M's fill coaching vacancies from within
November 8, 2019
Next season will see some new faces among the Mariners' coaching staff, but not the wholesale turnover that came after 2018. Having previously announced the reassignment of pitching coach Paul Davis and the release of bullpen coach Jim Brower and third-base coach Chris Prieto, the remainder of the staff will stay on.
Filling those three vacancies as well as the addition of an assistant hitting coach are four men already in the Mariners' organization at minor-league levels.
The most notable new guy is Pete Woodworth, a very young (31) pitching specialist who will take over from Davis. Woodworth has served as the pitching coach for low minors affiliates for the past four years, starting with Class-A Clinton in 2016 and moving on to high-A Modesto in 2017 and '18. Last season, Woodworth was named Texas League Coach of the Year for his work with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, a team that boasted a pitching staff that led the circuit in ERA, walks allowed, home runs allowed, complete games, and shutouts while ranking second in strikeouts. The Travelers' 2019 ERA of 2.90 is the first sub-3.00 team ERA in the Texas League since 1992. Woodworth pitched collegiately at Florida Gulf Coast University and for one season as a pro, at the rookie league level in the Rays' system in 2010, before returning to Florida Gulf Coast as a coach. Several important Seattle pitchers were among Woodworth's charges in Arkansas last year, including Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, and prospects Logan Gilbert and Ljay Newsome. Woodworth is expected to prioritize modern analytics while also utilizing his considerable communication talents and personal rapport with his pitchers.
Brian De Lunas returns to the role he had in 2018 and replaces Brower as bullpen coach, while Jared Sandberg comes aboard as the Mariners' new bench coach (shifting 2019 bench coach Manny Acta back to his old post as third-base coach, replacing Prieto). Sandberg, nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, had been the Mariners' Major League Field Coordinator, a job that defies easy description but is an in-dugout coaching position entrusted with keeping the staff, well, coordinated. The Olympia resident had a brief Major League playing career with Tampa Bay before turning to coaching, starting as a hitting coach at the Class-A level and then manager in the Tampa Bay system for Class-A and Triple-A teams Bowling Green, Charlotte, and Durham.
The new assistant hitting coach is Jarret DeHart, another super-young (25) hire that last season served as a minor-league hitting strategist for the M's. DeHart spent some time with the Major League club last year as well, so his new gig is essentially a full-time version of part of his 2019 job. DeHart seems well-regarded, and his relative inexperience may work in his favor in terms of being a new-fangled analytics devotee, a field that General Manager Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners' brass wants to emphasize. On the other hand, hitting coach was clearly—well, clear to people outside the Mariners organization, anyway—the position in greatest need of change after last season and not only was Tim Laker retained in that job, but his new full-time assistant is the same guy that was around in that gig for some of last season. 2019 saw the Mariners finish 14th among the 15 American League teams in hits, batting average, and, most disturbingly, strikeouts—nearly 1,600 total Ks were racked up by Seattle batters, many of them in situations with easy RBIs waiting on base. Failures to execute "productive outs" were as big a problem as the lack of hits last season, and going into 2020 with a status quo approach to the hitting philosophy does not inspire any confidence.
Will any of these moves result in better performance from Your Seattle Mariners? Well, maybe. Not in the hitting area, surely. But Woodworth is an interesting choice, and though there were good seasons in 2019 from some Seattle pitchers—notably Marco Gonzales and Sam Tuivailala—there were poor ones from a lot more. A better communicator and more relatable presence as pitching coach might be critical in bringing Yusei Kikuchi into his own as a Major Leaguer and/or the development into stardom for Sheffield, Dunn, Gilbert, or others. The wild card might be Sandberg: though he was a presence in last year's dugout, as manager Scott Servais' bench coach he will have a lot more influence on in-game strategy and pre-game prep, areas that are Servais' weak points. If Sandberg can impart some wisdom to Servais that Manny Acta was unable to, we might see some positive change when it comes to handling pitching changes, lineup moves, maybe even roster construction (carrying a comically weak bench has been a Mariner tradition for years now).
Time will tell.