Hitting Coach Gig A Chance For Bonds To Make Impact On Marlins’ Young Core
by 27 February 2016, 3:04 PM
Barry Bonds has the opportunity to take a young Marlins lineup to new heights.
When does a Major League Baseball team head into Spring Training with the spotlight on their hitting coach? Never. Then again, no Major League team has ever had the all-time Home Run King as their hitting coach.
But even so, it’s still kind of interesting.
You might think the buzz would surround Don Mattingly, a borderline Hall-of-Famer in his own right as a player, who just led the Dodgers to three straight division titles for the first time in franchise history and now has a chance to turn things around in Miami. Or maybe Giancarlo Stanton, the guy that signed the richest deal ever at $325 million after the 2014 season, who is set to return to the field after missing 88 games last season and will be back in the early MVP discussion.
But no, the spotlight rests on Bonds, at least for the time being. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be at the moment, though. The same Barry Bonds who hit 762 homers over 22 seasons is back with a ML club for the first time since 2007. I mean, why wouldn’t the media be all over that?
Here’s the thing though: this is not the same Barry Bonds. Sure, it’s physically the same guy, but a lot has changed since Bonds last took the field. Nine years later, after all the painful grand jury testimonies and endless performance-enhancing drug denials, Bonds returns to the game as the hitting coach in South Beach.
And although he’s far and away the most recognizable and story worthy hitting coach in the league, his title is the same as the other 29 out there: hitting coach. But you know what else that title is? A fresh start with a chance to make an impact. If there’s one guy out there who could really use a clean slate in the baseball world, it’s Bonds. And that’s why it’s ironic that he’s been making headlines recently, because he’ll be doing nothing of the sort once Opening Day hits.
Regardless of who he was, or is, Barry Bonds is simply the hitting coach on a third-place team that finished 20 games under .500 last season. No one will forget the troubled years of steroid accusations and his shattered reputation as a player that overshadows his glory days with the Pirates and Giants, but none of that matters right now anyway. Bonds’ job is to simply do the grunt work behind the scenes and do enough of a job that the center of attention falls in a positive way on the lineup he inherits, and stays there.
Speaking of that lineup he inherits, it’s a pretty damn good one for a club that scored the second fewest runs in the Majors a year ago. And with that lies a pretty damn good opportunity.
The Marlins have a terrific young core in place, and they haven’t lost anybody. The team as a whole has some questions, but the offense has the potential to be great. For starters, they’ll get back a healthy Stanton, the same guy who hit 27 bombs in just 74 games last season, and 37 the year before. Then there’s Dee Gordon, who won the NL batting title last year with a .333 average, and Christian Yelich, who hit .300 and has never hit below .284 in his two-and-a-half big league seasons.
And that’s not all.
Don’t forget about Justin Bour and his lethal left-handed power stroke, and Adeiny Hechavarria, a player who came into his own offensively last season. Then you’ve got Marcell Ozuna, who regressed from 2014, but is still only 25 and has pop. An upcoming catcher in JT Realmuto and a trusty veteran in Martin Prado round out a relatively deep lineup.
There’s still plenty of work to be done because what looks good on paper means nothing once April rolls around, especially in a top-heavy NL East, but Bonds isn’t walking into any heavy-duty construction. He’ll have some projects, but no serious rebuilds. With a foundation this young and talented, it shouldn’t be too hard for Bonds to make an impact early on. All it takes for some players to break out is a few minor adjustments to their swing, and who better to help tweak someone’s mechanics or mindset than Bonds? Steroids aside, he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game, and his experience and knowledge can go a long way in Miami.
If this situation sounds familiar to you, you’re right. Bonds isn’t the first former star linked to PEDs to return to the game as a hitting coach. Mark McGwire spent the last six seasons in that role, three with the Cardinals (‘10-‘12) and three more with the Dodgers (‘13-‘15), before accepting the Padres’ bench coach job this offseason. Late bloomers David Freese and Allen Craig shined during McGwire’s time in St. Louis, while Justin Turner became more than a role player and Joc Pederson broke out while he was in Los Angeles.
Now, McGwire also inherited some all-stars in their prime with the Cardinals and Dodgers, but there’s something to be said about the consistent success of those lineups under his direction, and there’s no reason to believe Bonds can’t have that same success in Miami.
There are some big questions, however. The main one being, how will he handle the day-to-day grind of being a ML coach? Remember, it’s been nine years since he’s experienced a 162-game marathon. It’s too early to tell if this job is right for him, but then again, this is Barry Bonds we’re talking about. His head may have shrunk (sorry, I had to), but that wealth of baseball knowledge he has stashed away hasn’t.
Not only can Bonds make a difference, he can be the difference. By just being Barry Bonds the hitting coach, he could: turn Stanton into a 50-homer MVP, make Yelich a batting title winner, help resurrect Ozuna and transform Bour into a total beast. He won’t be able to do it all, but these are just some of the possibilities. And the more room to grow, for both Bonds and his students of the game, the better.
The two biggest factors are Stanton and Yelich. Stanton has already proven to be on an island of his own when healthy, but he’s a fine-tuned approach away from being worth every penny of his 13-year deal. Yelich had an abysmal first two months of the ‘15 season yet still quietly hit .300 when it was all said and done. He has the potential to be a .350 hitter if he can keep his sweet stroke in line for a whole season. If Bonds can be the extra piece to Stanton’s or Yelich’s game reaching new heights, then that’s a huge success.
And if you’re not sure how the players will react to their new Home Run King hitting coach, well, Yelich and Stanton can just tell you themselves, or let you find out on Instagram…
It’s worth noting that a ML hitting coach doesn’t normally have a season-changing impact on a team. Most professional hitters know how to make adjustments on their own; the hitting coach is there to go over scouting reports, offer tips and help a handful of players get out of funks once in a while. But again, the normal ML hitting coach isn’t Barry Bonds.
This is a situation where Bonds can build relationships with a young core that’s going to be around for a while and feed off their talent and work ethic. There will be a learning curve, no doubt. But if all else fails, and it’s not a great fit, the Marlins’ hitters can still pick the brain of a once-in-a-generation hitting expert on a daily basis.
The connection to steroids will never go away. The tarnished legacy is set in stone. The public opinion won’t fade. But that’s of Barry Bonds the player, and we’re talking about Barry Bonds the coach. When he’s sitting in the Marlins dugout on April 5th for his new team’s season opener, it will be strictly business. It’s already just business. No spotlight, just baseball. Although he won’t be able to re-write his narrative, he has an opportunity to make a strong impact on a young Marlins core with a ton of potential.
He can’t erase what’s already been written, but he can keep the novel going, adding at least one more chapter: Barry Bonds, The Hitting Coach.
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