A major-league hitting coach serves every position player on the roster, but there are areas of focus, individual players who are important to a team's success who might be coming off a poor season and need some remedial attention.
When Joe Dillon was hired as Phillies hitting coach two years ago, Rhys Hoskins was a player of focus. He was coming off a horrendous second half in 2019 and it was vital that the Phillies got him right because he was homegrown, under contractual control at an affordable salary for several years, and had shown the ability to be a major run producer with the potential to be even better if the team could get him right.
Dillon and Hoskins worked together in the winter leading up to the 2020 season. Hoskins at first made some changes to his swing mechanics, then he ditched the changes. But he and Dillon never stopped tweaking, adjusting and revising and the result was some strong pockets of production until injury ended both his 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Hoskins' value was confirmed after he went down in 2021. The Phils just didn't have enough offense down the stretch to complement MVP candidate Bryce Harper and break a playoff drought that now stands at 10 years.
The hard-working Dillon was let go after the 2021 season and it sure sounds like manager Joe Girardi simply had a preferred candidate in Kevin Long, whose contract was running out in Washington. This is not meant to examine the mechanics of the hire or to debate the merits of either hitting coach. Dillon is out and Long is in and it's Girardi's prerogative (and the organization's) to have whomever it wants leading his hitters, especially with his job likely on the line in 2022.
This is only meant to draw a parallel between Dillon and Hoskins and Long and Alec Bohm.
Dillon had a full class of pupils, but his early emphasis was Hoskins.
Long has a full class of pupils, but his early emphasis is Bohm.
In his introductory Zoom conference Wednesday, Long, who had been Girardi's hitting coach with the Yankees before moving on to the Mets and Nationals, revealed that he will be in Clearwater next week to begin work with Bohm. The 25-year-old third baseman has a residence in Clearwater and will spend much of the offseason at the Phillies' facility, working on his offense and defense.
And if Bohm is an early focus of Long's, he will also be an early focus for the team's new infield coach, presumed to be Bobby Dickerson.
Bohm was the No. 3 overall pick in the country in the 2018 draft. The Phillies desperately need him to be a solid contributor in 2022 and beyond that even better.
There's lots of ability there. Bohm hit .338 with an .881 OPS during the shortened season of 2020. He also played passable defense at third. But he struggled in both areas in 2021. He hit .247 with a .647 OPS. In the field, he rated as one of the worst defensive third basemen in the game, with a rating of minus-13 defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs. Eventually, with the team in a playoff chance, Girardi stopped playing Bohm and he was shipped to the minors in August.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is on record as saying the team hopes Bohm will be the opening day third baseman in 2022. Dombrowski acknowledged that Bohm needs to improve on both sides of the ball but conceded that a big leap forward on offense would gloss over some defensive shortcomings.
So Long is an important guy this winter for Bohm and the Phillies.
Bohm still has less than two years of service time and his salary will not start to climb significantly until he reaches arbitration eligibility after the 2023 season.
It's crucial that the Phillies get contributions from their young, lower-salaried players. A team can't sustain itself writing checks for players like Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler and J.T. Realmuto every year. There's a lot to this and it goes all the way back to scouting and drafting and player development, all areas where the Phillies have not shined in recent years. But in terms of what's here right now, the Phillies need something out of Alec Bohm and Long recognizes that in both the short and long view.
"I think young players are really, really important to big market teams," Long said. "Because you're going to go out and get high-dollar and high-priced superstars. But the young players, if they can perform and perform at a decent level, you give yourself a chance to win championships.
"I saw it with Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner when they were young and Melky Cabrera. I've also seen it with the Juan Sotos of the world who, if they can come in at league minimum or just over, they really help your ballclub.
"So, Alec is a big part of the Philadelphia Phillies and us winning a championship, as is every other player. I saw him in 2020 and he was one of the best hitters in the league. It's my job to figure out what was going on then and try to get him back to that high level of performance."
Long is an insightful and interesting interview. You can hear more of his thoughts on the most recent episode of the Phillies Talk Podcast. Give it a listen.