The Orioles coaching staff, as of late last year, now officially includes co-hitting coaches, and those coaches will work together in 2022. For both, it will be their first season at the major league level. Matt Borgschulte and Ryan Fuller are both just 31 and may work with some hitters in Baltimore that are older than they are.
Borgschulte spent the last four years in the Minnesota Twins organization and was at Triple-A St. Paul last year. Fuller has been with the Orioles for two years, spent 2021 as hitting coach with Double-A Bowie and was also the club’s full-season minor league hitting coordinator.
The Baysox led their 12-team league in runs scored per game (5.23), ranked second in home runs (170), tied for third in OPS (.760), and were fourth in OBP (.332) and slugging (.428). Several hitters thrived under Fuller’s tutelage.
Now he looks to take some of those teachings and coaching to the big leagues for the first time. We recorded a Zoom video interview last week to talk about his fast rise to the majors and hopes for 2022 in Baltimore.
Several major league clubs employ co-hitting coaches now and I asked Fuller how this will work with the Orioles. Fuller was hired first by the club and he was involved in the process that led to Borgschulte joining him.
“I think it has already shown itself to be exactly what we hoped for when we went through the interview process,” he said. “Looking for that person that doesn’t care who gets credit, we just want to do things the right way. So all the decisions - hey, let’s sit down and talk about it. Go through the pros and cons and collectively make a decision.
“But this happens at the minor league level, too, even though you have one hitting coach. You have these conversations and decisions with the manager, with the developmental coaches. So we pride collaboration and I think it’s just the perfect marriage between two coaches working together. No one guy is going to make the final decision. Two minds are usually better than one. So it’s been really good so far and we’re usually pretty lockstep with what we think is going to work, what we should do. So kind of like the what, why and how of going about each problem, we’ve been on the same page with most things.”
With all the data, analytics and new methods now in the game, the job of a coach seems to keep changing and evolving.
“Yeah, there is so much that goes into it,” said Fuller. “When people ask, ‘What is your coaching style?’ What do you want to talk about - practice designs, skill acquisition principles, advanced meetings, there is so much that goes into it. I think the Orioles have done a fantastic job of giving the coaches any resource they could possibly want or need and then it’s really up to the coach to have feel to say ‘Player A, we can give him a little bit more, he’s really in tune with this. Player B, we’ve really got to simplify it for him when he goes up to the plate and (we want) one thing in his mind only.’
“We have all this richness of resources, but it’s really up to the coach to simplify it, condense it in a version for each hitter. And that could be different for each guy. But they go up to the plate knowing ‘This is my plan of attack. This is how I’m going to beat the pitcher tonight.’ There is ton that goes into it and we’re lucky to have very, very smart people in the organization that make it really easy.”
Fuller realizes that there will be advantages to being such a young big league coach, but also challenges. There is no substitute at times for experience at that level he doesn’t yet have.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said, acknowledging the challenges of his youth. “I think there are pros and cons to any situation. Luckily, I think I relate really well to the players, some of them being my age, right around there.
“And then when I do have a lack of experience, I’m so excited to work with (manager) Brandon Hyde, (and coaches) Tim Cossins, Fredi González, José Hernández. These guys who have this experience where I can say, ‘Hey I haven’t been in this situation before - can you kind of guide me through it? Here is what I’m thinking, and get their experience too.’ So although I’m young, I think I do a good job of connecting with the players. Having them trained and ready to go for each game, but then the lack of experience I think I’ll be able to get picked up by the other resources and people on the staff.”
It was clear to me interviewing players at Bowie last summer that Fuller made a strong connection with several of the hitters. That was big and no doubt getting such good results from several hitters showed both the coach and players what they were doing was working.
“These guys trust us,” Fuller said. “That’s a huge part of it going forward and the guys just really know that we’re going to prepare you to the best of our ability and you’re going to be prepared for anything you’re going to see in the game. And that comes from training and the guys in Bowie especially with Buck (Britton, Baysox manager) and the whole staff there it was just a really consistent message of control the zone, positive swing decisions (and) if we do that it’s going to lead to hard contact and hard contact usually leads to damage. It was just a consistent message and training environment on a daily basis.
“The guys coming up from High-A really jumped in quickly and what was most proud to see was the guys going from Double-A to Triple-A, jumping right in with (hitting coach) Tim Gibbons and having continued success up there. I think that is just a really nice accolade for the hitting staff to have a consistent message in how we go about our business each and every day.”
Now we see if some of what Fuller taught on the farm can work in the big leagues.
“But I feel very confident in our ability to improve swing decisions, that is something we had a lot of success with in 2020 at the alternate site with (some of) these major league players,” he said. “So they are pretty familiar with how we train and most of those guys made big strides at the alternate site and carried it out through the remainder of the 2020 season, so I feel confident in our ability to improve swing decisions across the board and control the zone a little bit better, and if we do that, it will lead to some really loud contact.”
He said his first few weeks of officially working with Borgschulte, even though they cannot reach out to players on the current 40-man roster during the lockout, have been very productive.
“It’s been fantastic. When Matt was closing in on getting an offer, I flew down to Florida to spend a weekend with him. We got to spend time with Brandon Hyde. We got to spend time with the other members of the hitting staff in the org. Since then, we’ve had morning Zoom calls every morning to go over a player and an opposing pitcher. We talk about how we want to structure spring training. It’s been consistent contact and we just love picking each other’s brains.
“And to share this with the whole hitting department as well, we’ve had multiple Zoom calls with the whole hitting staff. So we’re really excited to have a really unified, tight-knit hitting department from the Dominican Republic all the way up to Baltimore.”
Here is the Zoom video interview with Fuller: