Last week we had a look at the pitching coaches in the Dodgers minor league system. Today we get a glimpse of the hitting coaches down on the farm. Being a hitting coach must be one of the most difficult jobs in all of professional sports simply because hitting a baseball in full flight is the most difficult task in all of professional sports. At what other task in the sports world is a 30 per cent success rate considered to be at the top of the class?
The rationale for hiring a coach is always a bit of a mystery. Is it because of a perceived success with other organizations or perhaps of a perceived understanding of the mechanics and psyche that goes into hitting. Hitting coaches/instructors are often among the group that have not had successful major league careers or even made it to MLB. Perhaps, as with the Dodgers, there seems to be a youth movement among coaches with their minor league affiliates.
Oklahoma City Dodgers – Scott Coolbaugh
Coolbaugh is in his first year as a hitting coach in the Dodgers minor league system. He was given a brief profile on LADT when the OKC Dodgers 2019 coaching staff was announced.
Tulsa Drillers – Adam Melhuse
Melhuse was born in Santa Clara, California and attended high school at Lincoln High School in Stockton.
Following his junior year at UCLA, Los Angeles, he was selected by the by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 13th round of the 1993 First-Year Player Draft.
He played seven seasons in the Blue Jays farm system before getting a shot at MLB. In December, 1999 the Dodgers signed him as a minor league free agent. During the 2000 season Melhuse played 52 games split between the San Antonio Missions of the Texas League and the Albuquerque Dukes of the Pacific Coast League. Both teams were then Dodger affiliates. The switch-hinting catcher hit very well at both levels and was called up to the Dodgers in June.
His Dodger career started and ended on June 16, 2000. He stuck out in one pinch hit appearance and on June 17 was traded to the Colorado Rockies for future considerations.
He had to wait until August 24 to get his first MLB hit. This time in a pinch-hitting role against the Atlanta Braves, he singled over the shortstop’s head with the game winning hit.
Melhuse played for parts of eight MLB seasons with stops in Colorado, Texas and Oakland. Most of his career was with the Athletics where he compiled a .251/.307/.435 triple slash over 209 games. During his 311 MLB games he hit 24 home runs along with 98 runs batted in.
On June 17, 2009 he announced his retirement exactly nine years from when he had been traded from the Dodgers to the Rockies.
Following his retirement he served as an advanced scout for the Chicago Cubs and during the 2016 and 2017 seasons he managed the Burlington Bees (Angels) of the Midwest League.
It definitely seems that there are many avenues to follow in the world of coaching, most of whom go unnoticed. Adam Melhuse credits Mind Gym For Athletes which specializes in Mental Training for Athletes with helping him become a more understanding coach. Mind Gym is the brainchild of Bob Fystro who was born and raised in northern Alberta, Canada.
“Getting the chance to work with coach Fystro this winter had me wonder what could have been. As a former Major League Baseball player, there is no doubt in my mind I could have had experienced more success as a player had I been exposed to coach Fystro and his mental skills coaching. In a sport where the games best players are failing 70% of the time, having the mental skills to not let the failure dictate the future is a must. The skills I am acquiring from coach Fystro will now allow me to help the players I coach, and take my coaching to the next level.”
Adam Melhuse begins his second year as a Dodger minor league hitting coach having served in the same role with the OKC Dodgers during the 2018 season.
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes – Dustin Kelly
Kelly was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 15th round of the 2004 MLB June Amateur Draft from Cuesta College which is a community college in San Luis Obispo County, California.
The native of Santa Maria, California played three seasons in the Red Sox farm system reaching as high as the AA Portland Sea Dogs of the Eastern League. His minor league career ended following the 2006 season.
Since then the 35-year-old Kelly has had an interesting variety of assignments. From 2007-2010 he served as an Assistant Coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His experience and expertise in hitting, infield, and outfield helped the Mustangs reach their first ever Division 1 Regional in 2009.
For the next four years he worked with the staff of Elite Baseball as a hitting coordinator and MLB / MiLB consultant. His role was to oversee the hitting instruction and development of the advanced hitters that train with Elite as well as assisting with MB Land MiLB clients. Elite has facilities at UC Irvine’s Anteater Ballpark and their newest facility in Santa Ana.
Before becoming part of the Dodgers minor league staff in 2018, Kelly had moved on to The Hit Factory in Thousand Oaks, California. The Hit Factory is a 23,000 square foot indoor baseball and softball training facility featuring an 80 foot turf diamond, strength-training area, batting cages and bullpens.
During the 2018 season Kelly served as the hitting coach for the rookie level Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League. For the upcoming season he will serve in the same capacity with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
Great Lakes Loons – Justin Viele
Viele is a native of Yorba Linda, California, and attended high school at Esperanza High School in neighboring Anaheim. Following his graduation from high school he played four years as a shortstop for the Broncos at Santa Clara University which is located in the southern part of the Bay Area.
During the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, Viele waited a long time to hear his name called, finally being selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 37th round with the 1,119th overall selection.
His minor league career totaled a short two-year stint in the Orioles organization. In 126 games, none above the Class-A level, he hit .211 with a .333 OBP.
Following the 2014 season, he became an assistant coach – at age 24 – with the Frederick Keys, a Class-A affiliate of the Orioles. As a bit of a side note, former Dodger great Wally Moon served as head coach of the Keys during the 1990 and 1991 seasons and led the team to a league championship in 1990.
Viele’s tenure with the Keys lasted but one season, upon which he returned to his Alma Mater at Santa Clara University as an assistant coach. There, he set out a series of private baseball lessons for the players in his charge. Below is but one paragraph from one article.
“I believe there are expectations that a leader needs to discuss with his or her team all the time. “We expect you to give your best effort every day.” “We expect you to check your ego at the door and do whatever you can to help this organization.” The second the expectations get twisted up with personal results is the moment a team becomes a bit more disconnected. My idea of a perfect organization is one where everybody is mindful of the team goal and each person does their best to help the team reach it. Do what is asked of you because in that ideal organization the leader is not going to put you in a position to mess up the group. He or she is there to put you in a position to both succeed personally and help the team success.”
Viele , now just 28, begins his third season in the Dodger organization moving from the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2018 to the Great Lakes Loons for the 2019 season.
Ogden Raptors – Seth Connor
Connor was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 41st round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Logan-Rogersville High School in Rogersville, Missouri.
He too has a short minor league career that lasted for four years. In his first year with the GCL Blue Jays Connor began to transition to catching, a position at which he excelled defensively. However, things did not work out for him.
In 187 minor league games spread out over first base, third base and behind the plate he posted a triple slash of .244/.349/.332. In April, 2017 he was released by the New Hampshire Fisher Cats after having missed the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons.
In 2018 he began a coaching career with the Great Lakes Loons at the age of 26. His first taste of coaching was a pleasant one.
“I really enjoy the Dodgers organization,” said Conner. “It’s a great organization, an historic organization, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching and being around the guys. I didn’t make it to the major leagues as a player, so I like helping others achieve that dream.”
“I really hope the players realize that it goes by fast,” explained Conner. “I was 23 when my playing career stopped. It’s important to realize how much work it takes. You want to have fun, but ultimately it’s all about getting to the big leagues, and not wasting your time in the minors.”
For the 2019 season Connor will serve as the hitting coach with the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League.
AZL Dodgers – Jarek Cunningham
Cunningham was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Mount Spokane High School in Mead, Washington.
The Pirates took a bit of a chance with Cunningham as he had missed his entire senior year in the 2008 season because of a knee injury. Doctors originally thought he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, yet when he went in for surgery they found the ACL had reattached itself. He went on to again miss the 2009 season, this time with a torn ACL.
Cunningham did have a seven-year minor league career with the 2015 season being split between the Tulsa Drillers and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. That was his only season in the Dodgers organization.
During his minor league career he posted a slash line of .244/.311/.422. His last season in 2016 was with the Sioux City Explorers of the American Association where he perhaps continued to learn about the importance of patience at the plate.
“As a young guy getting drafted you are always dwelling on your last at-bat, missing pitches and what not, but you just learn to flush it as time goes on,” he said. “You just have to try to not make that same mistake next at-bat.”
Cunningham became a coach in the Dodgers system in 2017 at the age of 27. He now enters his third season as the hitting coach with the AZL Dodgers.
DSL Dodgers – Johermyn Chavez/Sergio Mendez
Chavez is a first year coach with the Dodgers. He was initially signed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2005 as a non-drafted free agent. He was later traded to the Seattle Mariners in a trade that brought Brandon League to Seattle. That would be the same Brandon League who later made his way to the Dodgers.
The native of Turmero, Venezuela played nine seasons of minor league ball with affiliates from the Blue Jays, Mariners, Cubs and Royals. During the off-season he played seven seasons of winter ball in Venezuela.
Back in 2011, when Kyle Seager was still a prospect for Seattle, Chavez was listed just behind him. He was tabbed by Baseball America as having the best power and best outfield arm in the system, Chavez had a monster season at the plate in 2010, slugging 32 home runs and 96 RBI runs batted in. That was his best season and he did not get an opportunity to play MLB.
During his seven minor league seasons he posted a slash line of .259/.310/.320 along with 92 home runs and 367 runs batted in over 738 games.
Mendez, born in Rio San Juan in the Dominican Republic, is in his fourth season as a coach with one of the DSL Dodger teams.
He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992 and played six years of minor league ball. As a catcher, he had his best year in 1996 with the Lynchburg Hillcats, presently an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. He set career highs in runs (42), doubles (18), home runs (11), RBI (43) and walks (15).
His last year of active duty as a player was with the independent league Sioux Falls Canaries in 1998, in which .239.
Mendez was manager of the DSL Nationals from 2005-2007. He went 49-15 in 2007, becoming the first Nationals farm system manager to guide his team to a title. He won Dominican Summer League Manager of the Year honors.
He coached for the Hagerstown Suns in 2009 and GCL Nationals in 2010-2011. Mendez returned to the Dominican Summer League with the DSL Diamondbacks as batting coach in 2012, manager in 2013 and coach again in 2014.
Since then he has managed the DSL Dodgers 1 in 2016 and coached the DSL Dodgers 2 in 2017 and 2018.