On Friday, Craig and I had a unique opportunity. We were able to get two coaches together to discuss how they help, compete, and prepare players from two very different sides of the baseball coaching spectrum.
Scott Seabol, currently a hitting instructor for the Marlins system and Eric Minshall a pitching instructor for Southern Illinois. Those of you who have read our work or listened to the Bucs In the Basement Podcast are no doubt familiar with Eric, but he is more that just a pitching coach. He has a unique gift of making the game accessible. I’ve had one great conversation with Scott in the past and knew he had the same in him. Together they opened our eyes to exactly how a pitching coach and hitting coach interact and help each other without stunting the growth of their own players.
This column is going to focus on that aspect of the conversation, but there will be much more on the podcast, do plan to listen, it will premier Monday night on the live show at 9:00!
Eric has coached for over 20 years and last year latched on with the Bristol club in the Pirate’s system, this year he will be with Southern Illinois.
Scott was born and bred in Western Pennsylvania, and has played baseball all over the place, in college alone he played in Southern Florida, Allegheny Maryland, and WVU. He was the latest drafted player to ever make it to MLB when he accomplished the feat with the Yankees. He would experience more twists and turns in his career as it took him to St. Louis and ultimately Japan, all of these experiences helped make him the coach he is today. “Didn’t seem fun at the time, but experiencing D2, D1 made me appreciate the different levels of collegiate baseball”, Scott said.
Scott then touched on his post playing career, which started with opening a baseball facility for training players typically 6 to 12-year-old kids. He ultimately realized this was not his path as he wanted to focus on the development, while parents tended to want to see wins. He started with the Yankees, and he and Eric actually crossed paths, “Eric, I think we crossed paths in 2019, I was with Pulaski and you were in Bristol I believe.” Eric quickly agreed and Scott continued showing off the memory it seems so many of these coaches have “I think we faced [Tanaj] Thomas like seven times that year!”, To which Eric gleefully pointed out was “A little bit by design.”
So, I asked both about the interaction between the two types of coaches when they coach together, its so hard for me to envision how they help each other while training players to beat each other.
Eric started, and he focused on the collaboration of scouting reports from his time with Bristol pointing out how he would listen in during Spirng training to all the hitting coaches including the Eckstein brothers, who he pointed out Scott had played with (David) in 2005. “I did want to hear about how they were going about their job, what pitches they were trying to dial in on, how they were teaching these guys to be patient, and you can learn so much literally from the other side.” He continued “So, once we got the season started, and you could kinda take a breath and we got to Bristol, our hitting coach JP Prieto, did a really good job of preparing his guys We did really good as a hitting club, in fact I think it was Pulaski and us at the top.”
Eric continued “I would get all my reports on the hitters and then JP would take a look at it, and he would get all the reports on the Yankees pitchers and I would take a look at it, then we’d basically get together in our managers meeting before the series and really break down what we were seeing via true media, any reports we had from scouts that had been through, we would actually collaborate quite a bit pre-series and what we were seeing. The collaboration piece really helped out! One thing I couldn’t identify very easily as a pitching coach was during a game, guys are making adjustments, it was far easier for our hitting coach or manager to say hey this guy is far closer to the plat than we thought he was going to be or whatever.”
At this point Scott agreed with Eric then put his own knowledge into the conversation “During Spring training you’re usually overloaded with 25-30 players and the pitching coaches are as well, so there isn’t really a lot of collaboration going on.” “Once we do break and get to our cities, the number one thing for me on any good staff is, including the manager or anybody is communication. I’ve been very fortunate to have been on the staffs I’ve been, I’ve only been coaching for four years now but all the coaches I’ve been with we always checked our ego at the door and we understood that even though you’re a pitching coach, you’re a baseball guy, you see things as well, you see hitters, as a hitting coach we’re baseball people, we see pitchers, we see defenders and that’s the one thing the coaches I’ve been with we all see everybody knows baseball, so there’s nothing wrong with me asking a pitching coach what they see in a hitter.”
Scott brought a real world example to the table here and it really drove the point home “We had a nice player, Madison Santos, this kid’s about 5’ 6” but had as much power as anybody, at times he would scuffle and I remember the pitching coach telling me in Spring Training Listen he’s going to struggle with fastballs in when the season starts. And this kid was hitting .320 in Spring Training, I was like alright, I know he’s gonna struggle with something but it wasn’t evident to me at the time, but he had already pinpointed it at the time, if he was going to pitch to him [his] plan would be to speed him up inside and go soft away, so we were able to tailor his work, without even him knowing to be honest with you, to what his weakness would be, you have to respect the pitching coach and what they know.”
It comes down to trust. That’s what I learned most from listening to what they had to say. Understanding that baseball is a universal language and being willing to absorb the expertise that others bring to the table.
The interview was wide ranging and I truly hope you listen to all of it, but this part to me is absolutely key. A great coach understands he or she is better as part of a staff, than as an individual on an island. Both of these men focused on communication being of utmost importance in the development process and it should be no surprise they are so capable of communicating how these two areas interact in such a succinct way.
Something Scott touched on that struck me and I know will mean a lot to many of you, was the actual percentage of work that goes into simply helping these young adjust to professional ball. Scott said, “As far as the lower level coaching goes, lower level as you get to Rookie ball, and even Low A ball, for me its maybe harder than the upper levels you’re trying to basically earn the trust of these players and I know Eric can attest to this for a lot of first year players especially right out of high school, is 80% of your job is not really baseball related, basically teaching these guys how to be professionals. Young kids first time away from high school they might have a little bit of money, keeping them focused on why they’re there, one thing nobody talks about is Rookie ball especially the Appalachian league, we have a lot of Latino players, and Latino players get to a place like Bristol or Elizabethton or Pulaski, its not easy to eat, making sure the players are eating, making sure the players are sleeping or staying in touch with their families, making sure they’re staying strong, then after all of those things you gotta make sure their performing at baseball.”
We all know this somewhere in the back of our heads, but to hear it like that, so plain and straightforward, wow. We all see the finished product on our favorite teams, talking to people like Scott and Eric you really get a feel for just how daunting making it is, simply from understanding the very beginning of the journey for some.
Much appreciation to these two gentlemen for taking the time to give us a window into the interaction they have with opposing coaches and the early stage development of ball players. It’s invaluable for fans to see and we wish them both success when baseball gets started again.