This week Dayton Moore confirmed more coaching staff changes, announcing the re-assignment of hitting coach Dale Sveum to bench coach, leaving an opening with the hitting coach gig. Sveum had been the hitting coach since replacing interim coach George Brett in 2014, after Brett had replaced Andre David and Jack Maloof early into that season.
Don’t look for George to step back out of the front office to take the gig, and Kevin Seitzer is employed as hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves and unlikely to return. Instead, here are some more likely candidates.
Gregg is the hitting coach for the Omaha Storm Chasers, having been with the Royals organization since 2007. The former Braves outfielder began his coaching career with that organization while Dayton Moore was there, before moving on to work in the Cardinals organization. He began as the hitting coach in AA for the Royals in 2007-2008 before moving up to Omaha, where he has spent the last nine seasons.
Gregg has worked with hitters like Mike Moustakas, and should have familiarity with the Royals that make up the future like Raúl Mondesí, Jorge Soler, Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield, and Jorge Bonifacio. Gregg was passed over for the job in 2012 when Seitzer was fired.
I mentioned Kendall as a potential pitching coach, but he could fill in as hitting coach as well. Kendall was pretty good with the bat in his 15-year Major League Career, hitting .288/.366/.378. He has served in the front office as a special assignment coach since 2012, and has served as an instructor in spring training.
Kendall is very old school - his book on baseball philosophy is entitled Throwback - but he was a very disciplined hitter in his playing days. His book talks a lot about pitch selection, understanding situations and the count. For a team that has been known on being overly aggressive, this could be welcome instruction, if he can get through to them.
Sanders joined the Royals front office earlier this year as a special assistant after working in the Diamondbacks association. His role was to “work on special-assignment projects throughout the club’s minor-league system”, but he did have some on-field work with players in spring training. He previously played with the Royals from 2006 to 2007. Sanders has no coaching experience at any level, but could perhaps transition into such a role with the assistance of Sveum.
Wilson is the manager of the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals and may be a rising star in the organization. He has been skipper there since 2014, and has been recognized by the organization, winning the Dick Howser Award in 2016 for outstanding player development. Before that he managed in lower levels for the Royals, leading low-A Kane County to the playoffs in 2011, and managing High-A Wilmington for two seasons.
Wilson can have a fiery attitude at times, but has handled many of the top prospects that have come through the organization since he came on. Wilson was a long-time backup catcher in the big leagues - not much of a hitter - but many of the best hitting coaches were not much with the stick in their playing days. Charlie Lau, the man who turned George Brett’s career around, was also a long-time backup catcher.
Davis is a free agent now that the Red Sox have fired manager John Farrell, but he may also be a managerial candidate for some openings around baseball, including in Boston. Davis was lauded for improving the Red Sox offense in clutch situation by changing the mindset of their young hitters. He gets along great with players, and emphasizes working the count.
"If I have a philosophy, it's discipline, quality at-bats," Davis said. "I'm into the cat-and-mouse games between the pitcher and hitter. I want the hitter to give himself the best possible chance to beat that pitcher.
"For me, it's more of a mentality than a philosophy. I want them to get quality pitches and I want them to make the pitchers work if they are going to get them out."
The Red Sox led the league in runs scored in 2016, but fell back to sixth this year. Davis played with the Royals in 1997, part of a 19-year career in which he hit 350 home runs and collected 2,350 hits. He has been a hitting coach since 2011, working with the A’s before moving on to Boston. He has already interviewed for the vacant hitting coach position in San Diego and is expected to be a coveted coach this winter.
Hansen was a journeyman pinch-hitter in a 15-year career, mostly with the Dodgers. He got into coaching in 2007, working in the minors for the Diamondbacks. In 2010, he was named secondary hitting instructor by the Dodgers, eventually earning a promotion to hitting coach, where he served until 2012.
He was hired to coach Mariners hitters in 2013 and did seem to get some improvement in plate discipline. When manager Eric Wedge was fired at the end of the season, the Mariners did not bring Hansen back. Instead, he served under Don Baylor as assistant hitting coach with the Angels, eventually replacing Baylor in 2016. That club also seemed to make some gains in patience at the plate, but he was still let go earlier this month. The Angels were pretty lousy offensively, and most of Hansen’s clubs have been near the bottom of the league in runs scored.
Hinske is the assistant hitting coach for the Cubs, the second-highest runs scoring offense in the National League. He originally started as a first base coach under Rick Renteria in 2014, but was kept on as assistant hitting coach when Joe Maddon took over. He is known as being a good clubhouse guy who is not much older than many of the players. Anthony Rizzo credited him with him improving his performance against left-handed pitchers. Hinske talks a lot about mechanics and seems open to analytics.
But all this information comes down, there are all these analytics guys and they know what they’re talking about. And if you don’t buy into it you’re gone. You’ve got to keep up with the Joneses, you know? I dig it, I think it’s all cool, you just have to pick through it. Too much information is bad sometimes. Sometimes I just want to know the pitch, the velocity and what’s his out-pitch.
Hinske turned down the Yankees hitting coach job to stay in Chicago four years ago, but perhaps could be lured away at this point.
Ibanez had two stints with the Royals, and was famously known for being the clubhouse presence that helped spur the team to a pennant in 2014. He turned down an opportunity to be the Yankees hitting coach, withdrew his name from consideration for the Rays managerial job, and rejected a job offer from the Royals, so it is unclear if he wants to get into coaching. If he does, he will be one of the most sought-after candidates. He is currently a special assistant to Dodgers General Manager Andrew Friedman, and serves as an analyst for FOX.
Jon was an outfielder for the Royals from 1995 to 1997 before going into coaching in 2006. He worked his way up through the Cleveland Indians minor league organization before being named hitting coach for the Major League club for the 2010 season. That club finished near the bottom of the league in runs scored, and the next June, Nunnally was fired. He spent two seasons as a minor league hitting coach in the Blue Jays system, and two seasons in the Red Sox organization, before spending last year as an outfield coordinator with the Angels.
Nunnally’s firing in Cleveland was an unpopular move among the players, but Nunnally had drawn criticism from his own manager, Manny Acta. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera credited Nunnally for his improvement, and some saw Nunnally’s firing as a panic move for a club that had a slow offensive start and didn’t want to lose their first place position.
Shelton is a very experienced hitting coach, serving in that capacity for the Cleveland Indians from 2005 to 2009, before joining the Rays in the same capacity from 2010 to 2016. He spent last year as Quality Control Coach with the Toronto Blue Jays. His departure from the Rays seemed to be more about having a new voice after a long tenure in Tampa Bay.
The team did try to get more aggressive at the plate, but instead had their contact rate plummet to the worst in baseball. The Rays were worst or second-worst in the American League in runs scored in each of his last three seasons in Tampa Bay. However, in Cleveland, his offenses were in the top half of the league in all but his last season. Shelton began his coaching career as a minor league manager in the Yankees organization, handling players like Robinson Cano and Dioner Navarro.
Matt Stairs looked more like a men’s softball slugger than a baseball player, but he lasted 19 seasons in the big leagues, including three with the Royals. Stairs was known for being a power-hitter, swatting 265 home runs in mostly a part-time role. He has carried over that “swing for the fences” mentality a bit in his first year as hitting coach with the Phillies.
Hired with no previous coaching experience, Stairs has been lauded for his work with young Phillies hitters.
These are three of Stairs’ stated keys from the onset: see more pitches, hit good fastballs early in the count and utilize the middle part of the field with a gap-to-gap mentality.
“A lot of the time people think ‘we’re hitting off fastball.’ We’re hitting off our location early, that’s why you have to become a stubborn hitter, which leads into more pitches per at-bat,” Stairs said.
Young players like Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr made adjustments to their swing credited to Stairs.
The Phillies fired manager Pete Mackanin following this season, leaving an unclear status for Stairs and the rest of the coaching staff. The Royals might be wise to scoop him up before the Phillies realize their error.
Others: Willie Aikens was the slugging first baseman for the Royals for the 1980 World Series team, and was hired in 2011 as a coach in their minor league system after serving 14 years in prison on gun and drug charges. Andre David has had two stints as Royals hitting coach, filling the role in 2005-2006, and in 2013-2014 before he was re-assigned midway through the 2014 season. He has served in the Royals’ minor league organization ever since, coaching the Burlington Royals last year. Mark Quinn once famously prompted fireworks after he snapped a streak of 241 plate appearances without a walk. He lasted one season in 2016 as Orioles assistant hitting coach before being dismissed. Alan Zinter spent 2015 as assistant hitting coach in Houston, but lasted just two years as hitting coach in San Diego.