Blue Jays: 2019 National Coaching Clinic Produced Surprises From Shapiro and Hudgens

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 14: President and CEO Mark Shapiro (R) of the Toronto Blue Jays talks with Cleveland Indians Ball Boys during batting practice prior to game one of the American League Championship Series at Progressive Field on October 14, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 14: President and CEO Mark Shapiro (R) of the Toronto Blue Jays talks with Cleveland Indians Ball Boys during batting practice prior to game one of the American League Championship Series at Progressive Field on October 14, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

During this past weekend’s Toronto Blue Jays National Coaching Clinic, a few of the Blue Jays Brass (most notably, Mark Shapiro) shared their thoughts on the state of the team and the change in direction the club has taken this off-season.

Shapiro on his new Manager

Charlie Montoyo brings a wealth of experience and knowledge developing prospects into major league quality players.  During the managerial interview process, former colleagues and players of Montoyo’s glowed that they loved playing and working with the new manager. His upbeat character and his gift for relating with young players is unparalleled.

You also can’t dismiss that Montoyo has 18 years of minor league coaching time under his belt, which should make working with our newest call-ups very comfortable for him.

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The Jays needed a Manager with a youthful exuberance matching the young group coming up, without sacrificing the club’s need for experience and to move with the times.  Sometimes, you can’t rely on experience alone; you need to be excited and enthusiastic.

Shapiro on the current 40-man Roster

As Shapiro stated, it’s time to see what the club has in their prospects. During his time in Cleveland, players like Corey Kluber were not thought of as “future multi-Cy Young” winners when originally acquired. Kluber, for instance, was just considered good enough to take a chance on.

The Jays are riddled with players just like that.  Give them the opportunity to play and let’s see what they can do.

Shapiro on Team Transparency

This writer took the microphone during the Q & A portion of Shapiro’s chat,  specifically asking him if the Jays were going to adopt a more transparent approach to communicating with the public, just as the Toronto Maple Leafs did a few years back to indicate the inevitable short term lack of success the team would have, and to be a sustainable future winner.

As Shapiro put it, “In professional sports, we deal with people. It would be so easy for us to come out and explain the reasons for everything we do, but we just can’t come out and crush them. We just can’t say, that we gave up on that guy because he was a terrible teammate, and behind the scenes he was also crushing staff and treating people terribly. We just can’t do that”.

Shapiro’s Early Measures of success

Shapiro mentioned that people likely don’t want to hear about the small ways the Blue Jays plan to measure their early successes this season because, as he learned when he became an assistant-GM early in his career, it comes down to wins and losses for most of us.

The goal is to create a long-term sustainable model, not just one that works for a couple of years.

Other worthy notes from the clinic, courtesy of Shapiro

1.  A small number of Blue Jays players and staff spent some time with a division of Army Rangers over the off-season to learn what teamwork is really all about. Reese McGuire and Ryan Borucki were among those who participated. They learned that working within a group of people with common goals for a common cause can lead to exceptional results.  Suffice it to say that by understanding the challenges faced by Army Rangers, it was life changing, and an epiphany for all.  It still gives Shapiro goosebumps.

2.  The plans for the renovations at the Rogers Centre are now out of Shapiro’s hands, as the parent company, Rogers Communications, has taken over the planning for any potential changes. As reported early last season, insiders had suggested that the renovations of the Rogers Centre might be tied to a wider development in the areas around the current site (though those lands are currently under control of the Canada Lands Company and the City of Toronto).

3.  Asked whether Toronto is still stigmatized as a 2nd rate location for free agent players to sign, Shapiro mentioned that the primary rationale for any signing is still money.  However, when money is equal with other potential suitors, Toronto’s diversity, entertainment and night-life, its safety and its abundance of suitable neighbourhoods and communities to support and provide amenities to the team’s wives and children, does incrementally tip the scales in Toronto’s favour.

The New Bench Boss

BOSTON, MA – MAY 13: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros celebrates with hitting coach Dave Hudgens #39 and Erik Kratz #23 after scoring against the Boston Red Sox during the fifth inning on May 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

As the last speaker of the weekend, we were treated to new Bench boss Dave Hudgens‘ very thorough examination of the value of using video to improve hitting mechanics, and how hitting success is very closely tied to where the batter finds themselves in the count during an at-bat.  It was very eye-opening, and his adoption of video and analytics will be a welcome addition to the club.

Just like Montoyo, Hudgens is very personable.  An early adopter of video tape analysis in the mid ‘80s (he kept separate VHS tapes of his players, recorded using a big bulky video camera), he has kept up with the times in using the latest technology to break down, compare and super-impose video to improve the hitting mechanics of his players.

He worked very closely with the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correia, George Springer, and Alex Bergman to make them the hitting machines they are (and the World Series Champs they became).

What struck me most was that Hudgens isn’t just someone who theoretically understands the value of analytics, but someone who can show you time and time again why things work (and don’t work), using the numbers as his backup.

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Final Thoughts:

It’s clear that the Blue Jays want us to know that they will be making decisions using a new approach.   Between their collective experience and knowledge, their new understanding of the the way the game is played today, their improved ability to build relationships and trust, and their improved ability to utilize the vast amounts of data available, the team is positioning itself for a bit of a baseball renaissance.