Pirates begin search for hitting coach
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012, 2:40 p.m.
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The makeup of the Pirates' coaching staff for next season will be discussed Friday when manager Clint Hurdle and members of the front office huddle in Bradenton, Fla.
The team already is searching for a hitting coach, as Gregg Ritchie on Thursday was named head coach at George Washington University. Hurdle did not rule out the possibility of other departures after team executives evaluate the staff's performance in 2012.
“We haven't engaged in those formal discussions yet,” Hurdle said by phone from Pirate City.
Hurdle spent the first part of this week working with players in Instructional League. Thursday and Friday are set aside for meetings with general manager Neal Huntington, player development staff and scouts.
Management has drawn up a list of candidates — internal and external — to replace Ritchie, but no one has been contacted.
“We're going to be aggressive,” Hurdle said. “We want to get the right guy. But we don't need to be in a rush about it. There might be one or two guys who come available after the playoffs.”
The Pirates' .243 batting average ranked 14th out of 16 teams in the National League and was 11 points below the league average. The Pirates also ranked 14th in hits and on-base percentage, 10th in runs per game (4.02), fourth in home runs and ninth in slugging percentage.
“We know what our weaknesses were,” Hurdle said. “We're looking for a guy who can connect the dots. I'm not looking for a swing doctor. I'm looking for someone with (major league) experience, but it's not a deal-breaker. We've got a couple of internal options who don't have (major league) experience.”
Triple-A Indianapolis hitting coach Jeff Branson and Double-A Altoona coach Ryan Long are likely to be considered. Neither has coached in the big leagues, although both played in the majors.
Meek is a free agent
Minor league relievers Evan Meek and Doug Slaten and utilityman Drew Sutton filed for free agency.
In 2010, Meek made 70 appearances and earned an All-Star bid. However, beset by injuries and inconsistency, the righty pitched in just 36 games over the past two seasons. Meek, 29, went unclaimed on waivers after being designated for assignment when Rick van den Hurk was added to the 40-man roster.
Slaten, 32, had a 2.77 ERA in 10 outings this year. The left-hander refused an assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis. Sutton, 29, hit .243 in 24 games. His walkoff homer July 3 against the Houston Astros was one of the highlights' of the season.
Baseball America rates right-hander Gerrit Cole among the top prospects this past season in the High-A Florida State League (where Cole is ranked No. 2) and the Double-A Eastern League (where he's ranked No. 3). Cole was promoted June 20 from Bradenton to Altoona.
Pirates minor leaguers Jameson Taillon (No. 3) and shortstop Gift Ngoepe (No. 20) also are ranked among the top FSL prospects. Baseball America said Taillon, who was promoted to Altoona in August, did not play long enough in the Eastern League to merit best-prospect consideration.
In the Low-A South Atlantic League, West Virginia outfielder Gregory Polanco is ranked third and shortstop Alen Hanson is ranked sixth.
The Pirates have four players among the Gulf Coast League (rookie ball) picks: catchers Wyatt Mathisen (No. 5) and Jin-De Jhang (No. 19), second baseman Dilson Herrera (No. 7) and right-hander Tyler Glasnow (No. 9). Three State College players are on the short-season Class A New York-Penn League list: righties Luis Heredia (No. 2) and Clay Holmes (No. 15) and outfielder Barrett Barnes (No. 10).
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7811.
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The best candidate for the hitting coach job is already in the organization: Jeff Branson. His record of turning marginal hitters into prospects, some of which are once again struggling with the parent club is indisputable. Guys like Neil Walker who by all accounts was close to being release all but owes his career to Branson and Andrew McCutchen was a speed prospect with little home run power until he worked under Branson and became one of the games most discipline hitters. Indeed the only draw back to him being hired as the Pirates's hitting coach is that his patient, disciplined approach to hitting that values walks, on base percentage and not making outs is bound to clash with Hurdle's aggressive, swing at everything bat to the ball approach... which is really only a problem so far as the team is unwilling to see that Branson is also the best candidate to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates as well.