As the philosophies around baseball continue to evolve, the Blue Jays have followed the trend of focusing on more data driven decisions, and for hiring.
The Blue Jays continued the current trend in baseball when they hired current manager Charlie Montoyo from the innovative Tampa Bay Rays as a first-year manager with an understanding and appreciation for analytics.
Kokoris and Popham both have ties to Driveline Baseball, a data-driven baseball player development just outside Seattle that has seen some of the MLB’s top talent come through their doors. Trevor Bauer works closely with Driveline in the offseason and even hard-throwing Jays prospect Nate Pearson made a stop at Driveline this winter. The Blue Jays hired two of the eight people with ties to Driveline who were hired by a pro baseball organization this offseason and Driveline’s pro day saw seven players sign minor-league contracts.
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35-year-old Kokoris will serve as the Vancouver Canadians pitching coach while Popham will join the Dominican Summer League team as an assistant pitching coach.
Kokoris has worked on the coaching staffs at powerhouse college baseball programs such as South Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, and Oregon. Most recently, he was Point Loma Nazarene University’s pitching coach for the past two seasons and is widely regarded as a cutting edge pitching coach focused on data driven development.
Kokoris saw Kyle Boddy, founder of Driveline Baseball, speak at the Texas Baseball Ranch and loved his philosophies and ability to deliver his message and make it understandable. Kokoris at the time was living in Oregon and would drive to Seattle to continue learning from Boddy and has gained a ton of knowledge from Driveline over the years as a pitching coach, including his adoption of the weighted ball training.
Most impressive of all, in his seven years as a pitching coach he has only had one Tommy John surgery from a pitcher of his, something he credits to the weighted ball training.
Popham turns 27 this year and was pitching at Pacific University just six years ago and has quickly risen to pro baseball after taking an internship with Driveline Baseball after graduating from Pacific in 2014.
After leaving Driveline, Popham worked at his high school, Maranatha High School, as a pitching coach before joining Post University with the same position in January 2017. He wouldn’t last long at Post University as the Blue Jays picked him up this January.
The Jays analytic and data-driven mindset didn’t begin with the Montoyo hiring but really when they decided to bring in Mark Shapiro as the team president following the 2015 season. Shapiro joined the Cleveland Indians organization in the early 90’s as part of one of baseball’s first data-driven front offices.
The baseball world is not only using data and analytics for player transactions and moves but also in their player development as proven by the amount of hires this offseason with ties to Driveline. With these hires the Blue Jays are trying to stay ahead of the curve and align directly with the vision Shapiro has set for player development within the organization going forward.
Baseball operations are getting younger and smarter and with some of the hires this offseason, so are the Blue Jays.