Dustin Kelly was getting used to his new job as field coordinator for the minor league Chicago Cubs when an unexpected opportunity presented itself.
Kelly didn’t expect team president Jed Hoyer to approach him with an offer to become major league hitting coach. Kelly’s two years with the organization gave him a chance to take on the challenge.
“The relationships I’ve built and some of the things that have happened in the lower leagues over the last few years – it just felt like a very natural fit to me,” Kelly said on Wednesday.
Kelly touted a collective approach to the striking coaching staff, which includes assistants Johnny Washington, Juan Cabreja and Jim Adduci. This premier league staff model has become more popular over the past few years. The Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Detroit Tigers are among the teams that have at least three hitting coaches on their staffs.
Kelly noted that first base coach Mike Napoli will also be able to provide insight into the right-handed Cubs batters from his corner of the field – the coaches are blocked from seeing these batters from the open side at Wrigley Field, where there is a home dugout along the third base line – and he also drew from his 12-year career.
“One of the things we talked about early on was how do we use every member of our staff that is involved with the batters who is present with those batters and determine what they’re really good at and then we’re able to that’s what we can do at the table to create a group that supports our batters,” Kelly said. “Our goal as hitting coaches is to prepare our players for whatever they need on a daily basis.
“Everyone (striking coach) has a specialty and we are going to use each of them. …a Swiss army knife is how I described it to our boys. We are one unit, one small knife, but there are many different tools in this knife that we have to use and we can pull from them depending on the situation.”
The Cubs want their hitting infrastructure to reflect what they’ve developed on the pitching side, creating continuity from the juniors to the majors and then making adjustments at the big league level. Messaging is a key element of this consistency.
“In my opinion, it’s healthy to have multiple voices in the bounce cage that players are comfortable with that perhaps my message is not reaching one particular player, but (Washington) or someone else has the ability to put it on certain dates that are be maybe simpler,” said Kelly. “We will all be checking our egos at the door. It’s a big thing that we talked about, there’s no ego here. We are the strike department. We are here to help players and whatever needs to be done for that particular player that day, we will be able to do it as a group.
Kelly has been in contact with Cubs players over the past few weeks. He asked them how last season was for them and how they are approaching the offseason. Kelly wants to find out what makes Beaters tick and get to the point where they feel comfortable with it. Some had worked with the 39-year-old over the previous two years when he was the Cubs’ minor league shot coordinator.
Hitting a coach is one of the hardest tasks in baseball, which is partly why the Cubs have been overdoing it for the last decade. For Kelly, it’s about crafting and delivering good news to the big leagues about the expectations of the organization, while empathizing with how hard it is to hit major league pitchers.
“We’re going to prepare our players and they’ll see that and they’ll know that when our group comes into the cage they’ll be ready to play every night and they’ll be prepared for pitchers and situations and to manage at-whips and work counting when we need to work and put the ball in play,” said Kelly. “Setting really clear expectations … as Cubs batters will really help.”
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