Kevin Long, who had been the hitting coach for the Yankees the last seven seasons and saw the offense underperform the last two seasons, was fired shortly after the season ended in September. The Yankees are now going with a new approach with Jeff Pentland being the primary hitting coach and Alan Cockrell serving as the first assistant hitting coach in team history.
Pentland, who is 68, played three seasons in the minors in the San Diego Padres organization from 1969 until 1971. His first coaching position after retiring came at University of California, Riverside where he was an assistant coach from 1975 through 1982. His next step on his coaching journey took him to Arizona State where he was an assistant coach at his alma mater from 1983 through 1992. After those two collegiate coaching jobs, he made the step up to coaching in the minors and then the majors.
In 1993, he started coached in the minor leagues with the Florida Marlins and then became their Major League hitting coach in the second half of 1996. He has become well known around baseball as a solid hitting coach as he has served in that role for the Chicago Cubs (1997-2002), Kansas City Royals (2003-2005) and Seattle Mariners (2005-2008). His previous coaching role was with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who hired him in 2008 as the secondary hitting instructor and then he became the hitting coach from 2010 until July of 2011.
Pentland worked with Carlos Beltran when he was the hitting coach with the Royals and Beltran was nearing the end of his tenure with the team that signed him in 1995. They worked together for the 2003 season and 69 games of the 2004 season before Beltran was traded to the Houston Astros. In 2003, Beltran hit .307 with 26 homers, 100 RBIs, 41 steals and 10 triples. He was an All-Star in 2004 as he hit .278 with 15 homers, 51 RBIs and 14 steals in those 69 games.
Beltran is injury prone and not nearly the player he was when he was 27, 10 years ago, but it is possible that Pentland can help him regain his form from two years ago when he was an All-Star with the St. Louis Cardinals. Beltran was only able to play in 109 games last season due to a bone spur in his elbow and his wife’s miscarriage, which partly led to him only hitting .233 with 15 homers and only 49 RBIs.
He had a .296 average with 24 homers and 84 RBIs in 2013 with the Cardinals, and if Pentland can help Beltran get back to that level of productivity both of their seasons will have been a success. A bounce back year from Beltran is very important for the offense as a whole improving from last season.
Cockrell, who is 52 years old, will be the secondary person responsible for improving the Yankees offense. He was an All-American outfielder at the University of Tennessee and after being the ninth pick in the 1984 MLB draft by the San Francisco Giants he ended up playing in the minor leagues for nine seasons. He played those nine seasons with five organizations, which included five with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, and played in nine games for the Rockies in September of 1996.
He is a leader with teaching skills that should enable him to help the hitters on the team. Cockrell was a manager/hitting coach for various teams in the Rockies organization, was the hitting coach for the Rockies during the 2007 season when their offense led them to the World Series and served the same position for the Seattle Mariners during the 2009 season and part of the 2010 season.
Having an extra mind with major league hitting coach experience on the bench could help Pentland as well as the offense. Pentland will be able to get ideas from Cockrell and one of the two might be able to help certain players better than others.
The Yankees, who have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, are counting on Pentland and Cockrell to help improve the underperforming offense as they were 20th in baseball in batting average (.245), OPS (.687) runs scored (633) and 22nd in RBIs (591). A new approach from the hitting standpoint can only help based on how the offense has “performed” the last two campaigns.
Marcus Thames is a name who was rumored to possibly be the next hitting coach and deservedly so, but he was named the next hitting coach at Triple-A Scranton. Rob Refsnyder, the second baseman of the future, credits Thames for overhauling his swing last season at Double-A.
After a successful 10-year career with the Yankees, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers, he has been a productive hitting coach in the Yankees organization for the last three seasons. The Yankees have opted to go with instructors with more experience, but it is a promotion for Thames as he was the hitting coach in 2012 at Single-A and in 2013 at Double-A.