In the biggest Seattle coaching news of the day, the Mariners have brought in Hisashi Iwakuma as a Special Assignment Coach.
I don’t know what that is. Sounds pretty made up.
According to the club, Iwakuma will start his new gig during Spring Training and report directly to Jerry Dipoto. The most important part seems to be the specifics of this role, which involves working “with Mariners pitchers and pitching instructors at all levels” and the ability to “periodically visit the team’s minor league affiliates during the season”. Another interesting note stated that Kuma will do some scouting in Japan with Manabu Noto, the scout who helped the Mariners sign Yusei Kikuchi.
Some pretty simple dot connecting tells us that Iwakuma will likely be working pretty heavily with Kikuchi, the Mariners’ most recent Japanese acquisition and the one who struggled the most upon arrival. Iwakuma is one of the more successful Japanese pitchers in recent MLB history; the Mariners are hoping Kikuchi doesn’t go down as one of the bigger failures. To avoid this, it seems, they’re going to have Iwakuma get in his ear regularly.
What we don’t know, at least at this point, is how much of this role will be baseball-related and how much will be person-related. Surely Iwakuma can help Kikuchi (and the rest of the pitchers, for that matter) learn how to navigate an MLB lineup. But he can also help with the mental side of pitching in the big leagues, and for Kikuchi specifically, how to do that while living away from home.
Iwakuma’s credentials speak for themselves. He pitched 11 seasons in the NPB, won an MVP in 2008, a gold medal at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, made an MLB All-Star team, and pitched a no-hitter against the Orioles in 2015. All signs also indicate that Iwakuma is both a beloved clubhouse guy and a well of information.
Here’s part of Jerry Dipoto’s quote about the former Mariner pitcher who is now a Mariner coach.
“He was always prepared, has a terrific work ethic, and the ability to communicate the things that made him a successful pitcher. We’re looking forward to adding him to our mix at both the Major and minor league level.”
The work in the minor leagues might low key be the most interesting part of this whole arrangement. It’s no secret at all that most of the Mariners’ currency is in the minor leagues. The team itself obviously thinks they have some good things going down there, but so much of that is either behind the scenes, dismissed by the common, MLB-centric fan, or both. Bringing on a respected figure with a track record of success to work with the minor league pitchers tells me that the front office believes they have some future MLB starters in the system. You wouldn’t bring in Iwakuma to turn non-prospects into the 26th guy on the roster. You bring in Hisashi Iwakuma to make sure the guys you’re banking on actually cash in on their prospect status.
I have no idea if this will work! Neither do you! But having Hisashi Iwakuma back in the organization is, at the very least, a fun bit of news in this dormant offseason. It will be interesting to monitor this situation in terms of the updates that the team is willing to release to the public.