PITTSBURGH — When the Pirates fired Rick Eckstein from his position as hitting coach at the end of August, the immediate response from the organization was that they were simply recalibrating.
It wasn’t that Eckstein was doing a bad job, they insisted, it was just that the visions didn’t align. General manager Ben Cherington said in his end-of-year Zoom call that the Pirates learned a lot about their process over the last month of the season. They talked to players about what they wanted, adjusted pregame routines and moved forward. Now, they’re looking for the next hitting coach.
“So much is just about fit. It's about finding someone who has a particular skillset, experience, strengths, that complements and adds to what's already here, and someone who is really a good cultural fit with our players and our staff, someone who is interested in coming in and being a part of a team just to help players get better,” Cherington said earlier this month.
While that isn’t the most enlightening description of the qualifications the Pirates will be looking for, we can still take a hack at guessing. Here are a few candidates who might make sense:
Christian Marrero, Pirates assistant hitting coach
Marrero’s credentials aren’t too robust. The 35-year-old was brought into the Pirates’ organization last offseason after just three years of coaching experience in the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor-leagues.
But Marrero does seem to fit Cherington’s desired “culture.” Marrero is young. He said at the time of his hiring that he believes he’s able to communicate well with players because of his age. He also understands as well as anyone how difficult this game can be, playing 12 minor-league seasons, never actually cracking the major leagues.
Those in attendance for Pirates batting practice can at least see proof of Marrero’s amiable personality, as he’s often joking around and laughing with players. From the jump with manager Derek Shelton, that sort of relationship-building has been key to the kind of rebuilding effort he wants to pursue.
Plus, after Eckstein was removed from his post, some Pirates excelled in September. Outfielder Anthony Alford and utility man Cole Tucker are good examples of guys who toiled for much of the season, found their swings at the right time and went into the offseason with cause for some optimism. It’s unclear exactly how the Pirates divided the work of hitting coach between those who remained on the staff once Eckstein was gone, but Marrero surely deserves some credit for helping hold the pieces together in September.
Jon Nunnally, Class AAA Indianapolis hitting coach