The Cincinnati Reds made two personnel moves on Thursday afternoon at the big league level. The bigger one announced was the hiring of Alan Zinter as the Major League hitting coach. It’s the Reds third hitting coach in the last three years. But, they also announced that Donnie Ecker is being promoted to assistant hitting coach and director of hitting. As far as the farm system goes, that may be a bit of a bigger deal.
Donnie Ecker was already the assistant hitting coach for the Cincinnati Reds. The director of hitting title is brand new.
“We did something very similar on the pitching side with our assistant pitching coach Caleb Cotham where we gave him the title of director of pitching in addition to his Major League responsibilities. This is a concerted effort by Nick (Krall) and David (Bell) to continue to connect even more closely the organization as a whole, specifically the minor leagues to the Major Leagues,” said President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams.
This has been noted by me in the past about how there, at least at one point in time, a disconnect from level to level as to what the Reds were trying to teach players. Coaches had very different ideas of what a player should be trying to do. With Caleb Cotham working with Kyle Boddy in the minors, and of course, Derek Johnson in the Major Leagues – the plan was stated to have a central idea, but also individual plans for the players. That is something that felt like it was lacking quite a bit.
The Reds now seem to also be trying to do this with the hitting. Which, of course makes sense – why the heck wouldn’t they? Brace yourself for a long quote here, but I think that the entirety of it needs to be together as it all fits together.
“We know how extremely difficult it is to do at the Major League level and how much new information and technology there is available. So we’ve tasked our coaches with understanding the complexities but then being able to convey the information to the players that makes it simple. And second, making it consistent from the time they enter our organization all the way up through, we want to make sure they are hearing similar language, hearing similar philosophies,” said Williams.
“I can’t tell you how many former players I’ve talked to that felt like as they progressed through the minor leagues they were bounced around and getting different messages. I know every organization strives to get that consistency, but we’ve taken the steps of connecting our major league hitting and pitching coaches to their assistants to provide support for the major league team. And then empowering their assistants to be directly connected to the minor leagues.”
Take all of that in. Think about it for a second. The first part – be a good teacher. The ability to convey the message to the player so they not only understand it and accept it, but can implement it is huge. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t really matter how much information you have, or how well it would actually work. It’s a fantastic point.
But it’s that second part that just sounds off the alarms, right? I know that this will now be the second time I’ve mentioned it in the article, but it’s something that I’ve both heard and seen in the past. I’ve heard it from players. And I’ve heard it from scouts from other organizations who have noticed it in their coverage of the Reds organization. So it’s great that as an organization, they felt that it was a problem and that they are trying to address it.
On the other side of it, though, is this: Why did it take so long? The first time I heard about this from a player was in 2014. The first time I heard about it from an opposing scout was in 2015 – and I’ll be sure to note that I didn’t bring it up to this scout, he brought it up to me during our conversation about a specific player (not the same one that had mentioned it to me the year before).
Last year when the Reds essentially started rebuilding their entire development front office it felt like the highest ups in the organization were acknowledging that something needed to change. But while many of the directors and coordinators changed, the field level coaches by-and-large, didn’t. That felt very weird to me, which I noted at the time. That’s not to say that any specific person deserved to be fired – but more so that there seemed to be a clear “we have to do things differently” situation happening, but then the organization essentially made no changes at all to the entirety of the coaching staff.
After the season was over, it was reported by Bobby Nightengale of The Cincinnati Enquirer that several coaches and managers in the organization wouldn’t be returning. There is not, at this time, a full list of who will and won’t be returning from the the managerial and coaching staffs that were in place for 2019 and moving forward to 2020. I have heard, but have been unable to confirm, that there may be a few more than what was initially reported by Nightengale less than a month ago.
The role of minor league hitting coordinator that was held by Milt Thompson is still an open position. He held the position for the last three seasons, but will not be coming back for 2020. Dick Williams noted that the position will be fill this offseason and they will work closely with both Alan Zinter and Donnie Ecker.
With all of that said, it seems that the organization is moving in the right direction. Having everyone on the same page is a goal that they set out to accomplish. And now it finally seems that they are putting the pieces in place to actually do that from the top down.
There was one other rather interesting quote from Dick Williams today as it relates to Donnie Ecker that I’d like to focus on.
“David (Bell) and Donnie (Ecker) did a second round discussion with Alan out in Phoenix. A really long session where they really dove into philosophies and how they’d work together. And at the end of that it became very apparent that Alan Zinter would be a great fit for our organization,” said Dick Williams when describing the interview and ultimately hiring process.
This is where things get rather interesting to me. First, Donnie Ecker still has his job, while Turner Ward does not. This isn’t to say he should have lost his job – this is me saying that it seems the Reds believed he was doing a good job as assistant hitting coach and that whatever issues the organization felt was happening at the big league level were more due to what was going on with Ward than anything else.
But the quote notes that manager David Bell and Donnie Ecker were involved with the second round of discussions here stands out. Cincinnati’s brass, whoever all is involved here, clearly has a lot of faith in Donnie Ecker. And I have no reason to believe that they shouldn’t. But the quote stands out to me because it feels like he, as the assistant hitting coach, played a role in hiring the hitting coach. Your mileage may vary on the quote, but to me it certainly showed all kinds of value that the organization places on Ecker and how good they believe he is at his job.