As­cen­sion of hit­ting coach

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Jorge Castillo [email protected]­times.com Twit­ter: @jorge­castillo

Dodgers’ new hire Robert Van Scoyoc has had an un­ortho­dox rise up the ranks.

At a time when base­ball’s decades-strong tra­di­tional think­ing is con­stantly be­sieged and the un­ortho­dox rou­tinely be­comes ortho­dox, Robert Van Scoyoc’s short path to Dodgers hit­ting coach — com­pleted six days af­ter Thanks­giv­ing — de­fies con­ven­tion.

Van Scoyoc went one for 10 at the plate his se­nior year at Hart High in Ne­whall in 2005, though he bat­ted .314 his junior sea­son, ac­cord­ing to the school’s on­line archives. In a con­fer­ence call with re­porters Fri­day, he said he played at Cuesta Col­lege in 2006 and 2007. His play­ing ca­reer ended there. He called it “very medi­ocre.”

“It was very clear that any fu­ture I was go­ing to have in base­ball was as a coach or some­thing else,” Van Scoyoc said.

His as­cen­sion in base­ball be­gan by work­ing along­side Craig Wal­len­brock, who had been scout­ing and coach­ing for decades, out of a small ware­house in Santa Clarita. The duo tu­tored ma­jor lea­guers dur­ing the off­sea­sons. They em­pha­sized lift­ing the ball in the air and get­ting the bat on plane in the hit­ting zone for as long as pos­si­ble, con­cepts widely prac­ticed in the ma­jors to­day.

Van Scoyoc said their clien­tele ex­panded through word of mouth. Af­ter the 2013 sea­son, it in­cluded J.D. Martinez, who im­me­di­ately trans­formed from a player on his way out of the ma­jors into one of the sport’s most feared slug­gers.

In 2016, the Dodgers hired Van Scoyoc and Wal­len­brock as con­sul­tants for the Dodgers. Two years later, Van Scoyoc joined the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs as a “hit­ting strate­gist.” The role was broad. His du­ties in­cluded scout­ing, player de­vel­op­ment and draft prepa­ra­tion.

On Nov. 28, the 32-yearold Van Scoyoc was named the Dodgers’ hit­ting coach, re­plac­ing the 53-year-old Turner Ward, who played parts of 11 sea­sons in the ma­jors. Van Scoyoc is the ma­jors’ youngest hit­ting coach. He is con­fi­dent his lack of ex­pe­ri­ence, both coach­ing and play­ing, will not hin­der him.

“At the end of the day, play­ers want to be good and they don’t care if you had a play­ing ca­reer,” Van Scoyoc said. “All they care about is if you can help them be bet­ter.”

An­drew Friedman, the Dodgers’ pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions, em­pha­sized Van Scoyoc won’t work alone.

The Dodgers also em­ploy Brant Brown, whose ti­tle changed from as­sis­tant hit­ting coach to hit­ting strate­gist, and as­sis­tant hit­ting coach Aaron Bates for their hit­ting depart­ment. Friedman ex­plained he spots an op­por­tu­nity to counter the run-preven­tion ad­vance­ments made across the sport in re­cent years — ad­vance­ments that have led, among other noteworthy de­vel­op­ments, to a record num­ber of strike­outs — with the trio.

“Let’s think about this dif­fer­ently,” Friedman said. “Let’s ask dif­fer­ent ques­tions. Let’s be open-minded to ways we can pos­si­bly com­bat that. And I think be­tween those three guys — their per­spec­tives, ex­pe­ri­ences, abil­ity to re­late and con­nect to play­ers and how their skill sets com­ple­ment each other — I think it has a chance to be a re­ally dy­namic hit­ting en­vi­ron­ment.”

Friedman said how, ex­actly, the club plans to de­ploy the three is un­clear. Bates will spend time work­ing with mi­nor lea­guers, en­sur­ing the team’s phi­los­o­phy, lan­guage and process are uni­form across the or­ga­ni­za­tion. And though Van Scoyoc is of­fi­cially the team’s hit­ting coach, Friedman in­sisted there isn’t a hier­ar­chy.

“Less of the ‘mas­ter coach’ dy­namic,” Friedman said, “and more of a col­lab­o­ra­tive en­vi­ron­ment.”

The Dodgers are not a team in ob­vi­ous need of a philo­sophic over­haul af­ter fin­ish­ing atop the Na­tional League in runs, home runs and on-base-plus-slug­ging per­cent­age in 2018. They had seven play­ers hit at least 21 home runs. Scor­ing runs wasn’t a prob­lem. But they’re giv­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent a try, start­ing with their hit­ting coach.

No re­place­ment for gen­eral man­ager

Friedman said the Dodgers will not hire a gen­eral man­ager to re­place Farhan Zaidi, who left the or­ga­ni­za­tion to be­come the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants’ pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions last month.

“This off­sea­son has been too chaotic on a num­ber of fronts to be able to slow the game enough to fo­cus on that,” Friedman said. “We got a re­ally tal­ented group of peo­ple in the of­fice and ev­ery­body’s kind of stepped up and done a lit­tle bit more.”

Friedman added the team will an­nounce front-of­fice struc­tural changes im­mi­nently, but the gen­eral man­ager po­si­tion will be ad­dressed next off­sea­son.

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