In 2017, John Mallee and Chris Bosio manned the stations of hitting coach and pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs. In 2018, those roles were taken by Chili Davis and Jim Hickey, and in 2019, Anthony Iapoce and Tommy Hottovy are donning the capes, so to speak.
That’s a whole lot of turnover, and turnover is not exactly something for which most organizations strive when it comes to their coaching staff (especially when there hasn’t even been a manager or front office change in the interim).
2019: Anthony Iapoce/Tommy Hottovy
2018: Chili Davis/Jim Hickey
2017: John Mallee/Chris Bosio
So obviously, we’re all hoping for the best from Anthony Iapoce and Tommy Hottovy this season, because a little continuity is good for the players and usually means things went well the year prior (of course, Joe Maddon is entering his final season under contract, but that’s a whole other can of worms).
Fortunately, thanks to previous roles in the organization, Cubs players already had some familiarity with Iapoce and Hottovy, and, here in the early going, the players are digging their new coaches.
For example, Mike Montgomery came in to shower Hottovy with praise at the Chicago Tribune, noting that he’d always been equal parts friendly and smart. Not only that, Jed Hoyer revealed that the front office had always considered Hottovy a rising star who was “definitely … going to be an excellent pitching coach.” Indeed, the timetable on that promotion was apparently moved up because other teams were asking permission to talk/interview him. “We were thinking, ‘We know this guy is a star right here,’ and I think sometimes guys are thinking, ‘You want to finish that development.’ This guy is awesome. This is our guy. He’s been awesome so far in camp.”
But the praise doesn’t start and stop in Chicago: “It doesn’t surprise me that someone as bright as Tommy is now a pitching coach,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, per the Tribune. “It’s a technology-based game right now …. You need more people to understand how to take that information and use it productively. Tommy is definitely that.”
When we first discussed Hottovy’s potential as a pitching coach, we noted, specifically, not only his affinity for and understanding of advanced analytics, but also his unique ability to better convey those messages as a relatively young coach (Hottovy is 37 years old) who was very recently pitching in professional baseball, including in the Cubs organization.
In addition to his ability to connect with players while delivering the right messaging, Hottovy’s presence as the run prevention coordinator over the last few seasons added another layer of familiarity that’s proving beneficial.
But like I said, he’s not the only one who connects well with Cubs players thanks to a dash of familiarity. New Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce has a history with the Cubs core, as well, as he was the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator when the young stars were percolating up through the system.
And the players are quick to sing his praise. For example, Almora told the Tribune that Iapoce’s mental approach to the game is so unique it “changed my life” and “the way I thought about the game in my approach.” And Willson Contreras has lauded the fact that Iapoce is not addressing his mechanics and swing, but rather focusing on the mental half of the game, because that’s what is working for him.
That sort of individualized approach – helping different players in different ways, especially outside of just swing mechanics – is going to prove wise, I suspect, down the line. If we’ve learned anything from the struggles of Starlin Castro to the eventual successes of Javy Baez, it’s that a one-size-fits-all approach to hitting is not going to work when it runs so counter to who a guy natural is. So why would it work for coaching?
For more on the Cubs’ new coaches – Tommy Hottovy and Anthony Iapoce – click on their names right there and head over the Chicago Tribune. With any luck, you’ll get to know these guys better now, and not have to learn some new names in 2020.