Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Meet a Coach: Reggie Willits

Last, but certainly not least, is a name that I can remember the Yankees signing to a Minor League deal way back when. Reggie Willits obviously knows the game and has been around the game for much of his adult life, now the former outfielder finds himself as the first base coach for the New York Yankees. Dreams really do come true, so let’s meet the man who saw his dreams come to fruition this winter when he accepted a spot on new Yankees manager Aaron Boone’s staff. This is Meet a Coach: The Reggie Willits Edition.

Reggie Gene Willits was born on May 30, 1981 to Gene and Judy Willits, both of Fort Cobb, Oklahoma. Willits attended both junior high and high school at Fort Cobb-Broxton before attending Seminole State College in Seminole, Oklahoma. Willits eventually transferred to the University of Oklahoma where he played baseball for the Oklahoma Sooners. While with Oklahoma he caught the eye of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who drafted Willits in the seventh round, 210th overall, of the 2003 MLB First Year Players Draft. Willits made his MLB debut with the club just three years later on April 26, 2006 and even made the Angels Opening Day roster in 2007.

When all was said and done Willits spent five seasons with the Angels before being designated for assignment by the team on August 17, 2011. After the 2011 season Willits elected free agency but was unable to find a job before the 2012 season. Willits took the 2012 season off away from the game before returning to the game in 2013 as the head baseball coach for Binger-Olney High School. Willits was their head coach for two seasons before joining the New York Yankees organization in 2015 as their outfield and baserunning coordinator, a position he held until the 2018 season. This season Willits has been promoted to the Yankees first base coach position with new manager Aaron Boone, congratulations to the former MLB player.

Reggie Willits was named after another Yankees great, Reggie Jackson. No pressure Reggie, but with a name like that we expect big things. Congrats again on the promotion, do us proud!

Meet a Coach: P.J. Pilittere

It seems like about ten years ago or so every team in Major League Baseball went from having just one hitting coach at the Major League level to two hitting coaches. Eventually the New York Yankees caught up with the times and hired an assistant hitting coach to help out with their crew of sluggers the team employs, and this year will be no different. Last season New York had Marcus Thames in the position but after a promotion for Thames the team needed to fill the position with another former Yankees farmhand, and they did so when the team hired former catcher P.J. Pilittere. Let’s meet the Yankees Assitant Hitting Coach. This is Meet a Coach: The P.J. Pilittere Edition.

Peter John Pilittere was born on November 23, 1981 and is the current assistant hitting coach for the New York Yankees. The Yankees are the only organization that Pilittere has ever known as this was the team that drafted him out of college. Pilittere attended California State University, Fullerton, better known as Cal State Fullerton, where the Yankees drafted him in the 13th round of the 2004 MLB First Year Players Draft. Pilittere toiled around in the Yankees Minor League system until the 2011 season making various stops around the farm.

After Pilittere decided to retire he became a coach for numerous teams with the Yankees minor league affiliates before finally landing his first MLB gig here in 2018. I love watching one of the Yankees own not only play through their minor league system, but also work their way through their minor league system all the way to the Major Leagues as either a player, a coach or both. Congratulations to P.J., and good luck in the new position. I have a feeling with this lineup that P.J. won’t need it, but good luck nonetheless.

Meet a Coach: Phil Nevin

The New York Yankees saw much of their coaching staff leave when Joe Girardi was asked not to return to his managerial position in 2018, and that included their bench coach, first base coach, hitting coach and their third base coach. The Yankees sought to promote from within at a lot of these positions, but one man opened enough eyes outside the Yankees organization to garner an interview, and eventually a job with the team. Phil Nevin was named to manager Aaron Boone’s staff this winter as the team’s third base coach, so let’s meet the man with the thankless job of sending and holding runners at third base all season long. This is Meet a Coach: The Phil Nevin Edition.

Phillip Joseph Nevin was born on January 19, 1971 in California where the right-hander attended El Dorado High School in Placentia, California. After graduating from high school the Los Angeles Dodgers took a waiver on the infielder by selecting him in the third round of the 1989 MLB First Year Players Draft. The Dodgers were prepared to give Nevin a $100,000 signing bonus to forego his college commitment and to begin his professional career, but in the end Nevin decided he would attend California State University, Fullerton, better known as Cal State Fullerton. As a two-sport star at Cal State Fullerton, Nevin played both baseball and football, Nevin represented both teams to the fullest as a kicker and as a third baseman. Nevin led the Titans to the College World Series final as a Junior, although his team did lose to the eventual champion Pepperdine Waves baseball team and won the CWS Most Outstanding Player award. Nevin’s contributions to the Titans led the the Houston Astros to take Nevin with the first overall pick in the 1992 MLB First Year Players Draft. Much controversy was had after Nevin, and not eventual New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter, was taken first overall, especially by Houston Astros scout Hal Newhouser.

Newhouser was a scout for the Astros who had evaluated Jeter extensively prior to the Draft and had lobbied team management to select Jeter. When the Astros decided to pick Nevin instead Newhouser quit in protest over the decision. The Astros were worried that Jeter would want a signing bonus in excess of $1 million to sign with them and forego his college commitment, while the team thought the team could sign Nevin, a college Junior, for significantly less. When all he negotiations were complete the Astros thought they had their third baseman of the future after signing Nevin in June of 1992 for just $700,000.

Nevin traveled with the Astros at the end of the 1992 season despite being on the team’s active roster as the team prepared their third baseman to go to the Arizona Fall League. Nevin showed he needed little work in the Minor Leagues during the Fall League of 1992 and during Spring Training camp in 1993 where he hit .350 and showed tremendous power for the Astros. The team considered letting him skip the Minor Leagues all together and even considered letting him immediately start in the Major Leagues on Opening Day 1993, but the team ultimately decided to start him down at Triple-A with the Tucson Toros due to the fact that the team already had a third baseman in Ken Caminiti manning the position. While in Triple-A the Astros tried to get Nevin to learn left field so both he and Caminiti could be on the field at the same time, but Nevin began the season with a .247 batting average quelling any decisions to immediately promote him to the Major Leagues, at least for a little while. Nevin ultimately ended the 1993 season with a .286 batting average, 10 home runs and 91 RBI, but it was not enough to warrant a trip to the Major Leagues that season. Nevin was back in Triple-A to begin the 1994 season as well and this time he had a new position to learn, the first base position.

Nevin’s MLB debut was delayed due to less-than-stellar defense, Nevin committed 61 errors in his first two seasons, and the MLB work stoppage in 1994 that cancelled the World Series and delayed the opening of the 1995 season. Before the 1995 season the San Diego Padres had seen enough of Nevin down in Triple-A and decided to trade Caminiti to the San Diego Padres, thus opening the door for Nevin to play third base for the team. Nevin, in a bit of a head scratcher, was not invited to the team’s spring training camp for the 1995 season. Nevin and teammate Billy Wagner had previously refused to play with replacement players at the Major League level which many attributed to why Nevin was not invited to camp that season. Nevin started the 1995 season back down in Triple-A, but eventually he did too much with the bat to warrant being down there and the Astros finally promoted him to the Major Leagues on June 10 of that season. Nevin played in just 18 games that season, struggling with a .117 batting average and no home runs before being demoted back to Triple-A. Nevin, when learning of the news, cursed at Astros General Manager Bob Watson and their manager Terry Collins, an incident he would later have to apologize for.

Before the 1996 season the Houston Astros traded Nevin and his presumed bad attitude to the Detroit Tigers for pitcher Mike Henneman. Nevin was assigned to the Tigers Double-A team where he was converted into a catcher. After the 1997 season Nevin was traded once again alongside catcher Matt Walbeck to the Anaheim Angels, where former manager Terry Collins was now managing, for minor leaguer Nick Skuse. Nevin could never seemingly stay in one place for long at the beginning of his career and he was on the move again before the 1999 season after the Angels traded Nevin and minor league player Keith Volkman to the San Diego Padres. With the Padres in 1999 Nevin appeared in 100 games for the first time during his Major League career. Nevin seemingly found his way while out in San Diego enjoying a productive 2000 season before being named to the National League All-Star team in 2001 after hitting 41 home runs and knocking in 126 RBI. Nevin did lead the league in errors at third base with 27, but his offensive production more than made up for that for the Padres.

Nevin was converted back to first base for the 2002 season, his strongest defensively by many metrics and stats, but injuries would tell the tales of his 2002 and 2003 seasons, and not his defense or offensive production. In 2002 Nevin strained his elbow, then three games after returning from the elbow injury he broke his arm diving for a ground ball missing six additional weeks. In 2003 Nevin dislocated his shoulder in spring training and did not return until the month of June after left shoulder surgery. By July Nevin was back under the knife after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee in July. In Nevin’s absence the Padres acquired Rondell White to replace Nevin in the outfield while allowing Ryan Klesko to play first base and rookie Sean Burroughs to man the hot corner at third base, pushing Nevin to a utility role.

Nevin and Padres GM Kevin Towers were said to have a “love-hate” relationship and that relationship was almost severed on July 25, 2005 after the Padres agreed to trade Nevin to the Baltimore Orioles for RHP Sidney Ponson. Nevin exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to block a trade to one of eight teams, one of those franchises being the Baltimore Orioles, but was ultimately traded five days later on July 30, 2005 to the Texas Rangers for Chan Ho Park. Nevin slumped while with the Rangers, and so did Texas who went 1-12 in Nevin’s first 13 games, which ultimately ended in him being benched after the team was eliminated from playoff contention.

Nevin had one year left on his contract for the 2006 season and he hoped that playing DH for the Rangers would revitalize his game and put to rest any rumors of him losing bat speed as he aged. Nevin continued to struggle in 2006 batting just .216 with nine home runs and 31 RBI in 46 games which prompted the team to call up rookie Jason Botts, who received the bulk of Nevin’s playing time. The Rangers ultimately traded Nevin to the Chicago Cubs who needed a first baseman to replace the injured Derrick Lee on May 31, 2006 for Jerry Hairston, Jr. Three months later Nevin was traded once again on August 31, 2006 to the Minnesota Twins for cash and a player to be named later. Nevin appeared in the postseason for the first time that season with the Twins, although Minnesota was ultimately swept by the Oakland Athletics in three games. Nevin appeared in just one of those games, batting 0-for-3.

That would be Nevin’s final game as the former third baseman and utility player announced his retirement prior to the 2007 season. Nevin played 12 seasons at the Major League level hitting 208 home runs and driving in 743 RBI with a career .270 batting average. Nevin spent the 2007 season as a member of the Padres’ pre-game radio show and as an analyst for ESPN during the college baseball regionals during the annual College World Series.

Nevin returned to baseball as a manager in 2008 after being named the manager of the Orange County Flyers in the Independent Golden Baseball League. Nevin managed the Flyers in 2008 and 2009, and planned to do so again in 2010, but after attending the winter meetings in 2010 the former MLB player was named the manager of the Erie SeaWolves, the Class-AA minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, replacing former manager Tom Brookens after Brookens was promoted to first base coach at the Major League level. Nevin spent one season with the SeaWlves before being promoted to Triple-A with the Tigers AAA team, the Toledo Mud Hens before the 2011 season. Nevin lasted two seasons with Toledo before being fired on August 31, 2013 after managing to a 192-238 record over his three seasons.

Nevin bounced back for the 2014 season finding a job with the Arizona Diamondbacks managing their Triple-A team, the Reno Aces. In his first season with the Aces, Nevin led the team to the best record in the Pacific Coast League, 81-63, and an eventual Pacific Coast League Championship Series berth. Nevin remained with the organization for the 2015 and 2016 season before the San Francisco Giants named Nevin their third-base coach for the 2017, replacing Roberto Kelly. After the 2017 season the New York Yankees and new manager Aaron Boone came calling in hopes that Nevin would accept the same position with their team in the Bronx for 2018. Nevin ultimately decided to make the move to the Bronx and will now be sending players home with an exaggerated windmill type arm motion all season long. It’s a thankless job, Phil. Especially in the Bronx. I hope you’re ready. Good luck, welcome to the organization, and more importantly welcome to the family. Do us proud.

With Great Disappointment Comes Great Opportunity

Two weeks is a long time. I mean, so much can happen. For instance, somebody such as myself can spend a week in central Florida and go to Universal Studios, swim with manatees, visit a sister he rarely sees, go to a handful of beaches/parks, search for alligators (but sadly fail... it's still too cold), and walk around George M. Steinbrenner Field.

And two weeks ago I thought I had the Yankees Opening Day roster figured out. Perhaps you could take out somebody from the bullpen and add a bat to the bench, but the lineup was a sure thing. Here's what I had...

Starting Lineup
C-Gary Sanchez
1B-Greg Bird
2B-Neil Walker
SS-Didi Gregorius
3B-Brandon Drury
LF-Brett Gardner
CF-Aaron Hicks
RF-Aaron Judge
DH-Giancarlo Stanton

Austin Romine (C/1B)
Ronald Torreyes (2B/SS/3B)
Jacoby Ellsbury (OF) *If Ellsbury is not ready then I believe Tyler Austin will be on the bench instead.

Starting Rotation
1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. Luis Severino
3. Sonny Gray
4. CC Sabathia
5. Jordan Montgomery

Aroldis Chapman
David Robertson
Dellin Betances
Chad Green
Tommy Kahnle
Chasen Shreve
Adam Warren
Jonathan Holder

While guys like Austin Romine had good springs (he hit .394/.447/.545), the one man many fans wanted to see get a shot was Tyler Wade. Wade didn't hit for much power (his slugging percentage was .391), but his batting average (.283) and especially his on-base percentage (.404) really caught people's eye. But there was nowhere to play.

Sure, Tyler could have platooned at second base with Neil Walker, but personally I really didn't like that idea. I don't like when high-ceiling prospects like Wade are stuck in part-time roles. I'd rather see them play regularly in AAA, and hone their craft at the same time, than spend a significant amount of time on the bench.

On that note, I believe catchers are a different animal. Catchers are responsible for so much on the field, from working with pitchers to communicating with fielders, that sitting on the bench and watching/learning is necessary to their development. Pitchers are kind of the same, as they can learn and develop while working as relievers before starting again.

But players at other positions need to play regularly. I suppose they can learn from watching on the bench, like they do when watching video, but the vast majority of their learning comes from playing.

So that's why Tyler Wade was not a part of my Opening Day roster. I wanted him playing nearly every day.

Well, here we are two weeks later, and things have certainly changed.

As I sit here typing today I'm excited. Not because we won't see Greg Bird for a couple of months (or more), but because Tyler Wade now has a shot.

It seems likely that Wade and Neil Walker will share duties at second base. It's not the "every day" role I'd like for him, but I believe Tyler will play enough to make his time with the Yankees worth it. And now it's time for him to expand on what he did this spring, and move further away from the guy we saw that hit .155/.222/.224 in his first taste of the show.

From here on out this is how I see things going...

1. Fans will start screaming for Aaron Boone to play Tyler Wade most days at second base over Neil Walker. Not so much because Wade is hitting better than Walker, but because fans will believe that with regular playing time Tyler would bat better. I'm not so sure.

2. Gleyber Torres is going to own AAA. He hit .309/.406/.457 in 23 games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, and while he may start off a bit slow after his injury and time off it won't be long until he's putting up similar numbers again. And that will lead to many Yankees fans clamoring for him to be promoted to the Yankees.

3. Brandon Drury will be slightly below average. He'll get some hate from fans that expect him to help the team the way Didi Gregorius does now, except they will forget that Didi was a below average batter in his first two seasons on New York. But the fact will remain that he won't keep anyone down.

4. Miguel Andujar will build off of his 2017 season with the RailRiders. This is significant not only for him, but it will also keep Torres at second base, and the whole "Gleyber the 3B" thing we once saw will remain a thing of the past.

5. Andujar will be the first promoted from AAA, and will take over for the "good but not good enough" Brandon Drury at third base. By the way, Drury may not play as often, but he will get a decent amount of playing time while giving other infielders a day off here and there.

6. While the demand for Torres to be promoted will start in a month, it'll be nearly June before Gleyber will be pushing too hard to ignore. This will lead to Tyler Wade being pushed aside... losing his playing time to Gleyber at second base, and eventually demoted as there is no room on the big league roster for him.

7. I don't see Greg Bird returning any time soon. We won't see him in six weeks, we won't see him in eight weeks, heck... we won't see him in 10 weeks. The Yankees will take their time with Bird because not only do they want to make sure he's healthy when he returns, but they'll want to keep giving Neil Walker playing time at first base.

8. By June 1st the regular infield will include Miguel Andujar at 3B, Didi Gregorius at SS, Gleyber Torres at 2B, and Neil Walker at 1B. Meanwhile, Tyler Wade will be sent to AAA to make room on the bench for Drury (along with Torreyes, Ellsbury and Romine).

9. The Yankees will push Greg Bird's return back until late July (he will be eased back into action so Neil Walker still gets significant playing time) when they will make a trade for a starting pitcher. Tyler Austin could be involved in a trade as he's already spent 133 games in AAA, but the Yankees lack of good 1B depth will keep him around. Here's my big prediction here... based on the roster construction I think the Yankees will flip Brandon Drury. So it'll be Brandon Drury, Tyler Wade, Chance Adams (who will be ready more than ready to step into a starting role in MLB), and another piece or two for a starting pitcher.

10. After the trade deadline the Yankees roster will look like this...

Starting Lineup
C-Gary Sanchez
1B-Greg Bird
2B-Gleyber Torres
SS-Didi Gregorius
3B-Miguel Andujar
LF-Brett Gardner
CF-Aaron Hicks
RF-Aaron Judge
DH-Giancarlo Stanton

Austin Romine (C/1B)
Neil Walker (2B/1B)
Ronald Torreyes (2B/3B/SS)
Jacoby Ellsbury (OF)

Starting Rotation
1. Luis Severino
2. New Guy (sorry, don't have a prediction for who... yet)
3. Masahiro Tanaka
4. Sonny Gray
5. CC Sabathia

Aroldis Chapman
David Robertson
Dellin Betances
Chad Green
Tommy Kahnle
Chasen Shreve
Adam Warren
Jordan Montgomery (I think he'll take a step back after last season, and will lose his starting role so he can find himself again out of the bullpen... a la Luis Severino)

I didn't think too hard about the bullpen, so it's quite possible that guys like Domingo Acevedo, Domingo German, and others work there way in there.

Funny, this all started with me wanting to simply point out that Tyler Wade was going to get an opportunity that he otherwise would not have had if Greg Bird weren't injured. And this is what it turned into. What can I say? It's easy for me to go off on tangents when it comes to the Yankees. Hopefully that's a good thing.

Thanks again for reading, and let's go Yanks!

By the way, I took a total of 29 pictures at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Let me know if you want me to post them all here for you.

The Dawn of the New Pinstriped Season...

Life begins on the Northern Shore of Lake Ontario...

The Yankees will be working out at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada today in preparation for tomorrow’s Opener against the Blue Jays. Tuesday was an off-day for the Yanks after they flew into Canada from Atlanta, GA on Monday evening.  Soon, the 2018 Yankees will take the field for the first meaningful game of the year. Luis Severino versus J.A. Happ. It should be a terrific game!

While the Yankees players, coaches and road crew were enjoying the sights and sounds of Toronto yesterday, the Blue Jays were completing their Spring schedule with an exhibition game in Montreal, Quebec against the St Louis Cardinals. In what may have been the greatest meaningless game finish ever, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr, son of Hall of Famer and former Montreal Expos great Vlad the Great, delivered a walk-off home run to beat the Cardinals at Olympic Stadium in front of 25,186 fans. Vlad Jr appropriately wore his father’s #27 as he circled the bases in the bottom of the 9th. It had to be one of the finest moments of training camp. Fortunately for the Yankees, Little Vlad is still a few years away from the Majors. I am sure that he’ll one day become a thorn in our side but gladly it won’t be this week. It was a very nice moment for the Blue Jays, the Guerreros, and the city of Montreal. 

Photo Credit: The Canadian Press (Paul Chiasson) 

I am not going to try and make any predictions for the upcoming season. Daniel Burch of The Greedy Pinstripes did an excellent job with his predictions over the past week so I’ll leave the season forecasts to him. Nevertheless, I do have one thought about his AL East prediction that has the Yankees winning the division by four games over the Boston Red Sox. I personally think the battle between the Red Sox and Yankees will be closer than four games by season’s end but I guess we’ll find out come October. J.D. Martinez will help the team’s offense and David Price and Rick Porcello will have much better years in the starting rotation. I have no reason to believe Boston will win fewer games than they did last year. 

Speaking of the Red Sox, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe voiced his displeasure on Twitter about the reference of a single Boston player as a Red Sock. Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee and J.D. Martinez is a Red Sox? Sorry, that doesn’t work. Martinez is a Red Sock although Red Sux certainly works too.

Former Yankee Robert Refsnyder seems to be on a mission to play for all five AL East teams.  The latest victim for his services are the Tampa Bay Rays who acquired the former Yankees prospect from the Cleveland Indians yesterday for cash considerations. The Yankees had traded Refsnyder to the Blue Jays last summer but he was claimed on waivers by the Tribe during the off-season. It’s only a matter of time until Ref works his way through Baltimore to get to Beantown where I am sure that he’ll have a Hall of Fame career (um, probably not).

Speaking of former Yankees, I don’t think there’s one more beloved than Oakland A’s center fielder Dustin Fowler. Yankees fans everywhere are pulling for the former Pinstriped prospect who blew out his knee last summer in Chicago during his Major League debut for the Yankees against the White Sox. Fowler has been in a battle all Spring with Boog Powell for the A’s starting job in center. A’s manager Bob Melvin has said that the starter will go down to the wire.  We’re at the wire so I assume that we’ll soon find out if Fowler has won the job or if the 23-year-old will take a trip to Triple A to fine tune his offensive skills. An excellent defender, he batted .222/.245/.267 with .512 OPS in Cactus League play for the A’s with no homers and five RBIs. He struck out 13 times in 45 at-bats. Powell’s numbers are not much better but Fowler is younger (by two years) and would benefit more from a demotion to Nashville to play for the Sounds (once a Yankees farm team, by the way). Either way, I will be pulling for Fowler this year and I look forward to his MLB debut for the A’s, hoping for much better results than the last time he took the field during regular season play.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Christian Petersen)

The guys who cover the Yankees beat for NJ Advance Media (Randy Miller and Brendan Kuty) are fantastic at their jobs. Kuty posted the following prediction today on the website which I absolutely love:  “(Brandon) Drury, if healthy, stays the third base starter all year. I’ve said it a billion times but I feel like that trade may end up like the Gregorius trade.” Admittedly, expecting Drury to perform like Didi has in Pinstripes is asking a lot, but I am a firm believer in Drury’s high ceiling and abilities and I think the Yankees will coax great years out of the player. I like his demeanor and his unbreakable focus on baseball. He may not be a comedian like Didi or as fun-loving (at least to the outside observer) as some of his teammates but I appreciate his dedication to becoming the best player he can be.  I am a big fan of Drury regardless of how much I like Miguel Andujar. I think Drury is going to win over many fans in the upcoming days and months. 

Ken Davidoff has long been one of my favorite Yankees beat writers. Due to the crazy reduction of quality personnel in the newspaper business, Davidoff has found himself with The New York Post. He wrote a great article this morning about the inside story on how Aaron Boone became the manager of the New York Yankees. It is a very insightful piece and one that makes me even more excited that Boonie is the leader of Baseball’s greatest team.

Who will hit the first home run for the Yankees this year? My pick is El Gary Sanchez. I think he’ll go yard before the massive bats of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Watch, one of the lighter hitters on the team like Tyler Wade will circle the bases first.

Now that Dellin Betances seems to be rounding back into All-Star form, I am really excited about the potential of the Yankees bullpen. Dellin is the key to success. I think Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green and the rest of the crew will be perform to their usual superior levels but my biggest concern was Betances given how untrustworthy he had become late last season. I think we’ll see a much stronger and more consistent Chapman but I was fearful that continued control problems by Dellin would be the undoing of the bullpen. But based on his most recent performances, the old Dellin is back and ready for success. This is the single greatest factor in the bullpen, in my opinion.

It is disappointing that Greg Bird will miss 6-8 weeks following ankle surgery yesterday to remove a coin-sized calcium deposit but it is what it is. I am not ready to pull the Nick Johnson card. I remain optimistic Bird will have a memorable 2018 season and will produce his share of home runs. In the interim, I am fine with the first base duo of Tyler Austin and Neil Walker. Austin has never truly been given a chance like this before so it's his moment to shine. I am hopeful he grabs his opportunity to make his mark.  

It’s exciting that the Baseball Season is finally here. How awesome will it be to see Giancarlo Stanton in a Yankees road gray uniform tomorrow? Judgie (Boone’s word, not mine), Sir Didi, El Gary, Gardy, Sevy, and more. Our favorite baseball team is back and ready for action. It is a very exciting time to be a Yankees fan. There’s plenty of room aboard the Bandwagon for those who want to jump on. Let the homers and emoji’s fly! We have a World Series championship to win. Let’s get started…

Go Yankees!

Meet a Coach: Marcus Thames

The New York Yankees are expecting to have an offensive juggernaut take the field day in and day out throughout the 2018 season with nine-or-ten guys that are capable of coming up with a big hit, drawing a big walk and keeping the line moving on any given night. With a lineup that will consist of some combination of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, Neil Walker, Gary Sanchez, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Brandon Drury, and Gleyber Torres (eventually) you have to think the easiest job in all of baseball here in 2018 has to belong to the Yankees hitting coach, Marcus Thames. Now while I exaggerate just a tad about his job being easy, I don’t at all when I say that his job has to be one of the more fun jobs to possess here this season working with that cast of guys. Let’s meet the man in charge of keeping the Yankees offense up to the task of putting up crooked numbers in any inning of any game this season. This is Meet a Coach: The Marcus Thames Edition.

Marcus Markley Thames, born March 6, 1977, played with four different teams including the New York Yankees three separate times during his playing career from 2002 to 2011 and has since spent his time in the minor leagues with the club as a coach. During the 2013 season Thames was the hitting coach for the High-A Tampa Yankees and was promoted to the Trenton Thunder in the same position for the 2014 season drawing rave reviews from one of the then Yankees top prospects Robert Refsnyder and others.

Thames was originally drafted by the New York Yankees in the 30th round of the 1996 MLB Draft but did not make a true impact in the minor leagues until 2001. Thames was with the Double-A Norwich Navigators that season, and he batted .321 with 31 home runs and 97 RBI where he was named to Baseball America’s minor league All-Star team and where he put himself on the map for the Yankees. New York was so impressed with Thames that they called him up before a June 10 game in 2002 and Thames responded immediately. Thames, facing the Arizona Diamondbacks big left-hander Randy Johnson, hit the first home run of his career on his first at bat becoming just the 80th player in MLB history to do so. Thames earned his first curtain call from the Bronx faithful, what a moment if you were fortunate enough to see it live.

Thames’ tenure with the Yankees ended on June 6, 2003 when he was traded to the Texas Rangers for Ruben Sierra. Thames went on to hit a home run in his first at bat with the Rangers as well before moving on to the Detroit Tigers for the 2006 season. For the 2006 and 2007 seasons Thames spent time with Detroit and their Triple-A affiliate the Toledo Mud Hens due to the plethora of talent in the Detroit outfield. After injuries to Dmitri Young, Craig Monroe and others Thames worked his way into the rotation of outfielders and set career highs in every offensive category including a .256 average, 26 home runs and 60 RBI in just 348 at bats along the way. The Tigers tried to find at bats for Thames anyway they could in 2007 and had the lifetime outfielder learn first base in spring training and the team was rewarded in 2007 and in 2008 when Thames continued to impress with his power. Thames hit eight home runs in seven consecutive games from June 11 to June 17, 2008 becoming the first member of the Detroit Tigers to achieve the feat.

Thames spent the 2009 season in Detroit as well without any notable achievements but was back in the New York groove in 2010 when he signed a minor league deal with the club. Thames made the Opening Day roster and was set to be a platoon partner with Brett Gardner in left field before his defense forced him to accept a bench role. Thames was delegated to the bench behind Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Austin Kearns who was traded for before the trade deadline and ended up playing in just 82 games that season. In half of a season Kearns hit .288 with 12 home runs, mainly against left-handed pitching.

Thames elected free agency in November of 2010 but was right back with the team on July 22, 2011 after New York signed him to another minor league deal. Thames never played a game for the Yankees at any level that season and would retire from the game a member of the New York Yankees before pursuing his career in coaching with the ball club. Thames has continuously defied the odds and had defied the odds once again with his promotion to assistant hitting coach with the club before the 2016 season. Thames has continued to impress with the Yankees young hitters and has worked his way all the way to Yankees hitting coach for the 2018 season. Congratulations to him, his family and all the young Yankees hitters that he once mentored when they were in the various Yankees Minor League affiliates. It should be a fun season to watch and you would have to think that Thames will be the envy of all hitting coaches around the league here in 2018.

I mean, come on. Who doesn’t want to coach the Yankees potential offense this coming season? I know I would if Thames doesn’t want to. Just let me know. Thanks in advance.