The Blue Jays named their 2014 Minor League coaching staffs on Monday and, while there are a lot of familiar names in familiar roles, there are some interesting changes for the coming season.
With 2013 Buffalo manager Marty Brown leaving the organization and Buffalo pitching coach Bob Stanley becoming the major league bullpen coach, there is a lot of change in the Buffalo staff. Hitting coach John Nunnaly also leaves the Bisons to give the club a clear sweep of the three coaching positions.
Gary Allenson, 2013 manager for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, will take over the Bisons as the manager while new hire Randy St. Claire joins the organization as the Bisons’ pitching coach and Richie Hebner moves up from New Hampshire along with Allenson to serve as the hitting coach.
Moving down a level to the Double-A New Hamsphire Fisher Cats we have Bobby Meacham managing. Meacham was the manager of Dunedin last year and gets a promotion to NH. The pitching coach is Jim Czajkowski who was the pitching coach in Vancouver last year. This represents one of the biggest jumps I’ve seen. Czajkowski obviously got a good reputation working with the pitchers in Vancouver. I know Charlie Caskey (who writes for Jays Journal and Your Van Cs) spoke to Jim quite a lot and I look forward to meeting him when I get to New Hamsphire. The hitting coach is Jon Nunnally who, we’ve been told, wasn’t getting demoted but that it’s just a different assignment within the organization.
The question about whether the hitting coach job at the Triple-A or Double-A level is more important is an interesting one. When you consider the number of minor league free agents that the Blue Jays had in Buffalo last year, you might argue that it would be more important to get one of your best hitting coaches in Double-A where you’re more likely to have a greater number of home-grown prospects. Double-A is also said to be one of the biggest jumps in professional baseball where pitchers are much more mature, all have better stuff and know how to use it more effectively. However, Richie Hebner did some good work in NH last year, helping make adjustments with Andy Burns and getting excellent performances out of A.J. Jimenez, Ryan Schimpf, Brad Glenn and Gabe Jacobo. Nunnally didn’t get a lot out of young guys like Moises Sierra or Anthony Gose (Gose in particular seemed to work better with Chad Mottola) and it seems like the most productive offensive players in Buffalo were the minor league veterans like Mauro Gomez, Jim Negrych and Luis Jimenez.
In Dunedin, Omar Malave takes over the club as manager. Malave has been in the Jays organization for a long time, serving as manager for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays as far back as 1991. The 50 year old has managed as high as Triple-A (2000-2003) but has been in Dunedin with either the Jays’ High-A club or the Rookie League club since 2004. For what it’s worth, Malave had only one season in the Florida State League where he had a record under .500 (although his winning percentage was .367 last year in the GCL). Returning to Dunedin are pitching coach Darold Knowles and hitting coach Stubby Clapp.
For the club in Lansing, the Blue Jays have left manager John Tamargo in place along with pitching coach Vince Horsman (you can hear my interview Horsman by checking out the podcasts). Moving up from Bluefield is hitting coach Ken Huckaby. Huckaby had tremendous success with the hitters in Bluefield, particularly with Matt Dean. Dean had a horrible 2012 at the same level and really turned things around in 2013. Huckaby will get a chance to stay with a lot of the hitters he was working with in Bluefield like Dean, Mitch Nay, Dawel Lugo and D.J. Davis who are all expected to start 2014 in Lansing.
In Vancouver, there are some big changes afoot. Dave Pano returns as the hitting coach but Clayton McCullough takes a different position in the organization while John Schneider returns to manage. Schneider’s only season managing the Canadians resulted in their first of three consecutive Northwest League championships. Schneider managed the Jays GCL team last year. With Jim Czajkowski moving up to New Hampshire, Jeff Ware was hired to take over the pitching staff in Vancouver. Ware was a former pitching coach with the Yankees’ FSL team and a former pitcher with the Blue Jays.
In Bluefield, the Blue Jays have returned manager Dennis Holmberg and pitching coach Antonio (Tony) Caceres to their previous jobs. The club has not yet named a hitting coach.
For the GCL team, the 2013 Lansing hitting coach, Kenny Graham will get a shot to manage down in Florida. Graham was the the Lansing hitting coach in 2013. His pitching coach, Willie Collazo, was a player/coach last season and will join the organization as a full time coach in 2014. Paul Elliott returns to the GCL Blue Jays as a hitting coach.
In the Dominican Summer League, the Blue Jays have Jose Mateo (manager), Oswald Peraza (pitching), Rafael Lazo (pitching), Carlos Villalobos (hitting), Rene Garcia (infield), Luis Hurtado (catching) and Julio Germosen (coach) on the staff.
The coordinators for the Blue Jays stay mostly the same with Doug Davis as the Field Coordinator (read his interview — check out the interview section), Dane Johnson as the pitching coordinator, Mike Barnett as the hitting coordinator, Mike Mordecai as the infield coordinator, Tim Raines as the outfield and baserunning coordinator and Sal Fasano as the catching coordinator. Rick Langford returns as the pitching rehab/roving pitching instructor while Steve Springer fills the same position on the hitting side.
The most interesting name on the list of coordinators is Clayton McCullough. McCullough is only 34 years old but has been managing in the Blue Jays’ organization since 2007 and has two Northwest League championships under his belt (including a Manager of the Year award in his first year). McCullough was also brought to Toronto for the first part of the 2013 season to serve as the bullpen catcher in order to learn more about the Blue Jays major league squad and coaching in general. His new position of Coordinator of Instruction could be a very big move for the young manager. This could very well signal that the Blue Jays are grooming him for bigger positions in the future.
UPDATE: The Blue Jays have named Cesar Martin the Bluefield hitting coach. Thanks to Minor Leaguer (@Minor_Leaguer) for the info.