And I think as a group mindset that’s really important to us.”
Coming in with what’s pretty much a blank slate appeals to the coaches. The roster is changing. The organizational philosophy most definitely is changing.
“I’ve been through it a couple times, first in Pittsburgh and then in Cincinnati and I would say as a group in both places we probably had a larger group of more established hitters and then kind of went through the process of seeing those guys leave and starting over,” Long said. “So yeah, it’s exciting. It’s exciting to be involved in this, sort of starting over from the ground up and being a part of it.”
The third question posed to Long referenced Chris Davis, perhaps two more than anticipated by many of us in the media group. They met Friday night, Davis accompanied by his wife Jill, and Long stressed again the importance of building a relationship.
“We talked about how happy they were to have a couple days away from 1-year-old twins and a 3-year-old,” Long said. “So that’s where you start. You get to know them. I ask a lot of questions initially. I want to see where guys are at. I can watch video, but I want to know.
“The thought usually drives the process. Whatever’s going on in their mind and what their thoughts are is what’s going to come out physically. So it’s getting to know them. Building some relationship and some rapport and some trust where you can have open and honest conversations with all these guys is priority No. 1 for me. Really, really important.”
Long wasn’t going to break down what he saw on video, but said he’s “got some ideas” about Davis.
“I’d rather hear from him first and see where he’s at,” Long said. “I know he’s been working on some things this winter and so I’d rather dive in as a starting point there and see what they are and make it a collaborative effort along the way.”
Cossins knows Hyde from their days together in the Cubs organization. He was targeted early for the coaching staff.
What can fans expect out of Hyde?
“I think consistency of person,” Cossins replied. “As long as I’ve known Brandon, he’s always had the ability to be the same person every single day. It’s not high and low, it’s not ego driven. What you guys are seeing right now is pretty much what you’re going to get on a daily basis, and it’s a very consistent approach to the game and as a person.
“For so many years, I put my head down and consumed myself with player development, and to look up and to finally have this opportunity, it’s surreal and very exciting, especially going through it with a personal friend and somebody you cut your teeth with all these years on the field. And to finally get this opportunity, I’m not going to take it lightly, I won’t take it for granted and I feel like I’m ready for it.”
The Orioles didn’t designated anyone as the bench coach, an unusual but not unprecedented move. Cossins will handle some of those responsibilities.
He can’t quite figure out why some people are obsessed with it, smiling as the question was posted to him.
“It’s funny because I’ve heard a lot about the bench coach situation and I think the reality of that is that’s a title,” he said. “I feel like this whole thing’s going to be collective. I think that’s something we’re going to go with is collective, and there’s a lot of good decision-makers on this staff and there’s a lot of really good baseball people on this staff. And I think over the course of time you’ll see that those things will kind of filter their way into what happens on the field.”
Cossins has a sterling reputation for instructing catchers and he’ll be working with a group that has limited to no experience beyond the minors.
“Quite honestly, I’ve seen a lot of video and trying to get information about each guy and when you come to Sarasota, having an idea of what’s happening. So I’m still in that process of finding what these catchers are all about,” he said.
“I can tell you one thing, they’re going to work. I’ve been doing it long enough to know this group is going to work. I’m excited about it. I dig what I’m seeing, a lot.”
Hyde preached the importance of a versatile roster, with little room for one-dimensional types, and he wants the same qualities in his coaching staff. The message was sent to Cossins and others.
“And you guys keep hearing player development,” he said. “I think that’s true in most cases. The industry now is about player/human development and the teams that have success have people that can connect with the players and move a player from one place to the other. That’s the art of this game right now. That’s where it’s at, so I feel like we have those guys in the clubhouse for sure.”
Brocail is an imposing figure at 6-foot-5 and appears larger than his listed pitching weight of 220 lbs. The beard and deep voice add layers of intimidation.
He’s been a pitching coach with the Astros and Rangers, working with Andrew Cashner in 2017 when the right-hander posted a 3.40 ERA in 166 2/3 innings. The distance between pitching and coaching has allowed him to evolve.
“I used to be real old school,” said Brocail, a former teammates of Wasdin’s in Texas. “Pitch in, pound hard, use your breaking ball when need be, and I tried to stick with that because I was old school and that’s how I pitched. Well, it wasn’t about Doug Brocail anymore. It was about the staff. And the one thing that analytics showed me was, when I was stuck on something, trying to pound it into somebody’s head for their betterment. It was one of those things where I kept getting proved wrong every single day. And I’m like, OK, old school, new school, let’s find a happy medium here and work with these guys.”
Brocail said he eventually learned during his time at Double-A Corpus Christi that “jack of all trades and master of none doesn’t work.” Pitchers reached their potential because they played to their own strengths.
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to sit down and pound the computer over the next three weeks so that when the guys come in and they’re ready to go, we have answers for them,” he said. “The hardest thing for a coach is if a guy asks you a question and you go, ‘Huh ...,’ that builds no trust at all. So we’re going to try to have all the answers. And I learned that it’s OK to say, ‘You know what?’ I don’t know. I’m going to put some guys on it and Johnny and I are going to sit down and we’re going to research it and I’ll have an answer for you hopefully by the end of the day tomorrow.’
“Back in the old days it was, ‘God, what am I doing wrong? I stink tonight. Got to rock and fire, baby, rock and fire.’ OK, well, am I rocking and I’m not firing? Am I firing and I’m not rocking? We’ve got to have answers for these guys. And that trust for me is ...
“I told my guys over the phone, I said, ‘Listen, you’re going to get sick and tired of me asking about your family, you’re going to get sick and tired of me finding out how your dad’s doing, you’re going to get sick and tired of me asking about the kids. Because that’s how you build a relationship. And once we do that, it will be a family.
“We don’t know what we have right now. I know I’ve got three top-tier pitchers. I know I’ve got (Mychal) Givens and some relievers. I need a fourth and a fifth. We don’t have that, we’re in trouble. You always go, ‘God, I can’t wait to get out of spring training.’ I don’t want to go, ‘Oh, God, are we ready?’ I want to be ready. And knowing this coaching staff ... I know we’re not going to get outworked. I promise you that. And that’s what’s nice going in is, they have the same exact thoughts that I have.”
At this point in the conversation, Brocail is both rocking and firing.
“We’re going to go out and we’re going to get everything that we can get as far as material information and we’re going to roll with it,” he said. “We have to find 12, 13 guys who are going to be able to compete at the big league level and do it well. This ain’t about Vegas numbers and us losing a bunch of ballgames. This is one day at a time, one inning at a time, one out at a time and see where it takes us at the end of the day.”
A large chunk of Beyeler’s reputation has been chiseled from his work with Red Sox outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. and utility player Brock Holt. He’s been handled the responsibility of improving Trey Mancini in left and Cedric Mullins in center, plus whomever else is breaking camp with the team or trying to make an impression in spring training before receiving their minor league assignments.
“The young guys are pretty athletic,” Beyeler said. “There’s an old joke in the game that if you want to be a good outfielder, just be a real good hitter. And there’s some truth to that - a little bit, I guess - but that’s part of baseball. You’ve got to hit to play, but I do think there are a lot of athletic guys that can catch the ball and do some things if we put enough offense together.”
Clark is the only coach returning from last year’s staff. I knew that he’d be in the organization after receiving a minor league contract, but his chance to stay in the majors didn’t reveal itself until much later.
“I wanted to remain in the organization,” he said. “I felt loyal to the organization, I’ve known a lot of the players early on, my first year, that made it to the majors, so there’s a pretty special connection. And then when Brandon was hired, he said I was in consideration for the assistant job, which is great. I love Baltimore, I love being here. But I also understand that when you change things you may just want to change everything.
“I was lucky enough to speak with Don after he was hired. And that being said, I’m super excited to be here. But I didn’t see it playing out how it did.”
A truer commitment to analytics will impact Clark, who’s eager to field the data and put it to good use.
“It’s working across the league, right? So it’s not going anywhere,” he said.
“I think it’s very easy to want to resist something that you’re not familiar with, so it gets very polarizing. Is it good or is it bad? Just being open to learning it and understanding how to digest the information and give the players some actionable information. I think we need to be filter for that, because just hammering guys with information doesn’t work. Some guys it may, some guys it may not, and I think knowing what the players like and want and what they excel at, I think that’s it. It’s up to us to learn it and I’m excited to learn it.”
Embrace it without becoming a prisoner to it.
“It’s just more information,” Brocail said. “The analytic team, what it does for us is it allows us to go out and coach. They give us the information, we decipher it, we find out what’s useable and what’s not useable and we go forward with, how are you going to help us win a ballgame tonight? So we know that your sinker is getting killed. We’re going to eliminate that. We know that your changeup is isn’t efficient enough. However, we need something to get them off the fastball. It’s just another tool that we can use to kind of crunch the time instead of having a guy go out and work and work and work and work until he’s tired of working on one pitch.
“We might have a quick, easy answer for him and say, ‘Hey, listen, two years ago you threw this. We know because we have it on video. It was a really good pitch. Why did you stop throwing it? Why did you switch grips? Let’s go back to that.’ It’s a tool for us and it’s not like these guys talk and coach up the players. The relationships that Johnny and I are going to build with these guys, that’s where we trust them and get them to communicate with us and try things.
“I want guys to experiment. We had a team here last year that didn’t win a lot of games. We have some time to experiment and get to the point where, hey listen, if this wasn’t working, let’s experiment a little bit. We’re going to be busy.”
Wasdin made the switch from coordinator in the minors to Alan Mills’ replacement in the bullpen. I’ve heard that Mills will manage the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team.
“At the end of the summer, when you start to see things kind of tumble and when you’re in a position as I was as a coordinator, typically you have people who are going to come in and have their own way about things,” he said. “With where we’re moving to, which is exciting ... I’ve known Chris Holt before and what he’s done and what he’s going to bring to this organization, I didn’t have any ill will against him.
“It’s about the players, it’s about the Orioles, it’s about us getting better daily, so when Mike (Elias) said, ‘Hey, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to potentially be our bullpen coach. We’re going to bring in Chris and you can work alongside him and learn ...’ There’s a lot of stuff to learn. And so I was excited. Yeah, I’m not the coordinator anymore, but a promotion and go back to the big leagues, a chance to work with our major leaguers, to help them.
“My girls grew up in this game. They’re like, ‘Oh, sweet, we’re going to have Family Day now.’ So everybody’s excited. I’m really happy.”
Brocail said he’s going to lean “hard” on Wasdin because the former Oriole reliever knows everyone. It’s a “we” thing, Brocail said.
“I think it’s invaluable,” Wasdin said. “One, me having a relationship with the guys already and kind of being a bridge between that player and maybe Brocail and even higher, it’s invaluable. They know me, they trust me. Not that they didn’t with the previous guys before me, but there is that level of familiarity. And so now for me to be able to talk to them and know their style ...
“Being the coordinator, I got to see them and watch lots of video with them, so it’s knowing them on a personal basis. Who they are, what they bring to the table. And now using our new methods of teaching, it’s just to maximize their potential. I think it’s going to be a great fit.”