Thursday, February 28, 2019

Meet the 2019 Yankees: 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 last winter when he accepted a spot on new Yankees manager Aaron Boone’s staff. Willits is back in the same position here in 2019, so let's meet him once again. 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. For the 2018 season, Willits was promoted to first base coach for Aaron Boone's New York Yankees and saw the team reach the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, before ultimatrly falling to the eventual World Series Champions. Willits is back with the Yankees, and under Boone, for the 2019 season at the first base coach position, hoping this time he sees his season end in the World Series and in the Canyon of Heroes.

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 the 2019 Yankees: 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. In 2017, 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 in 2018, and they did so when the team hired former catcher P.J. Pilittere. Now that is has been confirmed that P.J. will be back in the same position here in 2019, 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 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. P.J. is back with the Yankees in the same position here in 2019 and will look to continue his success with the likes of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, and others. Do us proud, and bring us a ring.

Meet the 2019 Yankees: 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 in 2018 and will return to the same position as the team’s third base coach in 2019, 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 return to the same position here in 2019. Nevin 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 back to the organization, and more importantly welcome back to the family. Do us proud.

TGP Trivia and Fact of the Day for February 28th, 2019

Good morning Yankees family!!

The enormous video screen at Yankee Stadium in center field measures 59-feet-by-101-feet. That results in some seriously huge highlights.

And my heart is so huge with you, my Kari, that is constantly overflows for you. I love you so very much!