For the 14th time in the last decade (well, 16th if you count the two new assistant hitting coach positions just created), the Chicago Cubs will have a new hitting coach or assistant hitting coach next year. This time, it’s Dustin Kelly, who was promoted from his gig as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator. He replaces Greg Brown, who came to the Cubs just last year, fresh off being the Rays’ minor league hitting coordinator.
We knew generally why the Cubs were making the change, at least as President Jed Hoyer described it. It wasn’t necessarily because the offense had struggled once again – hitting coaches take waaaay too much blame for that, especially when there is simply a talent deficit. Instead, the front office felt like Kelly might be connecting a little better with the young hitters who were coming up, and the Cubs wanted to make sure the hitting development infrastructure was as integrated as it is right now on the pitching side. All levers pulling in the same direction, seamless working together up and down the system. Not to say Brown couldn’t have been part of that, but apparently Kelly would fit even better.
Still, that explanation left me wanting. Thankfully, there are more details on the latest set of changes, via Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney:
This section is exactly what I was wondering:
Chris Valaika, who served as the team’s assistant hitting coach in 2021 and previously worked as the organization’s minor-league hitting coordinator, was hired away last winter to be the lead hitting coach for the Cleveland Guardians. Cleveland’s surprising playoff run was largely driven by an impressive pitching staff, but Valaika was praised for getting the most out of a young, scrappy offense that seemed to quickly embrace his voice.
The Cubs hope that by going with Kelly, they are able to correct any missteps they may have made last offseason. But their evaluation of Brown as an instructor hasn’t totally changed. They still value his expertise. While initially it was believed that he’d take a job with another organization, the Cubs have been proactive in trying to retain him. What role he’d fill, if he ends up returning to the organization, is still to be determined, though it would be on the minor-league side. A resolution is expected in the coming weeks.
The implication there is that the Cubs may have felt that they made a mistake by letting Chris Valaika go, rather than give him some kind of major promotion to keep him around. And, in turn, the implication is that the Cubs may have feared something similar could happen with Kelly if they didn’t force the issue. It *could* mean the Cubs – and the industry – think very highly of Kelly.
As for Brown, that’s very interesting that the Cubs are still trying to figure out a way to keep him around. I’m sure that’s very difficult and awkward, and you basically never see it happen. Again, it’s suggestive of the Cubs genuinely liking Brown a lot, and him being “replaced” as the hitting coach was less about him and more about Kelly. Given Brown’s background in player development, you’d hope the Cubs could find a way to keep him in a significant role on the minor league side.
As for Kelly, time will tell if he can stick around more than a season or two. Seems like the Cubs really like him, and he’s been with the organization a couple years already, so they’ve had time to get to know him well.