The New Staff
We all know the Mariners have churned their player roster something fierce this offseason, but what might have escaped notice is the turnover among the coaches. Aside from manager Scott Servais, only two of Seattle's 2018 coaches are returning this season, Manny Acta and Chris Prieto. Everyone else is new.
So who are these new knowledge and tactics dispensers? And what happened to the old guys? Are these changes good or bad? What do coaches actually do, anyway?
Well, let's run down the list and see if we can't answer some of those queries:
Scott Servais, field manager: Entering his fourth year at the helm of the good ship Mariner, Servais is, like a lot of managers, a former catcher. He played in the National League from 1991-2001 with Houston, the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco, and Colorado, where he first crossed paths with current Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto (then pitching for the Rockies). His post-playing résumé includes time as a scout, catching instructor, and director of player development; he was also an assistant General Manager to Dipoto with the Angels. As a manager, he's accumulated a win-loss record of 253-243, all with the Mariners. He has never managed in the minors. His game strategies are rather conservative and conventional, to a perhaps detrimental degree when it comes to handling his pitching staff. Last year he appeared tied to formula when it came to pitching changes. The M's have saddled him with a very thin bench for most of his tenure, so in-game he hasn't had much room to maneuver outside of pitching moves.
Manny Acta, bench coach: Acta joined the M's along with Servais in 2016 as the third-base coach and shifted to the bench coach role last season. An infielder in his playing days, Acta never advanced past Double-A; his first taste of the big leagues was as a coach with the Montréal Expos in 2002. He has also coached with the New York Mets. He managed several years in the minor leagues and in Dominican winter leagues and managed in the Majors for the Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians. His duties with the M's are to handle defensive positioning, analyze opponents' strategies and tendencies, and advise Servais during games.
Tim Laker, batting coach: Laker has the unenviable task of succeeding Edgar Martínez. Whether Edgar was a good coach or not is less of a factor than the general intimidation of replacing a Hall of Famer, but Laker seems happy to move up a notch in coaching ranks regardless. For the past two years, he has been an assistant coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, prior to which he has been a batting coach, catching coordinator, and manager for several minor-league teams. As a player, Laker was in the big leagues for parts of 11 seasons as a catcher, mostly with Montréal and Cleveland. Laker has brought analytical tools and other ideas to his new gig learned from picking the brains of outside hitting consultants popular with players during offseasons. "It’s helped me," Laker said, "getting different ideas, philosophies. I have had a chance to get a feel for all of that and better myself as a hitting coach.” Laker himself has been an offseason consultant for several players including J.D. Martínez and the Mariners' own Mitch Haniger.
Paul Davis, pitching coach: Davis has never coached on a big-league staff before and, unlike most coaches, has never played baseball professionally. He has played and coached collegiately, and for the last several years has worked for the St. Louis Cardinals as a minor-league pitching coach, minor-league pitching coordinator, and last year as the "Manager of Pitching Analytics," a position created for the newly popular purpose of crunching numbers and using technological tools to examine player performance. He is a strong believer in video analysis, and figures to rely on video and software to analyze the Mariner pitchers' mechanics and deliveries. An academic, Davis also has a Masters degree in Education and advanced coursework in Leadership Studies, which should be a boon to working with his new charges.
Chris Prieto, third-base coach: The club's first-base coach last season, Prieto has been with the M's since 2013 in a variety of roles, including replay coordinator and "special projects coach," whatever that is. A former outfielder, his playing career was limited almost entirely to the minors, though he did have two at-bats with the 2005 LA Angels. Prior to working for the Mariners, Prieto was a coach in the Padres' low minors. What duties Prieto will have in addition to relaying signs to batters and baserunners and deciding whether or not to urge a runner to advance an extra base on a hit is unknown at present.
Perry Hill, first-base coach: Hill spent the last six years as the Miami Marlins' first-base coach and he has a total of 23 years of big-league coaching experience. As first-base coach, Hill monitors opposition pitchers and offers observational info to baserunners as well as keeps track of baserunning times. But Hill's other job is undoubtedly more important—he will also act as the team's infield coach, instructing and advising Mariner infielders on their glove- and footwork. He is exceptionally highly regarded around the game as a defense guru, and teams he has coached have regularly been among the league leaders in most defensive metrics and players under his tutelage have won many Gold Glove awards, including the Mariners' own Dee Gordon from his time in Miami. "He’s very talented as a coach," Gordon says of Hill. "It’s just the way he works and the way gets us to work. It’s amazing. I'm playing infield again with him as my coach. That's exciting for me."
As for the old guys, Edgar left his post at his request, moving to the role of Organizational Hitting Advisor. “Edgar came to Scott and me after the season ended and talked to us about his desire to find a position within the organization that would provide more flexibility than the role of major league hitting coach,” Jerry Dipoto said in a press statement. Edgar will spend more sporadic instructional time with the M's and their minor-league affiliates over the course of the season. Mel Stottlemyre Jr., the club's pitching coach the last three years, was not invited back after last season; there was no stated reason beyond a desire to "go with a different voice and a different direction." Stottlemyre is now the pitching coach for the Miami Marlins. Scott Brosius, the Mariners' former third-base coach, declined an offer to return and instead accepted a job as Senior Director of Player Development with USA Baseball, the national governing body for amateur baseball.