Farm instruction during shutdown spans countries, languages

Recently in this space, I wrote about how the Orioles minor league staff was keeping in touch with farm players, often through Zoom videos. They have been working with and instructing players on a variety of aspects of the game.

One of the coaches taking part in the videos is 28-year-old Patrick Jones, one of the organization’s first-year coaches. Before the season was put on hold, he would have been working with young players in extended spring training right now and then was set to be hitting coach for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles in June when the GCL season started.

Jones is Cincinnati born and raised and still lives there. He played ball at famous Moeller High School and was on a state championship baseball team in 2009. He played college ball as an outfielder at Xavier and was on a Big East championship club there is 2014. In 2015, Jones was a fifth-year senior on a Xavier team that included two freshman, Zac Lowther and Rylan Bannon, who now play for the Orioles on the farm. Jones taught some private hitting lessons over the past three years and the 2020 season would be his first as a professional coach.

During the baseball shutdown, Jones has reached out to players at all levels of the farm, from the very young to some ticketed for Double-A and Triple-A.

But he recently helped one young man and the help spanned two countries and two languages. The player is 20-year-old catcher Wilkin Grullon from Monsenor Nouel, Dominican Republic. At 19 last season in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, Grullon hit .287/.383/.365 with 11 doubles, one homer, 32 RBIs and an OPS of .748. He made his pro debut in the DSL in 2018, batting .206 in 28 games.

This year, he made his way to the United States and was in spring training in Sarasota. There was a good chance he would be scheduled to play for the GCL Orioles.

But Grullon speaks only a little English. Jones still sent him some video batting tips and then bridged the language gap by using an app for that.

Patrick Jones Sidebar.jpg“I used the app called WhatsApp and used that with Google Translate,” said Jones. “I put in what I want to say, translate it into Spanish, and then I copy and paste it into our chat. He does the same thing. I’ve been working on Spanish and he’s working on his English. It’s not good enough yet for us to have a conversation, so this is what we use. It’s been great. We have a full-blown conversation.”

And even though the two were together at Twin Lakes Park for just a few days, Jones got to know Grullon and sent video help electronically to the young player.

“I made a video in my back yard of a swing and some drills and sent it to him,” Jones said. “He got it and it’s pretty cool to utilize technology that way to communicate something to the player even though he doesn’t speak the same language.

“All he has access to is a tee right now. So I found that out and I know what he needs to continue to work on from spring training. So came up with some drills that he can do. I made sure he knew not to overswing on the tee. You can come up with some bad habits. We went back and forth about how much he should swing off the tee and hopefully he can find someone to flip him balls from the side, too.

“I know what his swing is like and what he needs to work on. So after sending those drills, we needed to make sure he understands them, so I asked him to explain to me in his own words if he understood why I sent him those drills and if he understands what I want him to work on.”

Jones and Grullon found a way to get some work in - even with no games and without being in the same country.

When it comes to coaching, there is usually nothing where one size fits all and each hitter is different than the next. So Jones has tried to be responsive to players one-on-one for whatever they need.

“Totally. And that is one of the great things about baseball. Sometimes we spend a lot of time looking at highlights at the best of the best and that’s fun,” Jones said. “But sometimes for a player, they wonder, ‘How do I put that in my own stance with my own swing? And with my own strengths and weaknesses?’

“And maybe you do show an example. It can be a side-by-side video of them with their favorite player or I’ll have a comp player, a comparison player, that resembles them. It can be hard to resonate when you put up the best players.

“Recently, I spent an hour on the phone with a player and it was hardly about baseball. It was about cooking and what is he doing around his house and in his yard. Once you can develop a relationship with the player, that is when you can dig deeper and they can open up even more to you.”

During my interview of Jones, I found out he does some of his own interviews - as the questioner. He has his own podcast, “Patrick Jones Baseball.” He has produced over 160 episodes since December 2017. He uses this to learn more about the game from others. His first guest was former Cincinnati Reds slugger George Foster, who hit 52 homers for the 1977 Reds.

Coming soon: More with a couple of O’s minor league hitting coaches, including Jones, on what they are bringing to the Baltimore farm. The organization hired several new minor league hitting coaches over the winter. We’ll soon take a closer look.

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